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社会学
人类学
社会工作
社会科学综合
1. Work and Household in Chinese Culture

图书名称:Re-Drawing Boundaries: Work, Households, and Gender in China
图书作者:Barbara Entwisle and Gail E. Henderson    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:2000年

Susan Mann

Classical notions of work in China focused on the household as the basic unit of production. Household members were supposed to be interdependent, with women working “inside” and men “outside” to provide for the needs of the whole. In this classical discourse on work, an individual's labor was subsumed by the collective household economy—usually managed by women, whom McDermott (1990) has called “domestic bursars.” The household so conceived was a kin unit and the basic unit of domestic organization, encompassing both production and reproduction of goods and labor. In late imperial times, the ideal household was a joint family, comprising at least three generations under one roof.[1] To be economically successful, the household constructed an elaborate division of labor according to age and sex, based on each member's understanding of his or her roles and responsibilities. The larger the household and the more elaborate the division of labor, the better the chances for success.

As this chapter shows, the classical ideal and its historical transformations differ in important ways from contemporary understandings of work as a job (gongzuo; see chap. 2). China's earliest classical texts recognized work as one of the defining characteristics of free persons—a mark of respectability and a sign of social status. At the same time, work was construed as a collective, not an individual, activity. Philosophers and statesmen imagined work in the context of household production units laboring to serve their own interests, and in so doing, constructing the social division of labor in society as a whole. Writ large, work was a visible manifestation of a harmonious social and cultural system where “those above” labored with their minds and “those below” labored with their hands. Writ small, work was the everyday activity of every person in every respectable household. Individual subjects did not work for the commonweal, nor were they expected to labor for some abstract concept of a greater social good, much less to earn an individual living wage. Instead, people worked hard for their families. Members of every household saw themselves as part of a patrilineal descent group in which the labor of present generations repaid a legacy from the ancestors and built a foundation for successful progeny.[2]

The household itself emerges as a unit of production in the earliest Chinese classics. Imperial statecraft situated each household in the larger context of an occupational division of labor (the “four classes” of people, namely: scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants). Thus the economy was construed as a complexly interdependent layering of specialized occupational groups, each composed of the basic building blocks organizing all labor: commoner households. To illustrate this in historical perspective, this chapter is divided into three parts. The first explains the earliest philosophical understanding of households as production units within a complex division of labor. The second shows how these early classical notions were implemented in the statecraft and political theory of the early empire (through the thirteenth century). The third part describes the late imperial system of production that flourished on the eve of the twentieth-century revolutions.

CLASSICAL MODELS OF THE HOUSEHOLD AS A UNIT OF PRODUCTION

The organization of work in commoner households is prefigured in the Chinese classics. Early Confucian philosophers and statesmen (551–c. 233 B.C.E. ) understood that people labored primarily to eat—in other words, to feed and clothe themselves—but they never conceptualized labor as an individual human activity. Instead, they talked about work in the context of a division of labor: as part of a household production system, as part of an occupationally differentiated society, and as part of an economy of exchange. Although these same philosophers and statesmen were concerned about mobilizing labor for the state, almost all of them argued that a skillful ruler should mobilize the labor of his subjects only for projects dedicated to the common good. Similarly, rulers were cautioned to exercise restraint when making demands on people's labor. Every household had to be free to work so that it could meet its own needs before taxes.[3]

The same philosophers and statesmen praised human qualities that made good workers: diligence, frugality, and skill. Although there was no classical term for efficiency, strategies to increase labor efficiency continually focused on the division of labor—among the people by occupational groups, and within the household production unit by gender. Classical writers also stressed the need for accessible markets to encourage local and regional specialization and to level regional and seasonal fluctuations in the supply of goods.

Labor defined and displayed social status, and classical writers deplored its absence (as leisure or idleness). Work meant not simply labor, moreover, but a respectable calling. In the third century B.C.E., Mencius (372–289?) drew his famous distinction between “those who labor with their minds” and “those who labor with their hands”:

Xu Xing, in search of benevolent rule, travels from the state of Chu to Tang, where he pledges his service to Duke Wen. After some time in residence in the Duke's kingdom, Xu Xing is heard to complain that the Duke is not the benevolent ruler he purports to be, because a benevolent ruler is one who “tills the fields and eats together with the people” (yu min bing geng er shi). Plainly, Duke Wen was an oppressor and not a benevolent ruler at all. After all, he maintained granaries, treasuries, and arsenals, all financed from levies he exacted from the people. When a visitor asks Mencius about Xu Xing's complaints, Mencius responds with a series of questions of his own. Does Xu Xing make his own clothes? Does he forge his own tools? Does he fire his own pots? No, concedes the interlocutor, Xu Xing exchanges his grain for these things. Well, says Mencius, there you have it: “Great men have their proper business, and little men have their proper business. … Hence, there is the saying, ‘Some labor with their minds, and some labor with their strength. Those who labor with their minds govern others; those who labor with their strength are governed by others. Those who are governed by others support them; those who govern others are supported by them.’ This is a principle universally recognized.” (Paraphrased from Mencius 3A.4/4–6; translated in Mencius 1960, 249–50)

Noticing that he's made a leap in logic, Mencius goes on to elaborate by noting that the great sage-king Yu could not possibly have gone out to cultivate crops while he was in charge of clearing fields, diverting floods, and opening up land to cultivation for his people. The same was true of the mythic Minister of Agriculture, who taught the people to sow and reap and cultivate the five grains—how could he have done that while working as a farmer? Duke Wen's work as a ruler, Mencius concludes, is not to farm, but to protect his people and provide for their welfare by storing weapons and food, and by filling a treasury to pay for it all.

