4. Daughters and the Natal Family in Taiwan: Affinal Relationships in Chinese Society

Ueno Hiroko


"When my daughter was born, I heaved a sigh of grief." During my stay in a village in southern Taiwan for fieldwork, I frequently heard men speak these words. In Chinese society, which has a patrilineal descent system, it is a matter of course that the birth of a son who will succeed to the line of descent is expected. The birth of a daughter means not only the disappointment of not having a son, but also the huge expense of the daughter's marriage and the post-wedding gifts, and so it draws a sigh from the father. But on the other hand they also said, "If all children are sons only, it is very cheerless. We want at least one daughter. When a parent dies a memorial ritual is performed by daughters only."
Past discussions of Chinese kinship have concentrated on patrilineal descent and the patrilineage, in other words, on the relationships among men through the generations. In other patrilineal societies, even from the time of Radcliffe-Brown, a large number of studies have been made of relationships through woman - matrilateral and affinal relationships and marriage alliances (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952 [1924]). But until recently in the anthropological study of Chinese kinship only a few studies have been made on this theme. It means that the examination of the various roles of women in the family system has been neglected. The purpose of this paper is to analyze field data on affinal relationships in a Taiwan Chinese village to consider these roles, and especially to point out the significance of the married-out "daughter" in Chinese patrilineal society.
In Chinese society, apart from patrilineal kin (qinzu, chhin-chok), all matrilateral kin, the descendants of married-out patrilineal female kin and affines are included in one category: qinqi, chhin-chhek. [1] In this paper I will not make a distinction between affines and matrilateral kin in considering the relationships which are formed through marital relationships.[2] I use the term "affinal relationships" in a broad sense to refer to these relationships. In regard to affinal relationships, the categories of "wife-givers" and "wife-takers" are adopted here.
In considering affinal relationships in China, the special role of the mother's brother offers the key to an understanding. In the 1930s Fei Hsiao-T'ung observed that the mother's brother played an important role in the sister's son's naming, marriage, and family division in a rural community in Zhejiang Province (Fei, 1939:86-87). But thereafter in mainland China field studies of matrilateral and affinal relationships have not produced particularly good results. In Hong Kong, Rubie Watson very clearly reveals that affinal relationships are correlated with class differences in a strong lineage (R. Watson, 1985). And the subject of marriage and inequality has been discussed from the anthropological and historical approach (Watson and Ebrey eds, 1991). Recently many interesting studies have been made of marriage and the position of women in changing Chinese society. But so far the study of affinal relationships has not been fully explored.
In Taiwan Chinese society, a proverb says "In heaven Thi-kon is highest, on earth the mother's brother is highest." The mother's brother has authority over his sister's son. The earliest description of the role of the mother's brother is to be found in Suzuki Seiichiro's work. He writes that the mother's brother presents gifts on the birth and during the growth of the sister's children, takes a seat of honour at the wedding feast, and has a special role at the funeral of the mother (Suzuki, 1934: 113-116, 188, 217-218). Ikeda Toshio reports on the roles in a woman's natal family. When the family is divided, the wife's natal family offers gifts of twelve types of kitchen utensils, and when the married-out woman has a baby, its mother's mother must spend a lot of money on gifts (Ikeda, 1944: 142-143, 255-256). But these descriptions are fragmentary; the study of affinal relationships had not started in earnest.
The first serious study of the affinal relationships in Taiwan was made by Bernard Gallin. He shows that affines are available for labour exchange and money loans. They often visit each other, and play an important role in elections in Chunghua County (Gallin, 1960; 1966 175-181). In the 1970s, the need to solidify affinal relationships outside the village for purposes of socio-economic and political advancement increased (Gallin and Gallin, 1985). The Gallins consider the problems in the context of the changes, and their studies are regarded as the basic works on affinal relationships in Taiwan. But these studies fail to account for the role of wife-takers and wife-givers, that is, whether or not the wife-takers and wife-givers have mutually similar roles. Furthermore they leave the ritual aspect of affinal relationships untouched.
