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Adopt a Daughter-in-Law, Marry a Sister: A Chinese Solution to the Problem of the Incest

Taboo
Author(s): Arthur P. Wolf
Source: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 70, No. 5 (Oct., 1968), pp. 864-874
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/669753
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Adopt a Daughter-in-Law,Marry a Sister: A Chinese
Solution to the Problemof the Incest Taboo
ARTHUR P. WOLF
Cornell University
In stressing the social advantages of the familial incest taboo, most explanations of the
taboo ignore the fact that it makes marriage the enemy of the family. The stranger
intruded by marriage often poses a threat to existing domestic relationships. The Chinese
solution to this problem is to circumvent the taboo by adopting female children who are
raisedas wivesfor theirfosterparents'sons. The familychoosingthisform of marriage
sacrifices prestige and dependable affinal ties, but by socializing their own daughters-in-
law they preserve domestic harmony. The fact that many Chinese arrange marriages
within the family as a means of preserving the family suggests that widely accepted ex-
planations of the incest taboo exaggerate the dangers of incest and ignore the dangers of
the taboo.

ALTHOUGHthe general characterof a friendor relativewhichhas a little son not


betrothedin marriage.... Thegirlis called a
the Chinese family has been known to
the West for several generations,the variety 'little bride'and is takenhome, and brought
of Chinese family forms is such as to always up in the familytogetherwithher futurehus-
band. When of marriageableage, and the
provide the newcomer with a few surprises. familycan affordthelittleadditionalexpense,
My favorite example occurs in C. F. Gor- she is marriedto her affiancedon a fortunate
don-Cumming'saccount of her visit to the day, which has been selectedby a fortune-
city of Foochow in 1879. A missionarylady teller.Friendsareinvitedand a feastis made.
of the author'sacquaintancehad recentlyre- No bridalcakes are distributedamong her
turned from a trip to a Christianschool in a relatives,and no red bridalchairis used,be-
nearby village. "Particularlyattracted by a cause she is living in the family of her hus-
band[1865:98].
bright little fellow, about eight years of age,
who for some months had refused to wor- The slight attention paid to this form of
ship the village idols, and who repeatedvar- marriage in general books on the Chinese
ious Christian hymns with much feeling,"
family creates the impressionthat such mar-
the lady noted that "the little chap carriedin riages are rare. This may be true of the
his arms a wee baby girl." In an attemptto North China Plain, Manchuria, and the
strike up a conversation with the boy she Shantung Peninsula, but it is certainly not
"naturallyasked if it was his sister, where- true of the lower Yangtze delta, the south-
upon he looked shy, and did not answer,but eastern hills, and the Hokkien-speaking
his brother volunteered the information, areas of Fukien and Taiwan. An article
'She is his wife!' " (1884:195). printed in a number of provincial newspa-
The girl was in fact a t'ung-yang-hsi,a pers tells us that 16,454 t'ung-yang-hsiwere
"daughter-in-lawraised from childhood,"or "freed"in Kiangsi province in the first two
what Hokkien speakers call a sim-pua, a years following the promulgation of new
"little daughter-in-law."The institution was marriagelaws in May of 1950. The same ar-
first described in English by another nine- ticle complains that despite this progress
teenth century visitor to Foochow, the Rev- marriagesinvolving t'ung-yang-hsi"havenot
erend JustusDoolittle. been fully abolished.""Of all the women in
Whena girl is bornin a poor family,which the 2nd ch'u, Yungchun hsien, in Fukien
it feels unableor is unwillingto rear,she is province, twenty percent were found to be
often given away or sold when but a few t'ung-yang-hsi" (Hopei Jihpao, Feb. 1,
weeksor monthsold, or one or two yearsold, 1953). A second widely printed article ap-
to be the futurewife of a son in the familyof
pearing a week later (Hopei Jihpao, Feb. 9,
1953) repeats this complaint and again
Accepted for publication February 7, 1968. notes the persistenceof "suchbarbarousand
864
WOLF] Adopt a Daughter-in-Law 865
backwardfeudal practices as the keeping of vided their children with an example of
t'ung-yang-hsi and teng-lang-hsi."l "Of all marital independence and the means of
the women in Pingho hsien in Fukien, sev- achievingit. There were probablymany par-
enty per cent are or have been t'ung-yang- ents in the 1930s and after who considered
hsi, while in nine ch'u in Chenping hsien in raising a wife for one of their sons but re-
Honan province, there are still more than jected the idea because of the difficultiesen-
2,000 unmarriedt'ung-yang-hsi" countered by a friend or relative. A couple
J. Lossing Buck's famous rural surveys raised in the same household as intimately
report much lower frequencies of t'ung- as brother and sister find the prospect of
yang-hsi in China in the 1930s, but Buck's sexual intercoursewith each other "embar-
questionnairedid not ask informantsif they rassing" and "uninteresting"and are reluc-
were raising a wife for one of their sons tant to marry (Wolf 1966).4 So long as the
(1937 Statistics: 443-463). The unexpect- groom's parents wield the very considerable
edly large proportion of males in the ages authoritygranted Chinese parents, they can
five to fifteen indicates that many families override the couple's reluctance and "push
were raising a t'ung-yang-hsibut simply did them together,"but as soon as parental au-
not mention the fact.2 Studies by Chinese thority begins to deteriorate, the younger
and Japanese scholars who were aware of generation revolts and insists on marriages
the institution report finding large numbers outside of the family. The inevitableresult is
of t'ung-yang-hsi in communities on the decline in the frequency of t'ung-yang-hsi.