Mencius and Confucius (551–479 B.C.E. ) return often to this concern about the division of labor between those who rule and those who are ruled. Confucius, like Mencius, understood work to include moral and ritual activities as well as manual or physical labor. He never saw it as an isolated activity, but rather as something done for someone else. He used the term “work” (lao) to talk about labors performed by a filial son for his parents, for example (Analects II:8 and IV:18; see Confucius 1938, 89 and 1979, 74, respectively). He also used the verb “work” (lao) as a transitive verb, as in “to make others work hard,” acknowledging the fact that those above command the labor of those below them, but stressing the mutual obligation of those above and those below (Analects XX.2; see Confucius 1979, 159). In chapter 19 of the Confucian Analects, for instance, the disciple Zixia says: “Only after he has gained the trust of the common people does the gentleman work them hard, for otherwise they would feel themselves ill-used” (Analects XIX.10; see Confucius 1979, 154). Rulers themselves must work hard to win this trust: when Zilu asks Confucius about government, he replies: “Encourage the people to work hard by setting an example yourself.” Zilu asks for more detail, and Confucius adds: “Do not allow your efforts to slacken” (Analects XIII.1–2; see Confucius 1979, 118). The ruler who truly loves his people will make sure that they work: “Can you love anyone without making him work hard?” (Analects XIV.7; see Confucius 1979, 125). In other words, rulers make people work hard for their own good: people who work hard will have enough to eat (zu shi) and a stable source of livelihood (heng chan).

Notice how this early work ethic brings to the fore the people's livelihood and checks the state's power to extract labor. Rulers trying to make the people work hard had to be careful that their own demands would not interfere with every household's need to provide for itself. Even Xun Zi (fl. 298–238 B.C.E. ), who is sometimes considered the earliest proponent of “Legalist” thinking (which stressed the absolute power of the state and its need to control labor and production), agreed with Mencius that taxes and labor service extracted from the people should be minimized, for the same reasons (see the discussion in Hsiao 1979, 187).

The classical work ethic, on occasion, even spoofed or expressed skepticism about the value of scholarly or mental work, as opposed to manual labor. The Analects include a story in which one of Confucius' disciples appears as an effete intellectual who is humbled in the presence of an honest laboring farmer. The story concerns Zilu, who loses his way one day and encounters an old man weeding in the fields. When Zilu asks the old man if he has seen Confucius, the reply is dismissive: “Your four limbs are unaccustomed to toil; you cannot distinguish the five kinds of grain (siti buqin, wuliang bufen) —who is your master?” (Analects XVIII.7; see Confucius 1960, 335). Mencius, too, squirmed when he confronted the problem of the scholar's labor and its value, as we see in his conversation with Peng Geng. When Peng Geng asks Mencius about earning a living, he inquires whether the “superior man in his practice of principles” is earning a living just the same way the carpenter and the wheelwright do. What, in other words, is the superior man's purpose? Is it simply to get by like everyone else? Mencius replies, somewhat testily: “What have you to do with his purpose? He is of service to you. He deserves to be supported, and should be supported” (Mencius IIIB.5; see Mencius 1960 270).

Mencius's interest in the division of labor and the mutual obligations of those above and those below is also reflected in his keen interest in markets. No household was expected to be completely self-sufficient, and early statesmen understood that rulers must provide a market economy to stimulate the exchange of goods and services. Mencius himself viewed the orderly and regular exchange of grain for commodities as a hallmark of good government (Mencius IIA.5/2; see Mencius 1960, 199). He was also not concerned about merchant greed or about the trader's quest for profit, but was more worried about the marketplace as a lure for idlers. Like the most famous classical economic theorist, Guan Zi (d. 645 B.C.E. ), Mencius believed it was the ruler's job to balance the interests of farmers against those of merchants so that all of the “four kinds of people” could, in Guan Zi's words, “exchange skills and trade the products of their work, so that the profits of their year-long labors will not allow any one of them to gain unfair advantage over the others. Thereby the people's labors will be combined and they will all gain equitable benefits.”[4]

These early ideas about work also specified gender roles. The most vaunted kinds of work in classical texts—scholarship and farming—excluded women.[5] Significantly, too, men who ruled might labor with their minds, but all women, regardless of status, were expected to perform manual labor, especially spinning, weaving, and needlework. Womanly work (nü gong) was one of the “four virtues” of a respectable woman, first canonized by Ban Zhao (d. 116 C.E. ) in her book, Nü jie (Instructions for women). Early texts make it clear that womanly work means spinning and weaving, and that sericulture (sang) was the counterpart of agriculture (nong) —the former, women's work “inside,” the latter, men's work “outside.” The ideal gender division of labor, with men working in the fields and women weaving in the house, was also described by Mencius, who urged his ruler advisees to exhort every household with five mu of land to diversify production, planting mulberry in the space beneath the walls around family compounds so that women could rear silkworms and the elderly could be clothed in silk (Mencius VIIA.22/2; see Mencius 1960, 461).