Ahern has examined the ritual aspect of the affinal relationships in Taipei County. The wife-givers are expected to perform services for the wife-takers and to present lavish gifts, and must validate the wife-givers' superior status by economic and ritual presentations. At a wedding feast the wife-giving family members are singled out with seats of honour. Funerals reveal most clearly the power and authority of the wife-givers. When the brothers divide their parents' estate, the arbitration of their mother's brother ensures their successful transformation into separate property holders. At that time goods are brought by the natal family of each brother's wife. The wife-givers have the power and ability to exercise some control over the wife-takers (Ahern, 1974).
Ahern's work is very valuable. It points out that the wife-givers take part in the procreation, marriage, family division and death of the wife-takers, making clear that the wife-givers are superior to the wife-takers in the ritual aspect. But for further understanding of the affinal relationship, it is necessary to examine the behaviour of the wife-takers concretely, and to analyze the affinal relationships in some aspects other than ritual ones.
In Chinese society it is said that the desirable marriage is one in which the socio-economic status of wife-givers and wife-takers are balanced. But on this point, previous studies indicate a wide difference. Freedman observes that because the groom's family has the right to control the bride and her status is low in her marital family, the bride's family is inferior to the groom's, the opposite conclusion to that of Ahern (Freedman, 1958: 100; 1970: 185; 1979 [1967]: 269). But as Freedman does not consider fully the fertility of the bride and the ritual and economic significance of the bride's family, his explanation is not persuasive. Daniel Kulp reports that wealth, scholarship, and prestige of a bride's family must be either better than, or equal to, that of the groom's family in a Kwangtung village (Kulp, 1966 [1925]: 169). Arthur Wolf points out that marriage does not create a hierarchy of wife-givers and wife-receivers (A. Wolf, 1970: 199). These studies fails to grasp that the economic aspects of the relationship between the wife-givers and the wife-takers is different from the ritual aspects, and that the relationship is not immutable through the generations. Nakao Katsumi observes that in Chinese society, which has no caste system, the gifts on marriage do not define the hierarchy of wife-givers and wife-takers. The relationship of the two is changeable (Nakao, 1991: 191-193). The present study makes clear the various relationships between the wife-givers and wife-takers.
Past studies have not precisely defined the spheres of wife-givers and wife-takers. In this paper my argument is based on the following interpretation. Wife-givers and wife-takers are the contracting families in a marriage. The family of wife-givers is the natal family of a married woman, called au-thau-chhu or goa-ke. After family division between brothers, all the brothers' families count as their sister's natal family. The family of wife-takers is the husband's family, the "marital family". Before the family division between the husband's brothers the marital family includes the husband's parents and brothers as a joint family, but the relationship between wife-givers and wife-takers mainly involves the natal family and the married couple. And after the family division among the husband's brothers the relationship between wife-givers and wife-takers only involves the natal family and the conjugal family of the husband.
In this paper I consider affinal relationships in a village in Tainan County, particularly examining the exchanges between wife-givers and wife-takers and their reciprocal ritual and economic roles. I give attention to the wife-taker's behaviour towards the wife-givers and the changes of character of the affinal relationships through generations, none of which has been fully discussed in past studies. Consequently this paper shows why the birth of a daughter who must marry out is expected, and why the affinal relationships are important in Taiwan Chinese society.