Yangtze delta and in South China. The most As one of my informants on Taiwan ex-
reliable of these are Fei Hsiao-tung's 1936 plained when I asked him why he had not
study of the village of Kaihsienkung in adopted a wife for his son, "There is no
southern Kiangsu; C. M. Chiao's point in raising another daughter if she
1931-1935 study of the population of the won'tmarryyour son."
Hsiaochi registration district in central One estimation of the frequency of
Kiangsu; Feng Tzu-kang's 1933 survey of t'ung-yang-hsiin late traditional China oc-
Lanhsi hsien in central Chekiang; Michi- curs in the Reverend George MacKay's ac-
yoshi Kajiwara's 1934 investigation of the count of his years as a missionary in Tai-
household registersof nine villages in north- wan. After describing the various ways in
ern Taiwan; and Uzuru Okada's 1936 sur- which a family can obtain a daughter-in-law,
vey of the Shihlin district, also in northern MacKay writes: "The most common
Taiwan. At the time of Fei's study 95 of method is for the parents to purchase a
Kaihsienkung's 244 unmarried girls were young girl and bring her up in their own
siaosiv (the equivalentof t'ung-yang-hsiand home to be a wife for their son"
sim-pua) (1939:54); Chiao's data indicate (1895:120). While it would be easy to pass
that approximately one-fourth of all the off MacKay's observationas uninformedor
brides marrying into Hsiaochi came as exaggerated,the fact is that his estimation
t'ung-yang-hsi(1938:60-61)3; the 538 fam- is entirely accuratefor the area of the island
ilies in Feng's sample included 97 who were with which he was familiar. This past sum-
raising a son's wife (1935:54); the house- mer I obtained the Japanesehousehold reg-
hold registersstudied by Kajiwaralisted 208 istration records for two districts known to
sim-pua in a total of 839 families MacKay and am now in the process of ana-
(1941:180-183); and in a survey of only lyzing these for the years 1905-1925. This
148 households Uzuru Okada reports find- work is not far enough along to report the
ing a total of 137 sim-pua (1949:8). results in any detail, but it is obvious that
The fact that t'ung-yang-hsiwere so com- raisingthe girl from childhoodwas the most
mon in some areas of China as late as thirty popular way of acquiringa daughter-in-law.
years ago argues for an even higher fre- At least forty percent of all marriages in-
quency fifty to sixty years ago. This form of volved a woman raised as a member of her
marriageassumes strongparents, and by the husband'sfamily, and many men who mar-
1930s Chinese parents had lost a great deal ried a woman raised elsewhere were origi-
of their authority. Imported ideas of conju- nally matched with a sim-puawho died as a
gal relations and a changing economy pro- child.
866 American Anthropologist [70, 1968
There is no evidence of comparablequal- hsi in every corner of the empire.5Officials
ity for the China mainlandprior to the sur- in many localities devoted large sections of
veys conducted in the 1920s and 1930s, but their reports to the relevant legal and ritual
such evidence as there is makes the t'ung- details, and many wrote as though this were
yang-hsi a prominentfeature of the Chinese a most common way of obtaining a daugh-
social landscape.After describinga number ter-in-law. The most striking statement oc-
of instances of such marriages among his curs in the introductionto the report from
convertsand the employees of the American Kiangsi. With reference to Anlan, a term
Mission Board in Foochow, Doolittle notes used to refer to the southern half of the
that "this way of disposing of girls is quite province, the report tells us that "not more
common among the poor, whether living in than one or two of every ten" brides enter
the city or in the country" (1865:2:205). their future husband'shouseholds as adults.
The medical missionary William Lockhart "Five or six of every ten" come as t'ung-
tells us that the many children deposited in yang-hsi, and "threeor four of every ten" as
the Shanghai Foundling Hospital were teng-lang-hsi (Ministry of Justice 1930:
"taken by various families to be broughtup 1501-1502).
as domestics or artificersof various kinds, Perhaps the reason many Western schol-
or in other instances adopted as children; ars have ignored the practice of raising a
the boys as heirs where there are no sons, son's wife is that the Chinese themselvesdis-
the girls as the future wives of the sons or parage the practice and often disclaim it en-
grandsons of the family" (1861:26). Mrs. tirely. If you ask a Chinese informantto de-
Mary Bryson also seems to regard the prac- scribe marriage practices in his area of the
tice of raising a son's wife as commonplace. country, he will always talk about those
In her account of life as a missionary in forms of marriagein which the bride enters
Wuchang in southern Hupeh, she remarks, her husband's family as a young adult.
