Whither Confucian Family Values? New Research on Marriage, Trafficking, and the Things People Do to Survive

Janet M. Theiss, University of Utah

Matthew Sommer. Polyandry and Wife-Selling in Qing Dynasty China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. 499 pp. $80 (cloth/ebook).

Zhao Ma. Runaway Wives, Urban Crimes, and Survival Tactics in Wartime Beijing, 1937–1949. Cambridge, MA: Harvard East Asia Monographs, Harvard University Press, 2015. 380 pp. $50 (cloth).

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These two eagerly awaited studies of marriage and family practice among the poor radically alter our understanding of the Chinese family system in late imperial and early twentieth-century China. Read together, these richly documented monographs by Matthew Sommer and Zhao Ma create a provocative and nuanced picture of diverse modes of family formation among the poor that raise profound questions about the reach of state-defined norms—Confucian or modern—and the state’s impact on family life...