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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Alternative Visions of Children and Childhood: Citizenship, Morality, and Social Responsibility in Mid-Twentieth Century China
3: Learning morality with siblings: The untold tale of a mid-20th century Taiwanese family
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Washington, United States
This article uses a new theoretical and methodological framework to examine a precious historical archive on childhood: un-published fieldnotes collected by anthropologists Arthur P. Wolf and Margery Wolf from 1958 to 1960 in rural Taiwan. While existing research on Han Chinese family and childhood has focused more on vertical, parent-child relationships, this paper provides a rare glimpse into young children’s socio-moral life in a communal setting. It focuses on a brother-sister dyad, with children aged six and five at the beginning of the Wolfs’ research. They are children of a famous young mother in Margery Wolf’s works, “the woman who did not become a shaman,” a traumatized and marginalized figure. First, through a novel methodology, the combination of social network analysis and text-mining techniques, this paper introduces a general picture of these two children’s social interactions with other children in the village. Moreover, drawing from naturalistic observations and interviews, this paper offers a detailed ethnographic analysis of how these children simultaneously assert themselves and support each other within a larger peer-community, despite an ongoing crisis of their mother. It emphasizes the role of child-to-child learning in the transmission and revision of socio-moral norms. It invites readers to re-consider some long-held assumptions of early socialization and gendered expectations in Han Chinese families and childhood, especially with regards to notions of obedience, aggression, and punishment.