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Reviews 149 Stevan Harrell, editor. ChineseHistoricalMicrodemography. Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 1995. xiv, 236 pp. Hardcover $35.00, isbn o520 -08306-7. Stevan Harrell has put together a fine collection oforiginal research that significantly furthers our understanding ofChinese demographic issues. As he notes in his cogent introduction, the study ofsuch matters with regard to China is very much in its infancy. For at least two decades, scholars ofWestern European historyhave used parish records and other local sources to refine and significantly alter our perception ofthe nature ofpopulation growth and family structure during die medieval and early modern periods. In China, however, many scholars— especially those with expertise far from demography—have relied on the thesis, first presented by Ho Ping-ti thirty-five years ago, that population growth in China was characterized by a "gradual but bumpy rise in population . . . with the numbers rising and falling with the fortunes ofdynasties" (p. 1). This seemingly reasonable assumption has been called into question during the past decade. The most significant problem that surrounds such an argument, as Harrell makes clear, is the assumption that population dynamics were similar at any given time fhroughout the vast Chinese empire and across vastly dissimilar regions. More importantiy, the records upon which these early studies were based were compiled by local and central governments intent on classifying land ownership and building taxation records, usually with some aspect ofthe extended family as the unit ofmeasurement. As Harrell states: If the standard model stands challenged, then, it is more than anything because it is based on aggregate figures compiled by governments for taxation and land registration purposes rather than on any kind ofpopulation records built upon life histories of individuals. The great advances made by European historians of population in the last two decades have been based on individual records, upon the detailed analyses ofsmall populations taken as representative of a particular section ofthe larger whole. . . . Ifwe are going to understand population processes in China, we are going to have to study the process at the individual and family level, (p. 2) Beyond the possibility ofdistinct regional variations in population dynamics, there is the added problem that previous studies, although they tell us a great deal about nineteenth- and twentieth-century issues, have very little to say about© 1997 b U ' tv P0Pmati°n growth and decline over manycenturies—theylack, as Harrell notes, ofHawai'iPresshistorical depth. By considering evidence for small populations fhat are usually regionally based, the authors in this volume seek, through their joint efforts, to 150 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 provide a clearer set ofquestions with which to approach further population studies of China during the past eight centuries. The majority ofthis volume's authors have made use ofthe rich collections ofgenealogical records compiled by most large lineages in China at least from Ming times onward. It is a source material that opens up a wide range ofhistoriographical opportunities for the demographer. These records have their own set of problems, however, because, just as in the case of tax records, they were compiled for ritual reasons, and certainly not with the intent ofproviding accurate documentation of every member born to the lineage. One of the many issues that immediately strikes the historian using genealogical materials is the underreporting ofwomen in the documents. Children who die young are also often missing. It is necessary, as with all documents employed to address questions their writers never envisioned, to infer what is missing. The use of these records, however , along with the epitaphs and household registration records employed by several authors, is a significant step for the study of Chinese population—broadening the sources employed and helping to frame more subtle questions. Patricia Ebrey's "Marriage among the Song Elite" in many ways represents the methodological and historiographical challenges created by the demographic project undertaken by the authors of this volume. Working in a time period for which there is only a fraction ofthe sources available for later periods, Ebrey makes use ofepitaphs (muzhiming) and genealogies to determine age at marriage for members of the Song elite. Ebrey finds median marriage ages approaching twenty for men in this group, which, as she notes, would...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 149-153
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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