Rashomon and Chinese Historical Demography: Inconsistencies in the Recording of Family and Kinship across Sources

Cameron D. Campbell, University of California, Los Angeles
James Lee, University of Michigan

To assess the consistency of recording of kinship in historical Chinese data, we carry out the first comparison ever of the demography of the same families in two different sources: household registers and lineage genealogies. We find that these sources offer contradictory accounts. Reflecting differences between official and private constructions of kinship, individuals recorded in one are sometimes missing from others. The recording of relationship, including paternity, is often inconsistent. We apply multivariate techniques to identify the factors that affect the chances of being recorded in one source but not another, and the chances of a relationship being recorded differently in two sources. We assess the implications for estimates of mortality and fertility from these sources. We conclude by discussing the implications for interpretation of published findings from sources such as lineage genealogies and household registers that have been the mainstay of historical studies of Chinese kinship and demography.

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Presented in Session 71: Asian and Asian-American Families in Historical Perspective