Elites and their children : a study in the historical anthropology of medieval China, 500-1000 AD
By Annika Pissin
PhD Dissertation, Leiden University, 2009
Introduction: Scholars have only recently come to recognize that children have their own history and that their history is both global in scope, and a key part of the wider history of social processes and social systems. The raising of children is a major concern for all societies since the reproduction of societal norms and values depends on the way in which children are socialised. The history of children in medieval China, as in other parts of the world and in premodern times, stands in marked contrast to the traditional areas of historical inquiry such as the history of the state, the history of the economy or intellectual history. Children generally do not have political power or economic influence; they do not write about their own lives, but instead appear in the writings of adults. Yet, children are a critical part of the social order.
The only information we have about children in medieval China comes from male adults with an elite and literary social background. According to the unwritten rules of composing texts during the medieval era, these men cited from older texts and copied from each other. Concerning children and childhood many images we come across in texts are therefore medieval stereotypes that partly have been transmitted and transformed from earlier imperial times and that partly derived from contemporary medieval gossip and narratives. This limits our knowledge about children to a great degree.