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The anthropology of Chinese kinship: a critical overview

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This is a critical overview of the anthropology of Chinese kinship focusing on the twentieth-century Euro-American literature. I first deal with the less well-known early literature of the period before the foundation and closure of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. I then show how the thematic and theoretical heterogeneity of this early literature was superseded during the 1960s and 1970s by a powerful but reductive paradigmatic lineage model of Chinese kinship and society, largely derived from documentary-based studies of lineage organisation in the late imperial period and consolidated through field research in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Inspired by earlier critics of this lineage-model, tuned in to new anthropological trends in the field of kinship studies and triggered by the post-Mao opening of the PRC, the 1990s marked the beginning of a very heterogeneous cycle of renovation generated by new field research. Seen as a whole, this current cycle of renovation has been undertaking a revision of the older descent-centred comparative view of Chinese kinship and is giving important insights to current anthropological debates about the nature of human kinship.

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