In genteel families, a woman working at her loom was the complement not of the farmer but of the scholar poring over his books. The trope of the weaving woman and the studying man may date to a story about Mencius and his mother. Early illustrated copies of the book, Lienü zhuan (Biographies of women) by Liu Xiang (77–6 B.C.E. ), show Meng Mu brandishing her scissors in front of her wayward son. By slashing the cloth on her loom, she shocks Mencius into realizing the cost of his wasted talent. Chastened, Mencius reforms—to become China's greatest philosopher (Liu Xiang 1983, 15–16).

In sum, philosophers and statesmen writing in the classical age developed clear ideas about what kinds of work were legitimate and how the division of labor in society should be organized. They viewed hard work as a natural activity of ordinary commoners striving to feed and clothe their families, care for elders, nurture young, and improve their lives—an activity the government should nurture, encourage, and protect. Finally, they assumed a division of labor in society between the four occupations (scholars, farmers, artisans, merchants), whose mutual dependence would be expedited by trade, and a division of labor within the household between men and women, whose complementary functions would support tax-paying families.

THE RISE OF INTENSIVE HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTION BEFORE THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY

Statecraft writings of the early empire focus on the broad division of labor in society as a whole, rather than on individual households. The oldest economic treatise in the Chinese historical record, the “Treatise on Food and Money” in the History of the Former Han Dynasty, explains that the “four kinds of people” each have their proper occupations (simin you ye): “Those who study to attain their status we call shi (scholars); those who cultivate the soil to grow grain we call nong (farmers); those who by their cleverness produce implements we call gong (artisans); and those who circulate wealth and trade in commodities we call shang (merchants)” (Ban Gu 1983, 532). The hierarchical order of this list echoes Mencius (e.g., Ch'ü 1957, 245–48). The superior form of labor was “mental” labor (study), followed by “manual” labor (plowing, planting, and harvesting; and manufacturing—including tool making, carpentry, woodcarving, ceramics, spinning, weaving, and embroidery). Though trade and business came last, merchants were not always at the bottom of this hierarchy. The Guliang zhuan (Duke Cheng, first year, 589 B.C.E. ) lists merchants right after scholars but before peasants and artisans. Moreover, pejorative judgments about the value of merchants are hard to find in discussions about the four kinds of work. Instead, merchants are simply supposed to limit their profit taking; or, better still, the government is supposed to intervene to prevent undue disparities of wealth between rich and poor. Fierce competition was the norm, as we learn from resigned complaints like the following, written by the Song scholar Ye Shi (1150–1223): “The four kinds of people and the hundred arts flourish by day and subside by night, each vying with all their might, each pursuing their own interests, fearless in the face of danger, insatiable in the face of abundance” (Ye 1961, 1:164). Some early texts propose a hierarchy of occupations. For instance, criticism of merchants and their work begins in Han times (206 B.C.E. –220 C.E. ) with complaints about profiteering.[6] Han writers also argued that “cleverness” (qiao), the gift of the artisan, was less desirable than the farmer's ability to grow grain. By exclusion, the “four peoples” discourse in Han times also marginalized other types of work: military service and the religious activities of priest, monks, and nuns. On the other hand, early imperial governments did not identify “polluting” kinds of work nor did they stigmatize certain occupations as “base” (jian). The work of butchers and yamen runners (messengers, guards, policemen, and other menials employed by county magistrates), which marked them as pariahs in late imperial times, was considered merely humble during the Han period, when even butchers and yamen runners were permitted to enter official careers (Ch'ü 1972, 126–27).

Regardless of occupational hierarchies, work as an essential activity of free persons separated the “four kinds of people” doing respectable work from slaves. During the Han period, slaves labored in mining, manufacturing, farming, handicraft work (including spinning and weaving), domestic and military service, and even entertainment (Ch'ü 1972, 135–59). The Han government also employed slaves, while frequently accusing them of idleness and sloth and of living off the labor and tax revenues supplied by ordinary commoners.[7] The government made clear its preference for laborers conscripted from free commoner households, or even (anticipating a contemporary debate) convicted prisoners.[8] As a result, conscript laborers—or even convicts—and not slaves made up the bulk of the public works labor force, with soldiers playing an important role in peacetime.[9] And despite the obvious importance of corvée labor to the government's vast mining operations and public works projects—including water control, post stations, canal transport, wall construction, and other state-funded construction and service[10]—conscripted labor had to be acquired with minimum cost to individual households whose members were respectably employed. Han political theory, following classical teachings, stressed the need to ease the burden on farm households so that they could perform labor at a level sufficient to support themselves. Dong Zhongshu (179?–104? B.C.E. ) echoed his predecessors when, in his critique of the problems of the first Qin empire (221–206 B.C.E. ), he called on the government to “reduce taxes and levies and lessen labor services, in order to give freer scope to the people's energies” (Hsiao 1979, 502).