" 'Is that your daughter?',I have sometimes While customary law throughout the coun-
asked a Chinese woman, as I have seen a lit- try recognizes the legality of adopting a
tle girl sitting by her side. 'No, she is be- daughter-in-law,the mores of the society
trothed to my son', is a frequent reply, as condemn such marriagesas vulgar and infe-
she looks away to a small boy playing mer- rior. In official writingsthose marriagesthat
rily, with his thoughtsmore exercised by the bring the bride into her husband'shouse as
making of mud-pies than anything else" a child are termed hsiao-hun, "small mar-
(1885:65). riages" or "minor marriages"; those in
The popularity of this form of marriage which the bride joins her husband's family
is evident in every facet of the traditional as a young adult are ta-hun, "large mar-
culture. Many folksongs recall the tragedy riages" or "majormarriages."In translation
or the humor in the lives of t'ung-yang-hsi the terms suggest the relative ages of the
and teng-lang-hsi (Chen 1943:38-39), and two kinds of brides,but this is not the impli-
their behavioris commonly taken as a point cation of the Chinese. The major form of
of referencein proverbsand popularexpres- marriage,or what I have previouslytermed
sions (Wu 1943:36-37). Litigation involv- the "grandmarriage,"is "major"because it
ing the rights and obligationsof t'ung-yang- is the culturallypreferredform of marriage,
hsi is preservedin such compilationsof legal the right and proper way of acquiring a
precedents as the Hsing-an Hui-lan and the daughter-in-law.The minor form of mar-
Hsii-tse^ng Hsing-an Hui-lan (Chu 1843 and riage is "minor"not because the bride is a
1840). The fact that the institution is not minor, but because it is socially despised.6
mentioned in the legal code of the last dy- The minor form of marriageis also rec-
nasty (the Ta ChingLii Li) says more about ognized as having social disadvantages of
elite attitudestoward the practice than about another kind. Where the transferof a bride
its place in Chinese family life. When the as a young adult creates strong bonds be-
government undertook a survey of custom- tween her natal family and her husband's
ary law as the first step towards working family, the affinal ties of the parties to a
out a civil code on the Western model, the marriageof the minor type are "very loose,
results revealed the presence of t'ung-yang- and in some cases entirely eliminated"(Fei
WOLF] Adopt a Daughter-in-Law 867
1939:54).7 On Taiwan the members of the poor family is to adopt a girl and raise her
two families greet one another with the ap- as a daughter-in-law.The bride price for a
propriate kinship terms if they should hap- t'ung-yang-hsiis never more than a token
pen to meet in the train station or in the amount, and there is no need to spend more
market, but they do not invite one another than a few dollars on the wedding of a girl
to annual festivals and do not regard them- who is already a memberof the family. The
selves as having any responsibilityfor one event is a domestic matter that does not re-
another'swelfare. As one of my informants quire public display. The one major expense
in Hsiachichouput it, "They sometimestalk of the minor form of marriage is that of
as though they were related, but they know raising the girl, but this expense can be
that they aren'treally related." spread over a number of years and does not
By choosing the minor form of marriage require a large amount of cash. What most
a family loses prestigeand the advantagesof families do is to give away their own female
affinalalliances.Why then do so many fami- children and adopt girls who are raised as
lies choose this form of marriage?Part of wives for their sons. One family in Hsiachi-
the answeris the expense of the majorform chou saved the costs of six dowries and six
of marriage. As Mao Tse-tung observes in bride prices by giving away all six of their
his now famous Nung-ts'un Tiao-ch'a, "a daughters and adopting in their places six
poor man who doesn't have a tung-yang-hsi wives for their six sons."
must be satisfied with an old woman" The desire to economize is one motive for
(1949:45). The costs of marrying a young choosing to raise a son's wife, but it is not
woman in the major fashion are prohibitive. the only motive or even the most important
The family must retain a go-betweento find motive. Contraryto Fei Hsiao-tung'swidely
the right girl and negotiate the arrange- accepted analysis, the minor form of mar-
ments; they must pay the girl's family a sub- riage is not economically advantageous
stantial bride price "to thank them for rais- (1939:54-55). It is only cheaper. The loss
ing her"; and the girl herself will expect of affinalties narrowsthe circle of people a
gifts of at least three items of gold jewelry. family can depend on in times of financial
The family should distributered cakes to all crisis and also contracts the field of social
of their relatives and friends to announce supportthey can organizefor economic ven-
the "happyoccasion," and then on the wed- tures. As Fei himself observes in discussing
ding day they must hire a chair and bearers the economic advantages of a wide net of
to convey the bride to her new home. It can kinship ties, "In this connection, we can see
cost a family a small fortune just to get the that institutionssuch as the siaosiv, which di-
girl as far as their thresheld and another minish the kinship circle, will in the long
fortune to conduct a proper wedding. A run produce unfavorable economic conse-
wedding of this type is defined as a festive quences" (1939:269). The price of these
event, and all friends, relatives, and neigh- advantagesis the bride price requiredby the
bors expect to be invited. The small gifts of major form of marriage, but we must re-
cash they present upon arrival do not begin member that no family chooses the minor
to pay for the food they eat and the wine form of marriage as a last resort because
they drink. On Taiwan the average farm they cannot raise a bride price. The decision
family spends a minimum of six month's betweenthe two forms of marriageis always
gross income on a marriageof this type, and made ten to twenty years before the bride
families "who care about face" spend as price is due. The impoverishedmay despair
much as a year or even two year's income. of raising the money by the time their son is
A family can economize by bargaining old enough to marry, but this is not the rea-
hard on the bride price and by limiting the son most families adopt a daughter-in-law.
number of wedding guests, but the social If it were, there would not be so many mar-
costs of such economy are very high. The riages of this type. Only the hopelesslypoor
prestige gained by the major form of mar- would give up the advantagesof affinalties
riage is more than offset by the disgrace of and the prestige of the major marriagefor
not carrying out a marriage of this type in no other reason than a fear of being unable
the proper fashion. The safest course for a to collect a bride price in fifteen years.
