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This article was written by Aditya Bansal, a student of Jindal Global Law School.

Other things may change us, but we start and end with a family” – Anthony Brandt



This paper focusses to open our minds towards the Han Chinese people of the great Han Dynasty. Along our way, the paper will try and unravel the family and social structure of this ethnic group and help us understand the key functions of all the members in the family and their importance. A key aspect focussed on can be the process of inheritance in the family but, by far, the imperative element can be studying the gender roles in the family. The aim of this paper is also to do a comparative analysis between the Hindu Joint/Undivided family and the Han Chinese family and finally concluding with the present status and achievements unlocked by this vast ethnic group.


Han people originated and ruled china in the Han dynasty which dates back to 206 BCE. This time was often referred to as the Golden Age of china. The major religions followed were Taoism and Confucianism and in terms of law and order, they followed the Han law code. Many people consider that the first emperor of china, also known as the Yellow emperor, is from the Han community and is a Han ancestor. The Han people consider the yellow river as the foundation of their society.[1]


The Han Chinese family, found in china and Taiwan, majorly followed Confucianism which are the great teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Instead of relying on other sources for learning values, Confucianism, gave importance to the immediate family and social structure. It says that human beings are good, teachable with room for improvement. According to this Confucian form, different members of the family were given different levels of respect. For example, if we consider the mourning period for certain members, it was a different time frame for the father and different for the paternal uncle.[2]

Instead of sticking to one type of family in the household, this ethnic group had both, Nuclear and Extended families living in the house. However, in the early days, it was mostly nuclear. Each member played a specific role in the family, like our Hindu Joint Family, there is a head of the family known as the Jhiazhangwho introduces the family on a global scale and the family manager known as the dangjiawho manages the revenues within a family. Like most households, the average number of members in the family included four to five immediate members and in the present age large extended members, all working together.[3]

The father had ultimate authority over the children and following the structure of a patrilineal family, the male members of the family were given prime importance and acquired property and shares in the family while the mother’s side of the family were considered to be ‘outside relatives’ and not a part of their kin. Unlike in the later dynasties, the father would decide who the son would get married to would send their sons away after marriage with a portion of the property. The daughters on the other hand, were expected to obey their father first, then the husband and treat their word as final. In case of the mother, after the father and the husband, they were expected to listen to the eldest son in the house.It was unlikely that they had property and status and became members of the husband’s family after marriage. The most common occupation for the woman was weaving for the family and helping their brothers in their farming business.[4]

The Han Chinese house has a distinct style. The east wing of the house was dedicated to the eldest son and his family and the west wing by the next son and his family.With all the members living under the same roof, it is imperative that we understand the distribution of shares, property i.e inheritance.


Ever since the old days, in the Han dynasty, the two major types of inheritance included inheriting the property from the deceased, similar to a Hindu joint family, and also the passing on or inheriting of titles which only the people of high ranks, honour and nobility could enjoy. Instead of starting with the sons, the position of daughters was not very family friendly as they did not get any share in the family property for the sole reason that once married, they became part of the other family and were devoured of the birth family name. However, they did get a small amount of share from the family property in the form of marriage dowry and this share would, on rare occasions, be equal to the share of the brother in the family. As far as the sons are concerned, it is fairly simple, each son was given an equal share from the deceased. Now, taking into consideration the transfer of titles, in the early days when there were kings, emperors or officials of high ranks, the official could choose which son to pass the title to and alter on it was decided that the king had to divide the title and power between one son and the king’s brother. In certain sections of the society, the elder son’s elder son would get a small share in the property[5]

In today’s world, things are a little different. The tradition tells us that the elder son is given a little more importance than the other sons. Even for offences, the punishment for the younger sons was graver compared to the elder son. In case the family stays together and the head of the family passes away, the headship then passes on to the eldest son and also, he is given the biggest share in the ancestral property, in case there is division of property or partition. Even today, the eldest son of the eldest son is sometimes preferred over the eldest son.

