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Engendering the Mercantile Lineage: The Rise of the Female Chastity Cult in Late Ming Huizhou

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This article argues that one important underlying factor in the formation of the female chastity cult in sixteenth-century Huizhou was its small-family/large-lineage structure, which was brought about by rapid commercialization.  As the majority of Huizhou young men left home for business, often immediately after marriage, the age at which couples had their first child was relatively high.  This demographic trend combined with the moderate average life span made the small nuclear family the norm, even as the natural increase in population augmented the size of the kinship settlement.  Situated in single-couple nuclear households, wives of sojourning men tended to be relatively free from parental in-law monitoring of their sexuality. An effective way to assure the fidelity of these abandoned women was to appeal to the larger lineage.  Sojourning merchants eagerly worked with home elders to enhance mercantile lineage culture, including control over women’s sexuality.

Affiliations: 1: University of California, Irvine


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