A final form of labor organization during the early centuries of empire was monastic production. Like conscript and slave labor, monastic labor was marginalized in policies and political theories about work. Most schools of Buddhism disdained manual labor in any case, especially agricultural labor, which was forbidden to monks by religious law. Monks relied on tenant farmers and on novices for agricultural labor on the Buddhist estates that flourished in the early part of the Tang dynasty (618–907). The exception was the Chan sect, which rejected this tenet of Buddhist law. The Chan master Huaihai (720–814), who led the movement to promote manual labor in Buddhist monasteries, insisted on working together with the laborers on his monastic lands, popularizing the aphorism: “One day of no work, one day of no food.” Huaihai described manual labor in the fields and gardens—including chopping wood, cutting grass, digging wells, tilling the soil, carrying human waste for fertilizer, and so on—as a universal calling (puqing).[11] For Huaihai, manual farm labor was not a purely physical activity but one of the essential spiritual activities binding the monastic community:

In … puqing, all should exert equal effort regardless of whether the task is important or unimportant. No one should sit quietly and go contrary to the wishes of the community. While performing his duties, one should not indulge in ridicule or laughter, or boast about one's talents or ability. Rather, one should concentrate his mind on the Dao, and perform whatever is required by the community. After the task is completed, then one should return to the meditation hall and remain silent as before. One should transcend the two aspects of activity and nonactivity. Thus, though one has worked all day, he has not worked at all.[12]

Devout Chan Buddhists were expected to work without attachment to the action itself or to the rewards it would bring. Nevertheless, the high productivity of monastic estates of all kinds created a vast pool of wealth, much of it tax-exempt, which threatened the state's control over labor and resources. The mid-ninth-century campaigns that destroyed the Buddhist monastic establishment put a permanent end to large-scale monastic production (Dalby 1979, 666–67).

With slave and conscript labor marginalized and monastic production suppressed, farm families and landholding households emerged as the model workers of the early empire. The Mencian household production unit had become more than a philosophical ideal. Records suggest that throughout this early period, most Chinese farm labor was performed by individual households, as tenants or freeholders. In Nishijima Sadao's words:

[T]he typical rural community during Han was the hamlet, consisting in theory of a hundred families, all of which owned small amounts of land. … It must be noted that the rise of great landholdings during Han did not necessarily imply the development of large-scale farming, except in the few cases where slaves were employed to work estates. Tenants of these landowners cultivated their holdings on an individual and small-scale basis and this, due largely to the lack of sufficient slave labor and the intensive nature of farming, continued to be an important feature of Chinese agriculture. (Nishijima 1986, 559)

Similarly, in his study of Han agrarian technology, Hsü concluded that

intensive care of each individual plant had been brought almost to the level of gardening. … Such farming demanded a concentration of labor and was associated with smaller farms. Also the farmer's incentive was crucial to guarantee the thoroughness of the field work, which made extensive use of slaves or contract labor unreliable. All these factors help to explain the maintenance of independent farmers in the Han period and the preference of large landholders for tenancy rather than slavery. (Hsü 1980, 127)

Hsü (127–128) emphasized that even as early as the Han, the most successful farming depended on the combined efforts of all household members, including women and children.

HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTION, SONG (960–1279) THROUGH QING (1644–1911)

The contemporary scholar Kang Chao, while agreeing that the farm household was the most important labor unit in the history of Chinese agriculture (1986, 194), points out that the intensive farming practices developed in late imperial times were probably not “necessary” or even “widespread” in China until the twelfth century, despite the availability of techniques of intensive farming since at least Han times. Chao (1986) locates the shift from extensive to intensive farming in the Song period, identifying three of its most important characteristics: multiple cropping, reclamation of fallow lands, and intensified fertilization along with higher-yield strains and crops. Champa rice, introduced into the Lower Yangzi by Emperor Zhenzong in the early eleventh century, triggered the shift to intensive cultivation, ushering in “a new era of agrarian history in China” by promising “a higher total output by absorbing more labor” (Chao 1986, 200–201). By the end of the Song period—the thirteenth century—the household, whether gentry or peasant, had emerged as the basic unit of agricultural and protoin dustrial production in the Chinese economy.

The Song dynasty was a crucial period in the development of a discourse on work in households. Ebrey has pointed out that instruction books like Yuan Cai's, printed for gentry families seeking to take advantage of the Song's new economic opportunities, paid unusual attention to work:

What most distinguished [Yuan Cai] … was his unconcealed admiration for those who worked honestly and diligently to ensure their families' security. Whatever the importance of ethical strengths, he did not think one should ignore the need for productive property [chan] or wealth [cai], or an occupation or other heritage that brought in income [ye]. (Ebrey 1984, 78)

Ebrey (1984, 121) stresses that Song gentry families conceived of themselves as a “unit of political economy, not simply a group of relatives,” whose survival depended upon the successful use of property and, one might add, on the successful management of labor. Yuan Cai was clear about the importance of an “occupation” (ye) for everyone, regardless of status:

People with no occupation, and those with occupations who are too fond of leisure to be willing to work, will get used to indecent activities if they come from rich families and will become beggars if they come from poor families. (Ebrey 1984, 268)

Yuan offered his own assessment of the most desirable kinds of work for men in respectable gentry families in this order: scholarship (studying for the exams and winning office or, if that fails, teaching), clerkship (handling documents), tutoring children, teaching medicine, practicing Buddhism or Daoism, “gardening” (genteel cultivation), and commerce. All these, he suggested, could “provide support for your family without bringing shame to your ancestors” (Ebrey 1984, 267). At the same time, and in keeping with the philosophical views of early Confucians, Yuan Cai was unapologetic about dodging corvée labor service. The main problem he saw with corvée dodging, in fact, was that if you failed to pull it off, you were caught and punished (Ebrey 1984, 309–10).