Daughters on the other hand have a much better position now as compared to ancient china laws. In Taiwan, under the republic, the daughters now have a right to have an equal share from the ancestral property to that of a son and the same laws apply in the Republic of China, although there is less documentation available on these laws.[6]


So far, the role of daughters, wives, mothers, widows and grandmothers have not been highlighted and given importance. It was quite similar in the Han dynasty as well. As mentioned before, women were not treated equally with men and were considered to be inferior. They were told that they were a class apart from the men and were taught to be subservient. Besides the father, nobody had any say in the marriage of the daughter, except for the grandfather who can override the decision of the father if he deems it fit. Consider it a role of daughters, to get married. Even a law was created that increased the poll tax for women in between the age of 15 and 30. This was done to give the fathers more incentive to marry their daughters off. Women were not allowed to initiate divorce or fight for it while, on the other hand, men could divorce their wives for multiple reasons.

Daughters face a lot of discrimination compared to the sons. Every time the daughter got married, they were expected to have children also and were constantly subjected to peer pressure. Moreover, it was hoped that the child born would be a son who could carry on the family name. Also, while the sons were given property, daughters were completely excluded from this and the only scope for them was getting a share in dowry, this rule also came into existence at a later stage in the Han Dynasty. Ban Zhao, in her famous novel, Lessons for women, wrote about how women in the Han Dynasty were born to serve the men and respect and obey them. They were ‘obligated’ to look after their fathers first, then their husbands and finally, sons. If anything were to happen to the father, the mother or the daughter had no authority and son was considered to lead the way, but, even though he was the next head he was still obligated to obey his mother and she could even ask him to apologize to her for any mistake or offense he committed.

While the main jobs of the men in the family was to run the business, work, make decisions for the family, the only job women had was to be good wives and mothers, which included cooking, sewing and helping with farming. The only scope for women to actually ‘work’ was when they were widowed. In such a case, they had to work to contribute in the family by selling things in the market or taking up the task of weaving. So, while woman played an insignificant role, according to the other members of the family, they influenced society by giving proper teachings to their children and raising them to respect others.[7]


Based on what we have seen so far, if we compare the Han Chinese family and Hindu Joint family, we see more of similarities rather than differences. Where we have the karta, they have the jhiazang.In the early period, the daughters could not inherit and the women were not given much value however as time passed, they were also given a status which is equal to that of a male member. Even the marriage laws, including the daughters severing to be a part of the family after marriage are same. Both cultures have nuclear as well as extended families. A notable difference on the other hand can be the preference given to the elder son, which is more in the Han community and also how each household had allotted sections for the sons and their families.


Modern Han people are still reaching new heights and receiving awards in the fields of mathematics and science. NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory system is considered to have been made by a Han named, TsienHsue-shen. Charles Kao, another Han, is considered having discovered fiber optics and broadband. The invention of organic light emitting diodes and the future of organic electronics lies in the hands of Ching W. Tang, who is also a Han. The list is long and goes on and on as the people of the Han community continue to work towards the betterment of the society.[8]


As we can see, the family structure, inheritance and marriage laws have an impact on the gender roles of this community as well. Women, being oppressed and suppressed in the early days saw their position and status improve in the Han community. They have always taught their children to respect everyone and set an example for the society. Consider it to be a slow process but the Han community is slowly moving away from a male dominated society and a patrilineal society. The Han Dynasty was one of the most prosperous eras in Chinese history, and its legacy has had a long-lasting effect.

[1] HISTORICAL ROLE : http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/who-are-the-han-chinese-people.html

[2] LIFE IN HAN DYNASTY: https://sites.google.com/site/empiresofchina/credits

[3] FAMILY: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_Chinese#Family

[4] MARRIAGE, GENDER AND KINSHIP: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_dynasty#Law_and_order

[5] INHERITANCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_and_culture_of_the_Han_dynasty#Inheritance

[6] INHERITANCE: http://www.everyculture.com/Russia-Eurasia-China/Han-Marriage-and-Family.html

[7] GENDER ROLES: http://apworldhistory2012-2013.weebly.com/gender-roles.html

[8] PRESENT STATUS AND INFLUENCE: http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/who-are-the-han-chinese-people.html

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