Elites and their children. A study in the historical anthropology of medieval China, 500-1000 A.D.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The thesis investigates elite children’s lives in China between 500 and 1000 ACE within the framework of historical anthropology. Based on ‘anomaly accounts’ (collected in the Taiping guangji), medical manuscripts, family instructions, ‘children’s books’, tomb inscriptions, official histories, law and tax code, and poetry, this thesis provides a general definition of childhood and children in medieval China. Furthermore, by juxtaposing different sources, for example medical texts versus anomaly accounts, it studies perinatal and postnatal child treatment, and the definition of child development and social practices with infants and sick children. The thesis furthermore attempts a definition of a child’s life in and together with elite families. It investigates the function that different family members (according to gender) hold with regard to children, and also studies children’s activities (play) and space children use. Based on the medical and general definition of children and childhood and a child’s place in society (i.e. family), the thesis proceeds in studying typical dangers and the most common violence children faced and how they or their family members dealt with it (his/her physical weakness, their female care givers, demons and other supernatural dangers, maternal uncles, fathers and migration processes). The thesis also throws new light on ‘family’ education and different ways of educating children. Lastly, the thesis discusses child death, how it is dealt with in a community and how parents deal with it emotionally. As all the authors of this thesis’ sources are adult elite (writing) male, the thesis cannot so much explain a child’s life from a child’s point of view, but rather stand still at the topics that men chose to write about. Men obviously pondered about pregnancy, the growth of the foetus and birth – events they hardly had any access to or control over. Men also wondered about what happened when children grew and how the small body turned into an adult body and what the difference was between those two bodies. Men worried about education, and how a child would be able to result into a morally integer adult, who was going to bring honour to the family within a community and continue the family line. Authors especially deliberated the childhood of outstanding persons. The thesis shows how a man’s interest in children in medieval China was based on the maintenance of the ideal foundation of a community. However, by juxtaposing different material, the thesis also demonstrates some in male writing and representation of children, gender relation and Tang society.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University
  • ter Haar, Barend J., Supervisor, External person
Award date2009 Sep 10
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2009-09-10
Time: 13:45
Place: Leiden

External reviewer(s)

Name: Barrett, Timothy H.
Title: [unknown]
Affiliation: SOAS


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Social Sciences


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