Chapter

Marriages of the Ruling Elite in the Spring and Autumn Period

Melvin P. Thatcher

in Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 1991 | ISBN: 9780520069305
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520910454 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520069305.003.0002
Marriages of the Ruling Elite in the Spring and Autumn Period

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This chapter provides an overview and preliminary analysis of the marriage practices of the ruling elite in the aristocratic society of the Spring and Autumn period (770–453 b.c.). Departing from previous Western-language investigations that frequently refer to classical ritual texts, such as the I-li and Li-chi, or draw on a narrow slice of historical data, this is a study of references to marriage in the Ch'un-ch'iu and Tso-chuan, the most important primary sources for the Spring and Autumn period. It takes into account all 150 recorded marriages, but focuses on the 126 marriages that involve members of the ruling households, namely, rulers, their sons, daughters, and grandsons. Analyzing these marriages has several purposes, the first of which is descriptive or classificatory. In this regard, attention is given to the hierarchy of women in the ruler's household and to wedding rituals, marriage rules, and patterns of intermarriage. The second purpose of analyzing these marriages is to determine how aristocratic marriages were connected to the social and political systems of this period. The relation between marriage and inequality is very much at issue here; the evidence suggests that marriages were used above all to strengthen ties between social and political equals. The third purpose for analyzing these marriages is to provide a baseline for discussing continuities and discontinuities over the course of Chinese history.

Keywords: marriage practices; ruling elite; Ch'un-ch'iu; Tso-chuan; households; women; inequality; Chinese history

Chapter.  15908 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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