China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The dynamics of state-family relations constitutes one of the most important dimensions of modern Chinese history. Past works on family-state relations in China have focused on the institutions and processes of family reforms, such as marriage laws, family planning, and liberalization of women. Moving away from this emphasis on top-down modernizing reforms, this panel showcases interdisciplinary papers that reveal hidden state ideological agendas and uncover new sites of family-state interactions. Drawing on cases from county and national-level archives, Tristan Brown documents the Qing state’s participation in a traditional divinatory “science” (bazi) and its role in legitimizing family strategies. Examining Qing and Republican legal codes and case records, Yue Du shows how father’s and mother’s authorities were equally upheld in judicial practice, even across household lines where the mother belonged to a different clan through remarriage. Building on careful examination of propaganda films on marriage reform, Xian Wang argues that the primary goal of the Marriage Law of 1950 was to reshape the family-state relationship rather than to liberate women. Drawing on family letters and official archives, Yanjie Huang discusses how urban Shanghai families negotiated an end to family separation caused by China’s Cold War mobilizations in the 1970s and early 1980s. All together, these papers demonstrate that family-state relations in 19th and 20th century China centered on negotiation between state ideologies and family strategies. While the state projected ideological dominance over the family, these state-family interactions often had unintended impacts on both family life and state legitimacy.