After the thirteenth century, households that had intensified production by cultivating double-cropped rice found incentives to increase efficiency still further, as cotton cultivation spread from the southeast coast to the Lower Yangzi region. The labor required to prepare cotton fibers for spinning—including ginning, fluffing, straightening, and sorting—was easily organized in the context of a joint family unit, with its attendant servants and multigenerational workforce. Like hemp and silk, cotton absorbed the labor of women, who could work respectably in the home, where we see them in paintings and drawings from the Song period onward.

Meanwhile, the crowded commercial cities of the Song period (960–1279) and women's prominence in the commercial and service sectors provoked a strident moral discourse on cloistering women that gained wide currency in Song gentry families. A study by Quan Hansheng (1935), which explores expanding work opportunities for Song women, shows women working in all aspects of the urban economy: as proprietors of teashops, fancy restaurants, and herbal medicine stores; as peddlers hawking candy or tea, or selling Buddhist paraphernalia; and as tailors and weavers. Nuns sell jewelry, clothing, caps, hair ornaments, and other kinds of female adornment, all made by hand, at temple fairs. On the farm, women pick mulberry leaves and rear silkworms; in the marketplace, they tell stories, juggle, do magic tricks and acrobatics, sing, dance, and perform opera. Song women worked at all kinds of menial labor as maids—cooking, hauling water, lighting stoves—and as prostitutes and courtesans they served every class of the male consumer population. As if to deny these arenas for womanly work, one of the most famous early genre paintings, the Qingming shanghe tu (Going upriver at the Qingming festival), shows only a few women on the streets of twelfth-century Kaifeng, even on a holiday. Noting this, Ebrey (1993, 21–44) observes that the separation of the sexes into “inner” and “outer” spheres was a powerful moral value in Song gentry writing and that women's work “inside” became a mark of status in gentry households. The woman who could avoid labor outside the home (especially hard farm work, but also tea-picking, fishing, and other lowly pursuits) was a symbol of her family's prestige. A cloistered lifestyle, Ebrey suggests, was also conducive to the embrace of another status symbol, footbinding, by women of the upper classes.

On the eve of the late imperial period, then, intensive household farming had become the norm in China's most productive regions. During this same period, the boundaries of work also hardened to celebrate and enforce the confinement of female labor inside the home.[13]

THE HOUSEHOLD AS A UNIT OF PRODUCTION IN L ATE IMPERIAL TIMES: THE MING (1368–1644) AND QING (1644–1911) DYNASTIES

The late imperial fisc depended on land and labor taxes collected not from individuals but from registered households. Late Ming and Qing rulers promoted what we would call Confucian family values to support household production through campaigns targeting ordinary commoners. Universal marriage and childbearing (especially bearing sons to continue the patriline), wifely fidelity, filial piety, and ancestor worship were touted and rewarded by the state through government-endowed shrines, imperial certificates of merit, and even cash prizes honoring chaste widows and filial sons. Through laws enforcing partible inheritance, through policies protecting tenants and freeholders from excessive taxation, and through legislation limiting the purchase and sale of slaves, late imperial governments also provided an economic environment that favored free holding peasant households and encouraged them to accumulate resources through labor.

Largely because of these supportive central government policies, the peasant household was the dominant unit of production and reproduction by the seventeenth century, as serfdom and “serf like tenancy” all but disappeared from China's core regions. One hallmark of the success of late imperial policies promoting household labor is the attention paid to “women's work” (nü gong) in the statecraft writings of the late imperial period. Women working respectably at home, as spinners and weavers, began producing for the commercial economy as cotton cultivation spread after the fourteenth century. By the late Ming period (after 1550), cotton's low cost and versatile uses had produced a thriving consumer cloth market that helped to drive the Ming commercial revolution. Household production units—where “men plow” and “women spin and weave” in the classical Mencian formula—supplied the bulk of the commodities circulating through late Ming rural markets (Xu Xinwu 1981). The late imperial ideal of “men farming, women weaving” (nan geng nü zhi), celebrated in illustrated texts, statecraft writings, and family instruction books of the late Ming and Qing periods, became a cornerstone of family values in Chinese popular culture. Meanwhile even the emperor and the empress took up the theme and displayed it in the ritual cycle at court, where the emperor annually engaged in aritual ploughing of the fields, while the empress led the sacrifices honoring the patron goddess of sericulture (see Mann 1992; 1997, 143–177; Kuhn 1988).