The setting: Ka-chheng-lim

In the Tainan area (Tainan City and County) the natal family has many duties toward the married women as compared with other areas, and this is a matter of common knowledge in Taiwan. Also, based on my more extensive research elsewhere in Taiwan, this perception seems quite reasonable.[3]
The village data for this paper were collected over a course of twenty months starting in December 1982. The village, here called Ka-chheng-lim, is located in the Sai-kang District of Tainan County, about fifteen kilometers north of central Tainan City. All the inhabitants in and around this District are Fukien Chinese people. Though the historical details are not clear, it is said that Ka-chheng-lim was founded over 300 years ago. In July 1984 the village contained a total resident population of 516, distributed among 139 households. Traditionally the villagers have been engaged in rotational cultivation of rice and sugarcane, lately cultivating tomatoes for forwarding to the factory and corn for feed, but in recent years sideline business activities have shown a yearly increase, so that now the greater share of their income depends on factory labour.
Ka-chheng-lim has no predominant lineage. According to a survey of the surnames of household heads, Tan is the most common surname, accounting for 58.2% of all household heads. The Tan are divided into three patrilineal lines, the largest one, whose ancestor founded this village, accounting for 46% of all household heads. It is a multi-surnamed village having one prominent surname and patrilineal line.
The joint family which is a traditional ideal in Chinese society, accounted for only one household in July 1984. Before the 1940s joint families were more frequent, but they were organised on a small scale, usually with patrilateral first cousins or brothers, and often divided easily. In July 1984 the conjugal family type accounted for 76.3% of households, the stem family type 23.0%, and the joint family type 0.7%.
Even before the formal division of property, in many cases the conjugal units already have their own kitchen and eat by themselves. This situation is different from family division in the sense of division of property. After all the brothers have married or the father has died, family division occurs. The property is divided equally among brothers, who have the same responsibility of caring for their parents and for ancestor worship. Besides this, the brothers' responsibility for their sisters is also equal. The daughter must marry out. If she dies before marriage, sometimes a ghost marriage is arranged for her, and she finally obtains a marital family (Ueno 1987b).[4]
Marriages in Ka-chheng-lim underwent a great change in the 1960s when rapid industrialisation occurred. Since this time a partner has been decided on in deference to the wishes of the bride and groom. Before 1960s the marriages within Sai-kang District accounted for half the total, and marriages between the twelve villages located within one kilometre of the research village were especially frequent. Most of the other marriages were with partners in neighbouring districts. This sphere of marriages almost overlaps with the spheres of marketing and religion based on Sai-kang Town. Traditionally marriages within the village and with relatives were not preferred. The desirable marriage was one which created a new relationship beyond the existing network. The new affinal relationships are expected to maintain social relationships beyond the village.
In the Sai-kang District one can distinguished two important political factions (Jordan 1972: 8), and the conflict is very severe. So, the influential families also have to consider faction, when making their marriage arrangements.

