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Adoption in Han China

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We investigate surviving legal statutes regarding inheritance and descriptions of adoption from the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), asking to what extent there was consensus among the literate elite about the rules for adoption. We argue that, in contrast to later periods, there is little evidence for the existence of any single set of classical prescriptions. Instead, the Han ruling elite had at their disposal a variety of legitimate strategies for deciding whether to and how to incorporate outsiders into the household. Such strategies involved different parties, contrasting principles, and diverging rationales. Nous examinons les statuts juridiques qui portent sur les successions, aussi bien que les descriptions d'adoption, avec le but d'établir jusqu'à quelle mesure il existait pendant la dynastie Han (206 av. J.-C.-220 ap. J.-C.) un consensus sur des règles d'adoption auprès des élites lettrées. On soutient, qu'à la différence des périodes ultérieures, on ne trouve peu de trace d'un ensemble unique de préscriptions classiques. Les élites de l'époque Han disposaient d'une variété de stratégies différentes pour décider si et de quelle façon ils pouvaient intégrer des étrangers dans la famille. De telles stratégies suivaient des règles et des systèmes de logiques plutôt divergents.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan;, Email:; 2: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University;, Email:


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