In an economy that celebrated workers in households, unattached hired workers—especially single men—were suspect and carefully screened. Landlords looking for hired labor tell us clearly the sorts of qualities they prized—and what they sometimes had to settle for. Zhang Lixiang, a seventeenth-century landlord, advised: “In general, the best is the docile and diligent worker; second best, the skilled and alert one; next, the incompetent but honest one; worst is the one who is cunning, deceitful, talkative, and lazy.” An employer who wanted to keep a good hired worker had to act in loco parentis, providing not only a good wage but also adequate supplies of wine and food (see Wiens 1980, 20, 21, citing observations by the scholar Zhang Lixiang [1611–74]). Meanwhile, local officials strove to anchor every able-bodied person securely in a household economy. The imperial government reserved special praise for officials who expanded opportunities for work in their areas and who looked out for the needs of ordinary peasant householders (Brokaw 1991, 198–99). Officials were expected to encourage and introduce new modes of production, new seed strains, and new technologies whenever possible to improve household productivity. This effort sometimes worked at cross purposes with the government's need to mobilize corvée labor for public works, as peasants loath to divert labor from their own households to the government, sought tax protection from wealthy gentry families, creating a continuing labor shortage for state projects.[14] Dodging corvée service in the interests of one's own household was different from laziness, as Yuan Cai noted. To be lazy was often defined not simply as idleness, but as engaging in unseemly work— and was the mark of a lowly person. Thus women who “neither spin nor weave,” including prostitutes and other women in subethnic groups of “mean people” (jianmin), were stigmatized as pariahs.[15]

In these and other rhetorical signs from late imperial texts, we see how normative ideas of respectable work were firmly lodged in the context of the household. From the imperial court down to the commoner household, the boundaries of work in late imperial China divided men's and women's labor. Men worked outside in the fields, women labored inside at the loom. So powerful was this ideal, and so successfully was it promoted, that the ideal household as labor unit was still visible in rural China during the 1920s, when Buck (1937, 292) found to his surprise that men performed 80 percent of farm labor, women only 13 percent, and children 7 percent.[16]

If the Chinese government and Chinese political theory promoted the household as the basic unit of productive labor, and other factors created a hospitable environment for household-based production,[17] we still must ask what made householders so responsive to government policies. Folk sayings attest to the extraordinary work ethic of Chinese farmers. Arkush (1984), surveying hundreds of proverbs from North China commonly in use before the twentieth century, observes that most stress the importance of and returns from hard work. Besides hard work, he notes, other moral qualities are essential: frugality; skill in selecting proper inputs of fertilizer, seed, and so forth; ingenuity to tap all available sources of income, including sideline industries; knowledge (of farming, in particular); self-reliance, or cooperation within a small group; and anticipation of income. A few sayings point to the significance of the household as the production unit. Buck (1937, 307), for instance, recording adages in praise of human farm labor, found one that links it to filial piety: “The filial and obedient couple will be fortunate, the well-tended fields will bear grain” (xiao shun ye niang you fu qin li tianchang you gu). All of these values were recognized in early classical statecraft and philosophy, and all can be traced through records of imperial policy and family practice from earliest times.

Western observers of China in the early twentieth century echoed the sentiments of China's own folk wisdom: Chinese people work hard, even in the face of very low returns, and they are constantly on the lookout for more productive outlets for surplus labor.[18] As Tawney put it, “The first sensation of a visitor to a Chinese city is one of suffocation beneath a torrent of human beings, straining at manual labour or clamouring to be given it” (1932, 119).[19] Studying farm labor at about the same time, Buck remarked: “The amount of man labor in China is almost unlimited and one of the great problems is the discovery of enough productive work to keep this vast human army profitably employed” (1937, 289).

But hard work alone does not explain the success of farm families, as Buck emphasized. The reason why profitable farm employment had been expanded to the maximum was its efficient division of labor. By Buck's estimates, farm work per se occupied the full time of only about two-thirds of the farm population, with sideline industries occupying one-eighth and a combination of farming and sideline work employing another one-fifth. These sideline occupations (called “subsidiary work” in Buck's study) were mainly home industries like spinning and weaving, hog and poultry raising, and bee culture—women's work in the household economy (Buck 1937, 298).

This is the same women's work vaunted in late imperial statecraft, which emphasized the need for skill not only in performing tasks but in creating opportunities for productive labor wherever they could be found.[20] At the women's festival on Double Seven (the seventh night of the seventh month), when women and girls used to “beg for skill” (qi qiao) from the stellar Weaving Maid, the goal of every young petitioner was more than skill with the needle. Skill prepared her for entry into a productive household as a valued member. Not only would a talented seamstress make a better marriage; she would also please her mother-in-law, ensuring a less stressful life in the household into which she married.[21]

The importance of skill inculcated through training and disciplined by high motivation, the high returns from intensified labor in the rural workforce, and the centrality of women's work in a gender division of labor where women work “inside” while men folk labor “outside”—all were key aspects of a household production system supported and protected by China's earliest rulers and statesmen. In this production system, workers— male and female—were motivated by complex incentives far more compelling than an individual wage. In late imperial China, political, economic, social, and moral incentives all rewarded couples who kept their married sons together and trained the next generation to work hard in a household economy.