Exchange in marriage and ritual

The first point to be discussed here is the series of exchanges during the process of marriage. The problems of brideprice and dowry have provoked a great deal of controversy concerning the women's status and property rights. But to examine the substance of the exchanges, we must consider all exchanges both during the marriage rituals and after the wedding, together with the ritual factors.
In Ka-chheng-lim when the marriage has been agreed upon by two families, the wife-givers present to the wife-takers the first gift, called heng-ho-su ("congratulations on a happy event"), which consists of ten rice cakes and one cock. The first gift is not reciprocal; only the wife- givers send it. At the betrothal ceremony (teng-hun) the wife-takers send a part of the brideprice (pheng-kim). In this area the regular amount of brideprice is 160,000 or 180,000 yuan, well over half the annual income of the average household. At the present time if the wife-givers are wealthy, in many cases, the wife-givers do not receive the brideprice. In these cases, on the betrothal ceremony the wife-givers receive a very small amount of brideprice ritually. Usually on the betrothal ceremony the wife-takers send 20,000 or 60,000 yuan. The other main gifts are rings, and the wedding cakes (le-pia) which the wife-givers send to inform their relatives, neighbourhood and friends. The main gifts from the wife-givers are rings, tie-clips, cakes and bananas which the wife-takers send to inform their own relatives, neighbourhood and friends. The wife-givers invite the matchmaker, those wife-takers who have come to the bride's house, and their close relatives, to a small banquet. The expense of this banquet is borne by the wife-givers.
At the oan-pheng ceremony the main gifts from the wife-takers are the balance of the brideprice, the money for the hire of the wedding dress, cakes, and the money for a pig. The main gifts from wife-givers are suits, leather shoes, cakes and bananas. On the day before the wedding the wife-takers send wedding candles, firecrackers and a rice sieve which is for the purpose of averting evil. In this process, if the wife-givers do not receive the brideprice, the expenditure on gifts by the wife-givers and wife-takers is almost equal.
In the 1980s the minimum dowry (ke-chng) consisted of a refrigerator, washing machine, television, electric rice cooker, sofa, table, wardrobe, dresser, bed, clothes, accessories, motorcycle, and cash. Before the 1930s the dowry only consisted of accessories of gold and silver and clothes which the bride could wear for a few years. In the 1940s and 1950s, a bicycle and sewing machine were added to the dowry; in the 1970s, along with the economic development, the dowry increased precipitously. Before the 1970s, in some cases, the wife-givers spent the brideprice on the betrothal banquet, the wedding feast for their relatives, the gifts for the wife-takers and the dowry. At present the brideprice is spent on the dowry only. It is thus "indirect dowry" (Goody, 1973:2), a system traditionally dominant in China (Parish and Whyte, 1978 :182). In many cases, the bride's father provides the dowry by himself. In this village the dowry and indirect dowry become a private fund for the bride. The items in the dowry vary with the financial state of the bride's family. But if the dowry is no more valuable than the brideprice, the wife-givers and wife-takers lose face, and the bride feels that her status is low in her marital family. The wife-givers thus prepare a dowry which is as expensive as possible.
The dowry is included in the woman's private fund that may also be utilised by her husband and children (Cohen, 1976: 178-191; R. Watson, 1991: 356-358; M. Wolf, 1975: 134-135). She allocates it for expenditure for herself and her children, and was formerly expected to lend a part of the dowry to the joint family if it had not yet been divided between the husband's brothers. If the bride does not have enough dowry to lend, she is in a difficult position. Before the family division the couple refrain from spending the dowry on themselves, but after the division between the husband's brothers the couple may utilise the wife's dowry freely, and the husband may borrow the dowry and convert it into money for his business. The economic activity of the couple is supported by their fathers. In the marriage process the wife-givers give the daughter and property to the wife-takers and groom, and after the wedding they must continue giving gifts to the couple. Comparing the expenses of the wife-givers with those of the wife-takers in the marriage process, generally the wife-givers spend much more, and this is also recognised by the villagers.
In the process of marriage the wife-givers and wife-takers make the ritual gifts. The most significant gift from the wife-takers is the pig. At present the wife-takers provide the money for a pig, but in former times they sent an actual pig or a part of pig. The wife-givers having received the pig, must return the tips of the feet to the wife-takers. The villagers say, "To give meat for eating [to the wife-givers] is desirable, to give the bones for gnawing is impossible." The custom that the wife-takers send the pig and the wife-givers return the tips or the bones is generally followed in Taiwan Chinese society. It may be considered that the gifts represent Chinese folk genetic ideology that flesh is inherited from the mother and bones from the father (Oyama, 1952: 44-46; Ueno, 1993: 213; J. Watson, 1988: 113-114). In Ka-chheng-lim the villagers do not give an interpretation of the custom, but they know that proverb and see the flesh as coming from the mother and bones from the father. The gift of a pig strengthens the relationship between the wife-givers and wife-takers and symbolises their production of a child together.
Most of the gifts from the wife-givers have a ritual meaning. On the wedding day, the wife-takers hold a feast for their relatives and invite the wife-givers and the wife-givers' close relatives. On the following day the wife-givers hold a feast for their relatives, and invite the couple, the wife-takers, and the wife-taker's close relatives. The wife-givers present a pair of chickens and two sugarcanes to the couple. The chickens are called "the guiding chickens" (chhoa-lo-ke), referring to a wish that the bride will not forget the way to come back to her natal house. The fact that it is a pair of chickens implies a prayer for a baby. They put the fowls under the couple's bed, and it is said that if the cock comes out first, the bride will first have a son, and if the hen comes out, the firstborn will be a daughter. Whole sugarcane, from root to tip, symbolises that everything is satisfactory and that the couple feel happy.
The gifts from the wife-givers particularly have not only economic functions but also the symbolise the wish for close relations between the couple and the birth of a child. The guiding chickens suggest the close tie between the married woman and the natal family. The rites of marriage on one side symbolise that the bride leaving the natal family is joining the marital family and will have a baby, and on the other side represent the fact that that the woman maintains a relationship with her natal family. This contradiction or ambivalence certainly expresses the position of the married woman.[5]