868 American Anthropologist [70, 1968
That there are better reasonsfor choosing marriageof the majortype (1944:202-203).
the minor form of marriageis evident in the This is not an economical arrangement.
fact that many wealthy families raise their While the groom'sfamily does save the bride
sons' wives. Three of the most affluentfami- price asked for a nubile woman, they have
lies I knew on Taiwan had chosen the minor to bear both the expensesof raisinga girl and
form of marriage for their sons, and they the costs of an expensive wedding. By dem-
were not exceptional or even unusual. The onstrating their ability to afford a wedding
148 families included in Okada's 1936 sur- of the major type the family does offset the
vey enjoyed incomes three times the average loss of prestigeassociatedwith raisinga son's
for all households in the Shihlin district wife, but why should they go to all of the
(1949:3). They could easily afford the ex- trouble and expense of raising a daughter-in-
penses of the major form of marriage, but law when they can affordto wait and take an
in fact many of them chose to raise their adult bride for their son?
sons' wives. Okada asked each family how A clue to the answer occurs in the en-
they had married their daughters and how gagement that commits two families to a
they had obtained their wives and daugh- marriageof the major type. On Taiwan this
ters-in-law. Of a total of 388 women mar- ceremony takes place in the bride's home
rying into these families 179 had come as with the bride and her future mother-in-law
sim-pua, and of a total of 387 marryingout, as the central actors. The girl sits on a stool
291 had left as sim-pua (1949:15-16). The in front of her family's ancestralaltar, fac-
two wealthiest families in Okada's sample ing the open door of the hall, a position
had annual incomes of Y30,000 and symbolizing her imminent departure as a
Y11,000 as againsta districtaverageof only member of the household.The simple act of
Y428. The former consisted of the head of the mother-in-law'sslipping a gold ring on
the family and his wife and two sons, their the younger woman's finger completes the
wives and the wives of two deceased sons, legal action of the ceremony, but the legal
the sons' two concubines,thirteengrandchil- action does not exhaust the significance of
dren, the wives of nine grandsons and the the event. It is said that if the mother-in-law
sim-pua of another,ten great-grandchildren, manages to push the ring past the girl's
and sim-pua for four great grandsons;the knuckle, she will be able to dominateher as
latter included the head and his wife and a daughter-in-law,while, if she fails, the girl
three sons, one son's wife and another's will be able to maintain a certain indepen-
sim-pua, an adopted daughter, two grand- dence of the older woman in her new home.
children,the head's mother and her younger The result is often a tense if brief struggleat
son, this man's wife and a deceased broth- the very moment the two women enter into
er's wife, their two sons and two daughters, a relationshipof mother-in-lawand daugh-
a sim-pua for one of these boys, the head's ter-in-law. The occasion is a peculiarly apt
uncle and his wife, their two daughters,their one for it both completes the legal arrange-
two sons, and one's wife and the other's ments for the marriage and dramatizesthe
sim-pua (1949:166). consequences.
Men who can afford concubines do not The Chinese view of what can be ex-
raise their sons' wives to save money. The pected of the two women brought together
money saved is not worth the loss of pres- by a marriageof the major type is also evi-
tige and useful affinal ties. The fact is that dent on the day of the wedding. As the
many wealthy families who choose the bride leaves her parental home, crying bit-
minor form of marriagedo not take advan- terly, her sisters call after her, "May you
tage of the opportunityfor economy. In his soon bear a son, and may you soon become
valuable little book on family life in Wan- a mother-in-lawyourself." Upon arrival at
hua, the old section of Taipei City, Toshio the groom's home the go-betweenwarns the
Ikeda notes that "polite families" return a bride not to step on the thresholdas she en-
sim-pua to her natal home a few days before ters the house. "It's like stepping on your
her wedding. They then send the girl's fam- mother-in-law's head." After entering the
ily gifts, hire a red sedan chair, and bring house the girl is lead to the bridal chamber
the bride back with all of the fanfare of a where she finds on the bed strips of cloth
WOLF] Adopt a Daughter-in-Law 869
the mother-in-lawuses to bind her feet. The she is given to buy food in the market, of
mother-in-law herself avoids entering the being lazy and incompetent, in short, "of
bridal chamber for a few days before the wanting to eat her rice off the top of the
wedding "so the daughter-in-law will be pan." The daughter-in-lawcomplains that
afraid and obey her" (Ikeda 1944:148). But her husband'smother is "a hot pepper who
she does have her foot-bindings on the bed really knows how to scold," that she is
to remind the bride of what is expected of stingy and "won'teven give me five cents to
her in her new home. She must submit to buy candy for my children," generally ac-
her mother-in-lawas the foot submitsto the cusing the older woman of being unfair and
pressure of the binding (Ikeda 1944:147- unreasonable.The domestic arrangementsof
148). As Chinese women bound their feet a Chinese family do create ample opportuni-
so tight as to bend and break the bones, this ties for conflict between a woman and her
is a forceful symbolicinjunction. sons' wives, but the family's domestic affairs
It would be incorrect to representthe re- are only the topics of their struggle, not its
lationship created by the major form of source. The source of the tension between
marriageas one of inevitableconflict, but it mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is a
is not too much to affirm that this is the competition for the loyalty and affection of
normal consequence. My field notes from the young man who is the older woman'sson
Hsiachichou include references to quarrels and the younger woman'shusband.
