- Bajo un Mismo Techo: La familia tradicional en China y su crisis (Under the same roof: The traditional family in China and its crisis) (review)
- China Review International
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 4, Number 2, Fall 1997
- pp. 343-345
- View Citation
- Additional Information
REVIEWS Flora Botton Beja and Romer Cornejo Bustamente. Bajo un Mismo Techo: Lafamilia tradicional en China y su crisis (Under the same roof: The traditional family in China and its crisis). Ciudad de México, D.F.: El Colegio de México, 1993. 243 pp. Paperback, isbn 968-12-0549-9. Twentieth-century writing on the traditional Chinese family has been dominated by the May Fourth critique, which attacked the traditional Chinese family structure as patriarchal and oppressive, stifling not only women but initiative in general . Lately, however, other voices have praised the same "traditional Chinese family" as close-knit, mutually interdependent, and achievement-oriented, and, as such, a prime engine ofEast Asia's rapid economic growth. Both views are of course vastiy oversimplified, but they have in common a valid core perception: the family must loom extraordinarily large in any discussion of social change in China, because ofthe way the family was understood as emblematic of the state during the last millennium ofimperial China. Bajo un Mismo Techo examines the family during a critical period of social transition in China, namely the decades between the Republican and Communist revolutions. During these decades the family lost its traditional moorings, as China's enormous institutional changes detached the family from the imperial structure that had long been invoked to establish its social and ideological significance . The authors oíBajo un Mismo Techo aim to understand just what it was that Mao inherited, in terms of this fundamental social unit, when he won the country in 1949. The book is divided roughly into two parts: a long first chapter introducing the normative traditional family in some detail, and then three shorter chapters describing the impact oftwentieth-century changes, followed by a briefsumming -up chapter. Chapter 1 draws its normative description primarily from the Liji, supplemented primarily by English-language scholarship ofthe last three decades . Chapters 2, 3, and 4 draw on English and Chinese-language scholarship on Republican China, a review of Chinese periodical literature ofthe twenties through the forties, and on interviews conducted by the authors in China.© 1997 by UniversityAfter the foundation laid in chapter 1, chapter 2 details the early Republican ofHawai'i Pressturbulence that tore many families apart, as China effectively separated into warlord fiefdoms, disrupting agricultural production and driving millions into the 344 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 burgeoning Chinese cities, where work and family support structures might or might not await the new arrivals. Botton and Cornejo observe that the family structure in earlier, more stable periods had ways to deal with social tensions before they erupted into violence. The new city residents, disproportionately young and male, had few of diese traditional supports to draw on. Chapter 3, "The Family as Viewed by Intellectuals in the First Halfof the Twentieth Century," essentially resumes the May Fourth representation and critique of the traditional family, in terms familiar to most students of Chinese society . It is in chapter 4, 1 think, that this book makes its most interesting contribution , giving a detailed history ofboth Guomindang and Communist "projects for change." Treatment of the Guomindang is relatively brief, detailing its retreat from May Fourth idealism, as the upper-class base of the Party continued to find the old arrangements useful in forging family and political ties. Botton and Cornejo spend far more time on the Utopian projects of the Communists during their Jiangxi period, when divorces and free marriages blossomed in Communistcontrolled regions, and on the Communists' retreat to a more pragmatic position during the Yen'an period. Driven by the Guomindang to organize in the countryside rather tìian in the cities, they found that their egalitarian divorce policies were alienating the rural men whom they wanted to recruit! This chapter, occupying about a quarter of the book, is the liveliest and most detailed. The "traditional family," despite Botton and Cornejo's injunction against viewing premodern China as static, is in fact represented in Bajo un Mismo Techo largely through normative prescriptions that do not give much sense ofhow family structures evolved over time. The authors are wrestling with the usual problems of presenting complex material to an audience that has little or no...