James Lee and I just published a paper in the newly retitled Chinese Sociological Review examining the contribution of descent group membership to inequality between individuals in rural northeast China, and measuring continuity in the statuses of descent groups from the Qing to the present. We used linked contemporary retrospective survey data linked to historical household registers. We found that even after differences between households and villages were accounted for, there were pronounced differences in socioeconomic outcomes for individuals according to descent group. For marriage and socioeconomic attainment, differences in outcomes between descent groups in the same village were as large or larger than differences between villages.
Here is the reference:
Campbell, Cameron and James Z. Lee. 2011. “Kinship and the Long-Term Persistence of Inequality in Liaoning, China, 1749-2005.” Chinese Sociological Review. 44(1):71-104.
And here is a LINK. You’ll probably need an institutional subscription to get hold of the actual paper.
Here I will try to provide some intuition about why the work is novel and interesting, in the hope of persuading you to find the actual paper, read it, and cite it.
We all know from decades of qualitative research by anthropologists and historians that descent groups are an important unit of social organization in Chinese society. Results from fieldwork and other qualitative research suggests that descent group membership should have been an important source of inequality between individuals in Chinese society, in that individual outcomes were influenced heavily not only by the household into which they were born, but by the descent group into which they were born. In other words, otherwise identical individuals might have very different outcomes according to whether they were born into a high-status descent group or a low-status one. This is a point that is either explicit or implicit in a variety of works, for example by historians such as Robert Hymes, and anthropologists such as Maurice Freedman.
Oddly, quantitative studies of stratification and inequality in Chinese society don’t incorporate these qualitative insights into the importance of large kin groups in Chinese society. Quantitative studies of the determinants of individual life outcomes in China tend to follow models developed in the course of studying Western societies. Such models tend to emphasize the roles of macro-level differences in socioeconomic outcomes according to membership in categories defined by race, ethnicity, gender, nativity, and so forth, or micro-level differences according to individual and parental characteristics. While recent work by Don Treiman, Wang Feng, Wu Xiaogang, Xie Yu and others recognizes the role played by hukou status, danwei affiliation, and other distinctive features of contemporary Chinese society, there really isn’t much direct consideration of the role of larger kin groups.
Accordingly, our paper is a first stab at accounting for the role of descent groups in structuring inequality between individuals. We have retrospective survey data from selected villages in rural Liaoning that we have linked to household register data in the China Multigenerational Panel Dataset-Liaoning (CMGPD-LN)
. One of the key features of the CMGPD-LN is that it allows for reconstruction of descent groups across multiple generations through automated linking. Perhaps more importantly, the CMGPD-LN is now available for download by anyone who would like to extend upon our work.
For the analysis, we estimate multi-level random-effects models to measure the relative importance of differences between villages, descent groups, and households in accounting for differences in the socioeconomic and demographic outcomes of individuals. We also rank descent groups in the Qing and the last half of the twentieth century according to their success in attaining local official positions, and then calculate correlations in those ranks as indices of the continuity of status. The long and short of it is that there are pronounced differences between descent groups, and substantial continuity in the relative statuses of descent groups.
The question, of course, is why? We are still pondering this. So far our explanations for the importance of descent groups and the continuity of their statuses has revolved around the idea that especially before public education became universal, descent groups were a primary locus within individuals learned norms, behaviors, values, orientations and so forth. In other words, intangibles such as knowledge and skills circulated within descent groups and were passed down from one generation to the other. We further speculate that the continuity we observed from the Qing to the late twentieth century reflected the resilience of these intangibles to efforts at social leveling that focused on the redistribution of material goods.