Gifts for procreation and prosperity

Let us consider the role of wife-givers from their gift behaviour. In the first summer after marriage the woman takes a summer vacation, goes back to her natal home and stays several days. When she comes back to her marital home, the natal family - the wife-givers - gives the couple presents of clothes and between sixty and a hundred rice cakes in the shape of a peach. The cakes are presented to the relatives and the neighbours of the wife-takers, and so they know that the wife has visited her natal home and they recognise the existence of the wife-givers who give her support. Because of this custom, the wife-takers must let the wife go back her natal home, and the wife-givers must bear the expense of supporting her and preserving their honour by supplying the rice cakes.
On the twelfth day after the married woman gives birth to a child, the child's hair is ritually shaved. On that day the wife-givers send chickens, ducks, pig's kidneys and so on to feed the mother. Besides these the wife-givers present noodles which stand for longevity and a flower (a Chinese mallow or hibiscus mutabilis) which means good health for the baby. Exactly one month after the first son's or daughter's birth the wife-givers present many things - clothes, a hat, a ring, a perambulator, and bedclothes for the baby, and round rice cakes. After four months, the wife-givers send baby's clothes and the peach-shaped rice cakes, and on the first birthday they present clothes, shoes, a hat, a bracelet, rice cakes in the shape of a turtle and other items. The rice cakes are presented to the relatives and neighbours of the wife-takers.
On the occasion of family division the role of the wife-givers is very prominent. As I mentioned earlier, in this village family division occurs easily, so in each generation the family must be divided between the brothers and organised into conjugal families. When family division occurs, the wife-givers of the conjugal families make a gift called keng-chau, meaning "to support the stove", to the new families. This is a very important gift which must be presented for each new conjugal family. If the brothers who have managed the communal household divide the property, the eldest brother may inherit the original stove, but the other things - even dishes - must be divided equally. Each conjugal family cannot inherit enough to make a living, and so they depend on support from the wife-givers. Previously the gifts were twelve sorts of goods, including kitchen bowls, a water storage jar and others - and the chickens, symbolising the property of the family. In the Taiwanese language "family" (ke) and "chickens" (ke) are homophones. Later on the wife-givers gave presents including a gas range and refrigerator and other kitchen utensils, but at present almost all of them send money. The contents of keng-chau differ depending on the state of the wife-givers' finances. But if the wife's dowry is small, the wife-givers are obliged to compensate with an expensive gift at the time of family division. Recently, in many cases, before formal family division, the conjugal units eat by themselves. Even in these cases, when the formal family division of the parental property occurs, the wife-givers of each conjugal family perform keng-chau. At the family division the wife-givers send twelve other kinds of gifts, including rice cakes, rice, a bamboo hoop which stands for perfection, and others. These are offered to the Stove God of the new conjugal family. At the family division the wife-givers present not only economic support but also ritual gifts to bring prosperity to the wife-takers.
In the housewarming ritual (jip-chhu) the gifts from the wife-givers are significant. Jip-chhu is performed on the occasion when the thia (the room for the worship of the gods, Buddha and the ancestors) is newly built or families move to the new house. The wife-givers present a pair of lanterns which are used for the worship of Thi-kong and Sam-kai-kong. These are hung in the thia. The "lantern" and the word meaning "man" are also homophones, teng, the gift of the lanterns representing a wish for the birth of a son. Even if the thia room is held in common with brothers, each wife-giver sends a pair of lanterns. Besides, sometimes the wife-givers of the brothers share the costs of purchasing an altar or a small shrine for the worship of the gods, a Buddha and the ancestral tablets in the thia. This is the most sanctified place in the house, and is the place for ancestor worship. A pair of lanterns and an altar or a small shrine symbolise that the continuity of the patrilineal descent is necessary to assure the fertility of the married woman and the existence of the wife-givers that pray for her procreation.
In regard to the role of wife-givers, the authority of the mother's brother (bo-ku) is often discussed. In Ka-chheng-lim, the bo-ku is an honoured guest at the wedding feast of his sister's son. In traditional practice, if the bo-ku has not arrived, the feast cannot be held: he takes the seat of honour. The bo-ku must present bo-ku-lian and a lot of money to the groom. The bo-ku-lian, a pair of cloths on which is written a lucky couplet and which are hung in the thia room, are shared with the mother's brothers. At the time of the family division between the sister's sons, their mother's brother is an absolute arbitrator. The mother's brother is paid ritual respect, and he has the responsibility of supplying presents to his sister's son. The mother's brother gives him many presents and prays for his birth and growth, so that he must respect his mother's brother.