between every mother-in-lawand daughter- The Chinese ideal of a distant and une-
in-law living in the village at the time of my motional relationshipbetween husband and
study. So nearly universalis the conflict be- wife recognizes the danger of a mother's
tween the two women that the villagers jealousy. A man should never display any
themselvesregarda harmoniousrelationship affection for his wife outside of the privacy
as extraordinary.When one village woman of their bedroom, and so far as possible he
praised her new daughter-in-lawrepeatedly should avoid even speaking to her except to
the situation was so widely discussed that give orders. Unfortunatelyfor the harmony
references to the matter appear again and of those families that choose the majorform
again in my notes over a period of several of marriage,this social device does not pre-
months. At first the tone of the village re- vent the mother'sresentingher daughter-in-
sponse was one of knowing amusement,ev- law's role as a wife. A woman's son is too
eryone confidently implying that it would importantin Chinese society for her to ac-
not last more than a few weeks. When the cept an intimacy from which she is ex-
usual change for the worse did not take cluded. Mothers do resent a son's relation-
place quite as soon as expected, this attitude ship with his wife and express this resent-
graduallygave way to resentmentand even ment by abusing their authority over the
irritation.Several women felt that the moth- daughter-in-law.Criticized,scolded, and not
er-in-law in question was causing everyone uncommonly beaten by her husband's
trouble by praising her daughter-in-law.As mother, the daughter-in-lawresponds in the
one of them explained, "She just goes only way she can. She tries to win over her
around telling everyone how good her husband in the hope of talking him into
daughter-in-lawis and this makes a lot of leaving the extended family, thereby freeing
trouble. It makes others angry at their own her forever of her mother-in-law.This tactic
daughters-in-lawjust to hear it." The even- naturallyserves to confirm the worst of the
tual deterioration of the relationship was older woman's fears and justifiesher hatred
greeted by the family's relatives and neigh- of the daughter-in-law.The result is a con-
bors with satisfactionand relief. flagrationfed on its own flames. The more
The topics of daily bickering among the resentful and jealous the mother-in-law,the
women of a household create the impression more she tyrannizesher son's wife; the more
that the source of the conflict between she is victimized, the harder the girl works
mother-in-lawand daughter-in-lawis domes- to pry her husband out of his natal family,
tic responsibility.The older woman accuses an effort that only serves to intensify the
the younger of "not even knowing how to older woman's fears and escalate the con-
cook rice," of pocketing some of the money flict.
870 American Anthropologist [70, 1968
In their daily encounters both women ex- family wouldn'tknow how to work, and she
press themselves in the rhetoric of the wouldn't know the worth of money. She
kitchen, but in crises the real cause of their would always be saying something to her
conflict comes to the fore. When an elderly mother-in-law,and this would cause every-
mother in Hsiachichou seemed in danger of one a lot of trouble."
being overwhelmedby a particularlyaggres- While these strategies may help preserve
sive daughter-in-law,her complaint was not the family by strengtheningthe mother-in-
that the daughter-in-lawwas lazy or incom- law's position, they do not solve the problem
petent, but that "my daughter-in-law is created by the intrusion of a strange young
trying to steal my son away from me." She woman into the family circle. The girl's inti-
told her son, "I'll go kill myself, and then mate relationshipwith her husband inevita-
the two of you can be alone and not be bly arouses his mother'sjealousy and sets in
bothered with a mother." In this case the motion a volatile triangleof strife. The only
son responded handsomely, assuring his solution is the one suggestedby the Chinese
mother that he would rather send his wife ideal of a family in which the daughter-in-
away than cause his mother anxiety. In his law accepts her mother-in-lawas a mother
own words, "How can I let you do that? If and the son puts the welfare of his parents
she isn't good to you, then I'll send her before those of his wife. In such an ideal
back to her family. How can I let you kill family the daughter-in-law turns to her
yourself?"Such a responsenaturallyencour- mother-in-lawbefore she complains to her
ages a mother and temporarily calms her husband, and the husband refuses to advo-
fears, but there is always the danger that cate his wife's interests when they run
someday the daughter-in-lawwill alienate counter to those of his parents. The threat
her son. To bear sons is a woman's first marriageposes to the Chinese family is thus
great trial in life; to maintain their loyalty removed by creating a household in which
and affection is the second and more diffi- intergenerationalties take precedence over
cult trial. As one village mother put it to conjugal ties. The mother-in-lawdoes not
me, "You raise your childrenand then when abuse her authoritybecause she has nothing
they grow up they are always someone to fear from her son's wife, and the wife
else's. Your daughter belongs to her hus- does not make exclusive claims on her hus-
band, and your son belongs to his wife. band because she has no need to pry him
Especially those men who always listen to away from his parents.