WORK IN CHINESE HOUSEHOLDS AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

What implications does this historic legacy of household labor have for modern China? Recently the traditional gender division of labor has been the subject of attention, as scholars speculate that norms confining women's work to the household reduced the supply of female workers available for China's factories during early industrialization. Huang (P.C.C. 1990, 111), for example, has argued that the “cultural constraints against women venturing outside the home, plus the logistical difficulties of managing female labor that came with those constraints” created a crucial shortage of female labor for light industry, slowing the pace of industrialization in the early twentieth century.[22]Hershatter (1986, 55–56) found that in Tianjin, women were only 9.14 percent of the cotton mill workforce in 1929 (as compared with over 70 percent in Shanghai mills), a factor she attributed partly to the role of women in the rural economy of the North, which confined women almost exclusively to work inside the home. Honig (1986, 64–65), by contrast, noticed that much of the early female labor force in Shanghai's textile mills was recruited from women who could no longer earn money from household handicrafts but who expected their menfolk to continue farming. Either way, women's expectations about factory work and its importance to the household income were shaped by their participation in household production units, manufacturing home-spun and home-woven goods on the eve of industrialization and scorning farm work outside the home.

The early Communist government's attempts to reconfigure ideas about work overrode these historical household-based motivational systems. In the Maoist era, work was organized collectively or communally, partly by appealing to classical notions of sharing returns from labor and stressing the mutual obligations between “those above” and “those below”—managers and workers, or technicians and manual laborers. But collective labor was never wholly successful. It violated long-held assumptions about the boundaries of work (women “inside,” men “outside”). It closed down the marketing systems on which households had depended to exchange their surpluses. It overrode the specialization of crops and tasks that maximized the diverse capacities of regional and human resources. And it destroyed the motivational system oriented backward toward the ancestors and forward toward descendants that for centuries had fueled China's renowned work ethic.

The astounding success of the return to household production units after 1978 during the post-Mao reform era at first glance appeared to confirm that household production units still motivated workers better than collectives did. The household responsibility system in China's countryside tapped ideas about gender, household, and work that have a long and remarkably coherent history. Ironically, the conviction that work inside the home is women's work also seems to have survived intact from late imperial times into the contemporary reform era—pretty much unscathed by egalitarian campaigns like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The boundaries of the household as a production unit appear to be the strongest and the most difficult to penetrate of all the structures of work inherited from the past.

Despite the resilience of the household as a unit of production, however, the modern concept of work as gongzuo (a job) has continued to erode classical boundaries of gender, household, and work, drawing women outside the home into a legitimate public workspace where modern “jobs” abound. In the 1990s, with increased incentives for individuals to pursue their own career goals without regard for their family obligations, the boundaries promised to erode still further, as they have in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas Chinese communities (Whyte 1996). Even less durable, it appears, are other historical ideas about work in China: the long-standing critique of the leisured class, radical celebrations of the importance of shared labor, and the moral conviction that those who labor with their minds should justify their position before those who labor with their hands.


NOTES

1. See Cohen (1976, 57–85) on the collective character of the family economy.

2. See Harrell (1985). The problem with this reification of the household, of course, is that it ignores the ambiguous relationship of women—especially unmarried women—to the patriline. See, for example, Greenhalgh (1985). Exploration of this topic lies beyond the scope of this chapter, which focuses on the boundaries of the household itself.

3. The so-called “Legalists” took a different view, arguing that the ruler should command the labor of his subjects solely for the purpose of increasing his own power. This line of thinking was discredited in mainstream Chinese political theory, which (rhetorically, at least) deferred to Confucian “benevolence.”

4. Translation, slightly adapted, from Hsiao (1979, 357).

5. Of course women always worked in farming and, especially after the seventeenth century, they were visibly engaged in scholarly activities, but the imperial government's policy and political theory reserved recognition in both arenas for men alone. Farm women were honored for sericulture, spinning, weaving, and needlework, but never for laboring in the fields.

6. Ch'ü T'ung-tsu (1972, 117, 118) comments that “In pre-Ch'in times we do not find any historical evidence to indicate that there was discrimination against merchants. On the contrary, it seems that their social and political status was rather high. … Merchants in Ch'ing times also enjoyed a superior social status.” He dates the earliest discrimination against merchants to a law dated 214 B.C.E.

7. See Ch'ü (1972, 144–145). He quotes the following comment from the Han dynasty “Debates on Salt and Iron” (Yantie lun): “The common people are not free from work from morning to evening, whereas (government) male and female slaves idle about with folded hands” (145).

8. Scholars have generally concluded that the hardest government labor was reserved for convicts and conscripted laborers, not slaves (Ch'ü 1972, 145). This view is shared by Lien-sheng Yang (1969, 29) and C. Martin Wilbur (1943). In fact, Yang emphasizes that “Altogether, government and private slaves did not play any significant role in public works, even in those relatively early periods of Chinese history when slaves are supposed to have been fairly numerous” (210). See also Watson 1980a, b.

9. L. S. Yang (1969, 210) notes that idle soldiers were judged a waste of government resources.

10. Examples of the mobilization of forced labor under the early empire include the 700,000 convicts employed to build the imperial mausoleum and palace of the First Emperor (221–209 B.C.E. ), and the 146,000 men and women drafted to build the city of Chang'an in the early Han (206 B.C.E. –220 C.E. ) (L. S. Yang 1969, 202). Massive water conservancy projects on the Yellow River employed hundreds of thousands of conscripts in Han and Sui (599–618) times (203). Construction and repairs on the Great Wall demanded labor forces ranging from 300,000 to 1.8 million (203). The largest conscript labor force ever assembled for a single project, according to Yang (204), was the 2 million people who built the city of Luoyang in the Sui. During the Song dynasty (960–1279), most public works were staffed by military labor rather than conscripts. Yang (211) noted that “this division of labor between civilians and soldiers freed the common people from both the bulk of military service and most of the labor service. This government policy was praised by contemporary scholars as highly beneficial.” 