Women's funerals and the natal family

On the death of the woman, her natal family has many roles and these reveal most clearly the authority of the wife-givers. As soon as the woman dies, the marital family sends a person to tell the natal family about her death, and to ask someone to come to see the woman. Usually her brothers come, and the children of the dead woman must fall on their knees to receive their mother's brothers. Until the wife-givers can confirm that she has been nursed carefully and died a natural death, her coffin is not allowed to be covered.
Members of the wife-givers attend her funeral and make offerings. This behaviour is called cho-au-thau (performing the wife-giver's role); four or six people attend. In a rite performed before the coffin is carried to the grave site, her brothers communally present a set of offerings that involves the seng-le (including the head of a pig)[6], fruit, rice, and other objects. Besides this, two identical sets are offered, one from her sons and the other from her daughters. The set for the wife-givers is placed on the left, which is the superior position. In this village the women of the wife-givers see her coffin out of the compound and the men go to the grave site and watch the burial of coffin in the grave. In contrast with the custom in northern Taiwan, where the wife-givers do not join the funeral procession, it is clear that the relation between a married woman and the natal family is very strong in Tainan. After the male wife-givers family come back from the grave site, the wife-takers present ang-pau, a red envelope with money, to the wife-givers. It expresses the wife-takers' thanks to the wife-givers for the favour. The wife-givers accept only the envelope and return the money. This shows that the wife-givers think cho-au-thau is their bound duty and that they desire to continue the relation between the wife-givers and the wife-takers. If relations are bad, the wife-givers do not return the money, and they sever the relationship with the wife-takers, though the villagers say that they do not know of such a case happening. The death of the woman who connects two sides may be an opportunity to change the nature of the affinal relationship. But usually the connection is continued, and the right of decision, particularly in ritual, is entrusted to the wife-givers.[7]
At the funeral other affines play an important ritual role, which is called ko-pang - meaning to look after the room. On the day of the funeral of a father or mother, one woman from each of the natal families of the wives of sons who still live in the compound, either a mother, sister or brother's wife, comes. They turn on the light in the dead parent's room. After the coffin has been carried out from the thia to the courtyard, the women from each of the wives' natal families put water, nails and coins in a bucket, and they put these in the same place as the coffin had been in the thia. After the funeral procession leaves the courtyard, they put these buckets into the dead parent's room. When the procession comes back, each of the women pours water from the bucket into the water storage jar of each daughter-in-law to whom she is related. The nails and coins are used later. In Taiwanese, "nail" and "man" are homophones, teng. These rituals are to make the families rich and to beget sons. Ko-pang does not involve gifts, but the wife-givers perform the role of blessing the wife-takers.
From her marriage to her death, the married woman receives economic and ritual support from her natal family. The natal family in Taiwanese is au-thau-chhu, meaning the house behind (her), and this eloquently indicates the role of the natal family.