what their wives say. If you say more than It is the minor rather than the major
two words to your daughter-in-law,they'll form of marriage that comes closest to
get mad and move out of the family. 'You achievingthis ideal. Raised from early child-
can give birth to a son's body, but you can hood as a member of her future husband's
never know a son's heart.'" family, the daughter-in-lawdoes accept his
The Chinese are well aware of this con- parents as her own parents. She is first a
flict and do what they can to minimize its daughter and only later and secondarily a
intensity. Although Chinese villages are not daughter-in-lawand a wife. The strain of
exogamous in the jural sense, daughters-in- shared domestic responsibility does some-
law are seldom taken from within the same times cause conflict with her mother-in-law,
community. The explanation of my infor- but the intensityof these encountersremains
mants in Hsiachichou is that this would ex- low because they do not involve the hus-
acerbate the conflict between mother-in-law band. The mother-in-law can hardly feel
and daughter-in-lawby giving the younger jealous of her son's relationshipwith a girl
woman natural allies close at hand. "Every whom she has raised as a daughter,and the
time someone said a word to her she would daughter-in-lawdoes not arouse her moth-
run home and say something to her par- er-in-law by trying to turn her son against
ents." And this is also the reason Chinese her. The sexual aversion created by the cou-
families seldom take a daughter-in-lawfrom ple's intimate childhood association sep-
a family whose social status is higher than arates them as husband and wife and pre-
their own. The bride's family must always cludes the developmentof an exclusive con-
be of approximatelythe same social status jugal bond. The girl is more likely to seek
or of a lower status. "A girl from a rich her mother-in-lawas an ally againsther hus-
WOLF] Adopt a Daughter-in-Law 871
band than she is to try to turn her husband Where one would expect this treatmentto
against his mother. The effect of the minor give rise to an explosive resentment,the fact
form of marriage is to drive a wedge be- is that it seems to be an entirely successful
tween husband and wife and thereby take way of training daughters-in-law.Sim-pua
the strain off the bonds between the genera- are noted for being "clever" and "sullen,"
tions. not "obstinate" and "quarrelsome.""They
While the average man in a village like are the kind of people who watch other peo-
Hsiachichou is not aware of the dynamicsof ple's faces." The only resentmentmost girls
the minor form of marriage, he is very express is directed towards their natal fami-
much aware of their practical consequences lies for giving them away rather than to-
for the family. Asked why they had chosen wards their foster families for maltreatment.
to raise a wife for one of their sons, or what One former sim-pua explained her attitude
they saw as the advantages of the minor this way, "You know it was very funny
form of marriage, many of my informants when I was a child. My foster mother was
spoke of these marriages as "less trouble- beating me up all the time, but whenever I
some." "A girl you raise yourself will listen heard someone from my natal home coming
to what you say and not start trouble," or to take me back for a visit I was scared and
"The advantage is that a girl you adopt ran and hid in the toilet. Everyone would
won't always be saying things to your son." run and try to drag me out, but I wouldn't
One elderly informantwho had raised wives come out. The thought of going back to my
for two of her three sons put it this way: "It natal home was like having a piece of my
is always better for a boy to marry an flesh cut off." When anothersim-puarefused
adopted daughterthan to marry a girl from to marry her foster brother, her mother-in-
another family. This is because you can get law asked the girl's mother to try to talk her
to know an adopted daughter's disposition into changingher mind. "Butit didn'twork.
better and can correct her without causing a I hated her much more than I hated my fos-
lot of trouble. A girl from another family ter mother. I could never get used to the
will always get mad when you try to correct idea of having two mothers.I used to think,
her, and then she will say things to her hus- 'Everybodyelse has only one mother. Why
band and make trouble between him and his should I have two mothers?'I knew she was
parents." my real mother, but I would make myself
My own observationsof families created think, 'This other woman (her foster
by the minor form of marriagebear out this mother) is my real mother; she isn't my
view, and yet I am still surprisedby the fact mother.'"
