Filial Daughter? Filial Son? How China’s Young Urban Elite Negotiate Intergenerational Obligations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article deploys narrative method to explore how young adults in China enrolled in higher education negotiate future intergenerational obligations. The study finds that the process through which filial piety is being renegotiated is complex and sometimes contradictory, and norms and values do not always align with practices, as intergenerational obligations need to be managed in tandem with obligations envisioned towards future spouses, as well as work opportunities. Although no longer explicitly son-centred, the intergenerational contract is highly gendered, and patrilineality and patrilocality have not simply become attenuated through some general process of modernization. Rather, there are many ways in which they have become renegotiated, revealing both continuity and change in intergenerational relations. The article illustrates ways in which both patrilineality and patrilocality—whether endorsed, resisted, or negotiated—are still important organizing principles for how intergenerational relations play out. It introduces the concept of “neo-patrilocality” to denote the practice of families channelling resources along the patriline to organize housing for sons in order to enhance their prospect of getting married and having children, a central aspect of filial piety. While filial sons may be involved in more complex relations of reciprocity due to both cultural imperatives and material investments, filial daughters appear to have more leeway in negotiating intergenerational relations. This may reflect a watered-down, but still implicit, understanding that daughters and grandchildren by daughters are outside of the lineage. It seems that, for filial daughters, the parent–adult-child relation is both more intense and more central to filial piety, while for filial sons, intergenerational relations extend beyond the parent–child relation—to grandparents and future children—more than they do for young women. The article concludes that gender relations and intergenerational relations interact and mutually reinforce one another, and that there are differences in class. Patrilineality and neo-patrilocality were more central for affluent and poorer families than for families belonging to the middle class.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Sociology


  • Intergenerational relations, China, narrative analysis, filial piety, neo-patrilocality, patrilineality, gender
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295
Number of pages312
JournalNORA - Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch

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