The role of son-in-law

Although the roles of wife-givers, as we have noted, have been discussed in previous studies, the roles of wife-takers, except with respect to the mother's brother, have been paid little attention. But what has to be noticed is that the most significant relationship among affines is not that between mother's brother (bo-ku) and sister's son (goa-seng), but that between wife's father (tiu-lang) and daughter's husband (kia-sai). The dyad between the wife's father and daughter's husband offers the key to understanding affinal relationships in Taiwan Chinese society. It also sheds light on the position of women who cannot succeed within the natal family due to patrilineal descent.
We shall discuss the role of son-in-law (kia-sai) in detail. He is well received by the wife's natal family. At present, the first time he visits the natal family formally is at the betrothal rite. Previously it was at the wedding feast of the wife-givers, which was held on the day after that of the wife-takers. Even now, when the kia-sai and his wife have arrived at the natal family's house for the wedding feast, the wife may enter the house by herself, but the kia-sai must be escorted by a member of the natal family to the thia. He is offered a chair on the left side of the room, which is the best seat. On the right side a man who is younger than kia-sai or of a junior generation, usually the younger brother of the wife, sits down, and they drink tea together ritually. It means that the kia-sai is the guest of honour in the wife's natal family, and he must present the money - ang-pau - to the parents-in-law, and the children of the wife's brothers.
On the first New Year after marriage, the kia-sai and his wife must make a call on the natal family, and he must present money as a New Year's gift to the parents-in-law, and children of the wife's brothers. After this, his visiting the wife's natal family is not obligatory, but he is expected to do it whenever possible. In Ka-chheng-lim it is usually found that the married woman and her husband call on her natal family. If the parents-in-law go on a trip or enter hospital, and they need to spend money, the kia-sai is expected to help with the expense. Usually the sons-in-law arrange together to share the expense equally. When the natal family has rites, such as a wedding, or jip-chhu, they must attend and send substantial sums of money (ang-pau) .
The ritual obligations of kia-sai are seen on the deaths of the parents-in-law. On the seventh day after a death the daughters and their husbands come back to hold a memorial ritual called cha-bo-gin-a-sun, daughter's memorial ritual. The ritual nominally is the daughters', but as a matter of fact, their husbands, the sons-in-law, share the expenses for the ritual together. At the funeral the daughters share a set of offerings, and that expense is also borne by their husbands. The memorial ritual and the offering are the obligation of the married daughters. Unmarried daughters are considered members of the natal family and have no obligation to contribute to the expenses. Besides this, the sons-in-law must hire a singer for the funeral songs, and, if the state of their finances is good, they also hire a band to take part in the funeral procession. They must give the natal family a large sum of incense money.
A proverb goes, "A son-in-law is half a son." A son-in-law is expected to be as dutiful to his parents-in-law as to his own parents. Only a daughter who gets a husband can carry out rituals and make an economic contribution on behalf of her parents.

Son-in-law and father-in-law

Besides the ritual aspects, when the natal family needs money and support for social activities, the son-in-law is expected to give help to the natal family, especially to the father-in-law. On this subject, I will analyze the donations for rebuilding the village temple in Ka-chheng-lim.
Ka-chheng-lim has a village temple called Ko-ma-kiong, built in 1579. Early in this century the temple was ruined, and the images of the gods were moved to another place. In 1978 it was decided to rebuild the temple.
The scale of a temple must befit the power of the gods. Because Ko-ma-kiong was a very influential temple in olden times, the oracle said that if the temple was too small the gods would not want it to be rebuilt. As a result, the scale of temple which was planned was so large that a small village of this size had great financial difficulty. In November 1983, the rebuilding was almost completed, and the ritual of inauguration was performed. For about six years the members of the committee on rebuilding and the lin-tiu, the chiefs of the sections in this village, zealously raised funds for rebuilding. According to the record of the accounts settlement in April 1984, the funds raised totalled about 10.8 million yuan, about 2.57 million yuan consisting of obligatory donations from each family in the village, plus some other income, such as the proceeds of sales of paper money for the gods, and money offerings. The bulk of the funds was from donations, especially contributions from outside the village. How to solicit contributions is where the committee members and the lin-tiu showed their abilities in fund-raising, and they made full use of their network to obtain donations. When a person is asked to contribute for a temple, usually he contributes readily, if the state of his finances is not so bad. It shows that he is pious, a successful man and very generous. To be asked for a donation and to comply with the request saves face for both the contributor and the requester, and it shows the extent of their social network. In Chinese society one's authority depends on one's social network.[8] To contribute to a temple confirms a relationship between two people. The name of the contributor is carved in the temple, and the contributor and fund raiser are proud of that.
The items donated in the May 1984 data which I collected are presented in Table 1.[9] As Table 1 indicates, the largest share of donations came from ex-villagers. In particular, those who have been successful abroad are expected to contribute to their home village. The affines' donations are no less than those of the villagers.