that home-raised daughters-in-laware less When life becomes intolerable for a
troublesome. Abuse of these girls by their woman who has entered her husband'sfam-
foster families is so common that the sim- ily by way of the major form of marriage,
pua has become a symbol of the life of mis- she visits her natal home and complains to
ery (Wu 1943:36-37). When a child falls her parents. Although it is unusual for the
down and hurts herself, her mother picks parentsto do anythingmore than to comfort
her up, singing, "Oh, oh, crying like a sim- her, she does at least have some external
pua," or, if a child appearsangry and sullen, emotional support. That the sim-pua does
the mother says, "Oh, look, a sim-puaface." not expressher bitternesstowards her foster
So many families assign every dirty, un- parents is probably because they are her
pleasant task to their future son's wife that only parents. Many girls do not even know
people in Hsiachichou made a point of tell- their real parents, and many of those who
ing me that "we don't mistreat our adopted do cannot regard them as parents. The one
daughter."Before I had been in the village advantage of the sim-pua's situation is that
long enough to know better, I asked a she is not a stranger in her husband's vil-
woman who had been raised as a sim-pua if lage, but this cannot be used to advantage
this were really true. She answered, "You against her foster parents. While public
walk around here all day talking to people. opinion is only amused at the sight of an
Can't you see? Haven't you heard people adult bride railing againsther mother-in-law,
say that it is better to be a poor man's it would not tolerate a sim-pua'sexpressing
daughterthan a rich man's sim-pua?." the same sentiments.Whateverher jural sta-
872 American Anthropologist [70, 1968
tus in the family, a sim-puais still her moth- domestic harmony. They know that this
er-in-law'sdaughter.For her to criticize her choice sacrifices useful affinal ties and the
parents-in-lawwould constitute a breach of prestige associatedwith the major marriage,
filial piety. More often treatedlike a servant but they are more concerned with retaining
than like a daughter, a sim-pua has no the loyalty of their sons. As one of my in-
choice but to accept her status as a daughter formants explained, "In China no one asks
and behave like a good daughter-in-law. how much land you have. Here people ask
While this description of the conse- you how many sons you have. You can
quences of the two forms of marriage is work when you are young, but when you
based on my own fieldwork in Taiwan, the are old you have to have childrento support
differencesbetween the two are not a func- you.9"
tion of conditions peculiar to this one area While the Chinese themselves do not see
of China. The same contrasts are drawn by their situation in this perspective, it is ob-
Fei Hsiao-tungin his account of the village vious that the real source of their difficulty
of Kaihsienkung in southern Kiangsu. Of is the incest taboo. By forcing families to
the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law take a daughter-in-lawfrom the outside, the
broughttogether by the major form of mar- taboo makes marriagea threat to the family.
riage, Fei writes: The girl intrudedinto the family circle can-
not be absorbedwithout disruptingintergen-
It comesto be takenmoreor less for granted
that the mother-in-lawis a potentialenemy erational ties. The only solution is to cir-
of the daughter-in-law.Frictionbetweenthem cumvent the taboo by adopting the girl as a
is takenas usual and harmonyas worthyof child and raising her as a memberof her fu-
special praise. Anyone who has listenedto ture husband's household. This maneuver
gossipsamongthe elderwomen,will confirm satisfies the formal requirementsof the in-
thisstatement.Theyarenevertiredof cursing cest taboo and also avoids its dangerous
theirdaughters-in-law [1939:48]. consequences. The one problem is that the
aversion that makes this solution successful
In contrast,Fei finds that also creates resistance to marriage on the
the girl broughtup from an earlyage by her part of the adopted daughter and her in-
futuremother-in-law, becomes... veryclosely tended husband.As long as the groom'spar-
attachedto the latter and feels towardsher ents command all of their authority as par-
just like a daughter,especiallyin those fre- ents, they can override this resistance and
quentcaseswherethereis no daughter.Even force the couple to consumate the arrange-
those who are badly treatedby the future
mother-in-lawbecomeused to their position ment. But as soon as changing conditions
and do not thusexperiencea crisisaftermar- give the young couple a voice in the matter
riage.Thus the conflictbetweenthe mother- of their marriage,this solution to the prob-
in-lawand the daughter-in-lawis oftennot so lem of the incest taboo fails. To follow Mal-
acute,even if not entirelyavoided[1939:54]. inowski's example of "a terse, if somewhat
crude formula,"we might say that the goal
Although a few impoverished families of man.v Chinese families is to substitute
may choose the minor form of marriagebe- daughtersfor daughters-in-law;the difficulty
cause they despair of ever raising a bride
is that brothersdon't like to marry their sis-
price, this does not explain the popularityof ters.
this type of marriage. Many families who
could raise the money by the time their sons This example is interesting for the chal-
were old enough to marry do not make the lenge it poses to most sociological explana-
effort, and many of those who can easily af- tions of the familial incest taboo. Beginning
ford a bride price prefer to raise their sons' with the assumptionthat men are naturally
wives. The real purpose of the minor form inclined to mate and marry within the fam-
of marriageis not to save money but to pre- ily, the most widely accepted of these expla-
serve the family. Aware of the conflict nations argue that the taboo is necessary to
created by the major marriage and fearing achieve the advantagesof marriage outside
the loss of their sons as a result of this con- of the family. This may be true of societies
flict, many families choose the minor form in which marriagecreates new families, but
of marriage as a means of promoting it is not always true of those in which mar-
WOLF] Adopt a Daughter-in-Law 873

riage recruitsto existing families. While tak- More females than males were found among
ing a daughter-in-lawfrom another family immigrants during the first and second years
does have the advantageof creatingdepend- [of the study] and a few more during the
able affinalties, it has the marked disadvan- fourth year. This is due to the fact that all
the women from outside who were married
tage of intruding a strangerinto the family to a man in Hsiao Chi were counted as im-
circle. The only solution is to ignore the
migrants. In China, after marriage, a woman
spirit of the law and raise daughters-in-law almost always lives in her husband's com-
as daughters,but this is not feasible in most munity. . . . The large proportion of female
societies. Contraryto the initial assumption immigrants at ages 15-24 is due to those
of the sociological explanations, men and newly-marriedpeople from outside. In Hsiao
women who are raised from childhood as Chi community the rearing of a fiancee for
membersof the same family are not inclined the son or for the grandson is practiced and
to mate and marry. The problem of the in- especially in recent years because of the fall-
cest taboo is how to overcome this aversion ing prices of farm products. Most girls under
14 who have come to the area came under
and thereby avoid the necessity of taking these conditions [1938:60].
