'De-kinning': House, Inheritance and Relatedness in Modern China
(Sichuan University )
Paper short abstract:
Focusing on house-related memories, tensions and disputes, this paper examines how inheritance practices and perceptions of kinship have changed over time at the grassroots level in Beijing. It explores materiality and relatedness in the sense of 'de-kinning' as part of China's modernising process.
Paper long abstract:
Drawing on long-term fieldwork undertaken in an old-town neighbourhood in central Beijing, this paper looks at how inheritance practices and perceptions of kinship have changed over time and examines their impact on the daily life of local residents. It focuses on a small number of privately-owned siheyuan ('courtyard houses'), which were handed down from generation to generation in one family. The images of the siheyuan call to mind extended families and a 'Confucian state' favouring male heirs. They were nationalised under high socialism in the 1950s, when men and women were granted equal rights in property. After eventually being returned to their former owners in the wake of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the siheyuan, now dilapidated due to lack of maintenance, were confronted with increasing privatisation and commercialisation. Despite the physical survival of the siheyuan, it is now a commonplace for siheyuan siblings to turn against each other, and for families to break up, as people struggle over shares of their suddenly valuable but neglected old residence. Piecing together memories and accounts of informants, these extended families could be seen to have gradually fallen apart during the historical processes of socialist construction and post-Mao reform and opening-up. While noting certain continuities in ways of life among siheyuan occupants, this paper hopes to broaden the debate on materiality and relatedness (cf. Carsten) in the sense of 'de-kinning'(cf. Howell) as part of China's modernising process.
Passing on: the materialisation of kinship