Mothers and Sons in Early Imperial China

Presses Universitaires de Vincennes
Journal Article - Mark Lewis

This article will focus on evidence of a shifting balance of power within the household, and secondarily within the lineage, that entailed a relative rise in the position of the mother (or rather mothers, as most elite households had concubines who could play an important role in the politics of the household). As I will elaborate, this rise of maternal status and power took the form of an increasing emphasis on the household as an "emotional community," in which relations and hierarchy were determined equally or more by the emotional bonds between individuals than by their hierarchical relations as stipulated in the formal ties that constituted the lineage. This development, which can be textually discerned from the second half of the second century A.D. through the fifth century, marked not only an important step in the development of the family unit in China, but also a significant stage in China's history of emotions