The lineage organization in Ming China

A case study of Haining in the sixteenth century

Authored by: Ivy Maria Lim

The Ming World

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138190986
eBook ISBN: 9780429318719
Adobe ISBN:


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The patrilineal descent group or zongzu – represented by the lineage genealogy (zupu), ancestral hall (zongci) and corporate estates – can be traced to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries during which it largely evolved into the form scholars of late imperial China are familiar with. 1 Ideologically it was not a new invention since neo-Confucian thinkers such as Cheng Yi (1033–1107) and Zhu Xi (1130–1200) of the Song dynasty (960–1279) advocated that the family, as a “kinship-based ritual unit,” should serve as the “basic building block of local society.” 2 In particular, Zhu Xi’s Family Rituals or Zhuzi jiali asserted that literati families could organize themselves as patrilineal kinship groups descended from an apical ancestor with kinship solidarity suphported by charitable estates. 3 As Zhu Xi’s Family Rituals was incorporated into the state canon and became the basis for ritual laws during the Ming, it set the standard towards which literati and non-literati families aspired as befitting their status as educated people. Thus, lineage genealogies, ancestral halls and endowed estates became symbols of the patrilineal descent group, or the family writ large, all serving the purpose of maintaining kinship ties beyond five generations and even beyond the stipulated mourning grades.

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