11. Literally, “everyone is invited,” translated by Ch'en (1973, 148) as “collective participation.”

12. See Ch'en (1973, 148–50). Translation slightly adapted from Ch'en (150). Ch'en (151) views this Chan teaching as an “accommodation to the prevailing Chinese work ethic.”

13. For differing interpretations of the significance of women's textile production in peasant households during late imperial times, see Mann (1997, 143–77) and Bray (1997, 173–272). Both recognize that women's work in the household economy, especially spinning and weaving, was valorized in the late Ming and Qing periods by government policies celebrating women's work in the home. Bray sees this as a shift that marginalized female productive labor by removing it from the higher skilled, higher paying shops in towns and cities dominated by male labor. Mann notes that in many areas the spread of spinning and weaving technologies in peasant households increased female labor productivity. Both agree that norms confining female labor to the home were strikingly effective in removing female labor from the fields in China (as compared with other rice economies, for example in Japan and Southeast Asia).

14. According to Huang Liuhong, the late seventeenth-century magistrate whose advice book became a classic reference for generations of officials, a county official might need conscript labor for the following jobs: repairing the city walls, working on the Yellow River or Grand Canal water conservancies (including damming, dredging, diking, planting willow trees on river banks), towing government barges, repairing guest houses maintained for visiting dignitaries and officials, and so on. (See Huang Liu-hung 1984, 227–33).

15. Cole (1986, 65–72) describes the duomin (“lazy people”) of Shaoxing, a local pariah population whose work marked them as polluted. Duo (“lazy”) is a homophone for duo (“fallen”). Courtesans and prostitutes likewise were scorned as pariahs because they did not do “womanly work” (Mann 1997, 121–142). See also Honig's (1992) study of Subei people in Shanghai, which shows that a reputation for clumsiness, slowness to learn, or lack of skill all barred Subei workers from respectable kinds of employment.

16. Buck (1937, 292). Buck acknowledged that these figures varied by region and that the largest proportion of farm labor done by women was in the double cropping rice areas. He also noticed that hired farm labor was overwhelmingly male.

17. Scholars have noted several features of late imperial society that made it especially conducive to household-based production. These include the rice economy and its capacity to reward intensive labor, a flourishing marketing system, a fluid stratification system, open marriage markets, and a joint family system. On the rice economy, see Bray's (1986) analysis of what she calls “skill-oriented” technologies;on access to markets, Skinner (1964–65); on stratification, Ho (1962); on marriage markets, Mann (1992). The joint family system favored particular strategies for reproducing labor and for deploying male and female labor inside and outside the home: early marriage, large offspring sets, and multigenerational residence permitting an efficient division of labor by age and gender (Greenhalgh 1988). 

18. Arthur Smith (1894)devoted an entire chapter of his book on Chinese characteristics to praise of “industry,” conceding that “there can be little doubt that casual travelers, and residents of the longest standing, will agree in a profound conviction of the diligence of the Chinese people” (27). King (1973, 16), who was far more impressed with the moral fiber of East Asian farmers than was Smith, professed amazement at “the magnitude of the returns they are getting from their fields, and … at the amount of efficient human labour cheerfully given for a daily wage of five cents and their food, or for fifteen cents, United States currency, without food.”

19. Tawney's list of work includes coal and iron ore mining and iron smelting (“nearly one-half” of the pig-iron produced, he estimated, was made in charcoal furnaces with bellows worked by hand or water power); cotton spinning (some in factories, but some, along with most weaving, still done at home or in small workshops); and finally metalworking, potting, tile-making, building, carpentry, furniture making, painting, shoemaking, hat making, tailoring, tanning, woodcarving, lacquer making, silk reeling and weaving, woolen weaving, tapestry making, rope making, and myriad artisan crafts producing housewares, ornaments, jewelry, and “artistic products”—all of the latter “still much what they were five centuries ago” (1932, 111).

20. Bray (1986) calls rice economies skill-oriented (rather than mechanical) technologies because they require ever-higher levels of skill to produce the rising productivity necessary for supporting more people on scarce land. Bray (155) stresses Thomas Smith's (1959) point that, unlike Western-derived development strategies, the Japanese model “is based on improvement in the application of human skills rather than the substitution of machinery for labour, and requires a low level of capital investment.”

21. As late as 1988, female informants in my interviews in Shanghai recalled vividly (and sometimes painfully) the humiliation of failing to pass their mother-in law's test of their skill in needlework, the first rite de passage of the young bride after her wedding night.

22. Schneider's work on Sicily (1985, 81) posits in a similar vein that “cultural patterns making female labor unavailable for income-producing activities have impeded agrarian transformation and economic development.” Describing the early factory labor force in British India, Morris (1983, 644) remarked that “among the less expected features of the factory labour force—at least, as compared with the early experience of other nations—were the relatively small proportions of female and child labour and the stability of those proportions.” The total proportion of women and children combined never rose above 22 percent or fell below 20 percent between 1892 and 1928. See also Gadgil (1965) and Morris (1965, 65–69). These figures are almost exactly in line with China's, with a similar family system and comparable constraints on women going out to work.

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