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454 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 Anne Behnken Kinney, editor. Chinese Views ofChildhood. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1995. xiii, 352 pp. Hardcover $40.00, isbn 08248 -1681-1. It was in 1974, when I was working on my Ph.D. thesis on Sung education. Phillipe Ariès was over in New Haven to give a talk. Since I had read his book on childhood, I naturally wanted to see him. Although the lecture was on the nineteenth -century concept of public space, the great master was inspiring all the same, and he left an impression that has stayed with me ever since. My interest in studying the idea of childhood in Chinese history finally became a reality when Joseph Needham recommended to me a University of Salzburg symposium on "Kultur." I interpreted this term as somewhat similar to Bildung, and decided to write an article on Sung children's education. The article was published in Berlin in 1984 and became the first English article ever published on the subject.1 It is therefore a great satisfaction to see that the study of the idea of childhood in China has finally come full circle, and we are able to go beyond Ariès to find the interesting results of additional research on the subject.2 In reading this book, Chinese Views ofChildhood, that has been so well put together, my first impression was that the terms "stage" and "development" do not explain very well the concept of "childhood" in a Chinese context. I think this is important, because the Chinese concept of time primarily involves comprehending the moment of qualitative change and not so much the character of the duration. Kenneth J. DeWoskin articulates this problem well: "We might describe Chinese narrative generally as showing a stronger interest in . . . the quality of time at the moment, and a lesser interest in continuity of events over time" (p. 59). The exact point at which change takes place and the understanding of its quality is important: the "rhythm of timeliness," as Charlotte Fürth would characterize it (p. 182). Fürth is talking about the need to be present at the right or precise moment for medical purposes. Sometimes quality does not necessarily correspond to a defined stage of life. This is also similarly spelled out in Lucien Miller's study on the idea of "adolescence." Miller is almost suggesting that adolescence is a medical concept that is to be found in any stage ofa Chinese person's life: "There is no culturally recognized period of adolescence. . . . [T]he self ... is typically transient, conditional, and evolving over an entire lifetime" (p. 219). This kind of approach to the study of childhood makes it totally inappropri-© 1997 by University ate to talk about the "discovery of childhood" or even the history of childhood, as ofHawai't PressAriès and deMause do. In fact, one probably should say that in traditional China "childhood" was imagined, and that although physiologically speaking it is a stage of human life, in China it has been understood more in terms of ideal, dream, Reviews 455 and abstraction. The study of"childhood" is the study ofthe history and historiography ofthis mental construct and its moment ofchange (hence "hua," which fascinates Kinney so much). The study ofchildhood is the study ofthe concept of time and its qualitative change, but not the study ofhow children have been treated. It is no wonder that Kinney, while saying that the Han discovered childhood (p. 17, passim), also says that Han Confucians "ignored childhood as a valuable stage ofhuman development" (p. 36). My second impression is that, thanks to the editor, this book does very well at answering the question ofwho was better able to imagine childhood: the Confucianists or the Daoists, Mencius or Xunzi, the followers ofZhu Xi or the followers ofWang Yangming. We are told that Taoist thinkers were especially fascinated with the purity and spontaneity that were considered to be the qualities ofinfants and children (see the chapter by Richard Mather). We know that the Wang Yangming school placed great emphasis on these same qualities; hence, biographical information about children, especially in the form oftombstone inscriptions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 454-457
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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