husbands and wives from outside. The rea-
son the Chinese are the only known human
I have therefore taken the relative number of
society to have solved this problem may be female immigrants in these two groups as a
because they are one of the few societies in
which parents have absolute authority over rough indication of the relative frequency of
the two forms of patrilocal marriage. There
their adult offspring.9 were 377 immigrants between 15 and 24 years
of age and 122 under 14 years of age: thus
NOTES
approximately one-fourth of all brides enter-
SLike the t'ung-yang-hsi and the sim-pua, a ing the community came as t'ung-yang-hsi.
teng-lang-hsi enters her future husband'shouse- 'I have since discovered that I was not the
hold as a child. The difference is that she is first to see the implications of this situation for
adopted in anticipation of the birth of her Westermarck'sexplanation of the incest taboo.
husband: literally, a teng-lang-hsi is "a bride In 1943 Tai Yen-hui wrote: "Westermarcksays
waiting for a groom." If a family takes a teng- that when people are acquainted too closely
lang-hsi and does not later produce a boy for they become sexually indifferent. He therefore
her to marry, they either allow the girl to emphasized the need for marriage outside of
marry out of her foster family, or, more com- the family. It is possible that there may be
monly, use her to acquire a son-in-law by way feelings of disgust or coolness between a sim-
of an uxorilocal marriage. pua and her intended husband" (1943:3).
'In his report of the 1922-1925 survey Buck 'This report was published in 1930 by the
writes: Ministry of Justice under the title Min-shang-
Pao-kao-lu. For a de-
In this study for the first two decades the shih Hsi-kuan Tiao-ch'a
see Frangois Th6ry
ratio of males to females is 123.4 for the scription and evaluation
(1948:368-371). A
0-9 age group, and 118.3 for the 10-19 Chinese document is available Xerox copy of the original
The ratio shows in Cornell Uni-
group. by five-year groups
much variation and reaches 143 for the years versity's Wason Collection.
5-9. The reason for this high ratio in compari- 'In my first article on this subject (Wolf
son with that of 106 for the age group 0-4 and 1966) I refer to marriages involving an adult
with that of 119.5 for the age group of 10- bride as "grand marriages"and those involving
14 is not clear (1930: 343-345). a t'ung-yang-hsior teng-lang-hsi as "alternative
patrilocal marriages." I have abandoned these
And then in a summary of the 1929-1931 sur- terms because the second is clumsy and the
vey we find this comment(1937:376): "The first conflicts with Freedman's use of the term
relatively small number of females at ages "grand" to refer to a type of Chinese family
under 20 . . . also suggests an under-enumera- (1966:49). The terms "minor"and "major"are
tion of females. It is difficult on other terms preferable because they suggest both the rela-
to explain the marked leveling of the curve tive ages of the two kinds of brides and the
between the 10 to 19 and the 20 to 29 age relative social standing of the two forms of
groups." My suggestion is that the missing marriage.
girls are t'ung-yang-hsi.They leave the popula- 'Arthur H. Smith also observes that "in some
tion of "daughters"at an early age and return instances the relations with the family of the
after puberty as "wives." girl are wholly broken off, when she is taken
*Chiao writes: for a 'rearing marriage'" (1899:260).
874 American Anthropologist [70, 1968
SHsiachichou is a small Hokkien-speaking Department of Agriculture, University of
community located on the southwesternedge of Chekiang.
the Taipei basin in northern Taiwan. This is FREEDMAN, MAURICE
the site of my own fieldwork and the source of 1966 Chinese lineage and society. London,
most of the data reported in my previous paper The Athlone Press.
(Wolf
S 1966). C. F.
GORDON-CUMMING,
I have argued that the minor form of mar- 1884 Wanderings in China. 2 vols. Edin-
riage creates sexual aversion on the part of the burgh and London, William Blackwood and
married couple and promotes domestic har- Sons.
mony by removing the mother-in-law/daughter- HOPEI JIHPAO (HOPEI DAILY)
in-law conflict. If these statements are true, 1953a Ch'iian-kuo kuan-shih hun-yin-fa
women who marry a childhood housemate kung-tso chi-pu p'ing-hang (Implementa-
should bear fewer children than those who tion of marriage law in different parts of
marry in the major fashion, and families in the country uneven). February 1.
which two or more sons marry sim-pua should 1953b F~ng-chien hun-yin shih-tu jeng-jan
survive longer as joint households than those yen-chung ts'un-tsai (Feudal marriage cus-
in which brothers marry women who enter the toms still survive). February 9.
home as young adults. I am now analyzing IKEDA,TOSHIO
household registration records from Taiwan to 1944 Taiwan no katei seikatsu (Home life
test these two hypotheses. The results of these in Taiwan). Taipei, T6to Shoseki.
tests will form the basis of two further papers KAJIWARA,MICHIYOSHI
on the minor form of marriage and its impli- 1941 Taiwan nomin seikatsu ko (Peasant
cations. life in Taiwan)). Taipei, Ogata Takez6.
LOCKHART, WILLIAM
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