Amount (yuan)

% of Subtotal

Number of persons

Average per person

Villagers [a]





Ex-villagers [b]





Religious link [c]





Affinal link [d]





Political leaders [e]





Shopkeepers [f]





Friendship link [g]





Temple link [h]





Congregation [i]










Under 1,000 Yuan








[a] Villagers of Ka-chheng-lim who make voluntary donations
[b] Previous residents, or children of previous male residents
[c] Present and former inhabitants of the villages affiliated to the temple
[d] Affines of villagers and former villagers
[e] Politicians: assemblymen, village chiefs etc.
[f] Owners of the shops where the villagers shop
[g] Friends of the rebuilding committee members and the lin-tiu
[h] Other temples associated with Ko-ma-kion.
[i] Temple congregation, or reason for donation unclear

Table 1. Donations for the rebuilding of the temple

I would like to focus attention on the composition of the affines who made donations. In Table 2, the affines are classified into two categories, according to the relationship of their ho tiu or family heads.[10] Category l are the relatives of the marital families of the women who married out from Ka-chheng-lim. It consists of the wife-takers as I have defined them, and their relatives. Category 2 are the relatives of the natal families of women who married into Ka-chheng-lim. It consists of the wife-givers as I have defined them, and their relatives.
This table indicates that the relatives by marriage of the women who married out contributed far more than the relatives of women who married in. The wife-takers include mostly the women's husbands, but there are no cases of the women's sons making donations. To put it in reverse, the sons-in-law or brothers-in-law of the family heads in Ka-chheng-lim make donations, but their sisters' sons do not. And the relatives of wives of family heads scarcely contribute. The donations of the wife's sister's husbands are large, but those of the natal family (wife-givers) are not so large. There is also a difference visible in the amounts of donations of the two categories 1 and 2. These figures show clearly that the expected role of the wife-takers is different from that of the wife-givers.


Amount (Yuan)

Number of People

Average amount per person











Sister's son












Relatives of wife-takers




Subtotal (1)









Relatives of wife-givers

Wife's sister's husband












Subtotal (2)




Total (1 + 2)




Table 2. Donations of Affines

This difference is recognised by the villagers. One man said, "I have no daughter, but I have two sisters who married out. My two sisters' husbands have made donations for our village temple, partly at my request and partly voluntarily. To ask the husband of daughter or sister to contribute is easy. We have a close relationship. For the family of a daughter or sister, our family is au-thau-chhu. Because they depend upon us for support, it is proper that they should make a donation for the natal family's village temple. However, it is hard to ask the natal family of my wife or daughter-in-law. If I request one, I will be in debt to them. When they ask me to do something, I cannot refuse. So I have not asked the natal family of my daughter-in-law." Another said, "A kia-sai is half a son. A son-in-law must take care of the wife's natal family. If a daughter has any difficulties, she depends upon au-thau-chhu. It is proper that her husband makes a donation to the home village temple. But if the village into which my daughter has married holds any events, that is no concern of ours." The implication of these statements is as follows. Because the wife-givers support the wife-takers in economic and ritual matters, as has been pointed out, the wife-givers can ask wife-takers for help easily. However, the wife-takers receive a woman, gifts and support from the wife-givers, and according to the principle of reciprocity, the wife-takers find it hard to request any more support from the wife-givers.
The donation by sons-in-law of the family heads is most noticeable. The son-in-law is expected to contribute as a relative of the father-in-law and to protect the father-in-law's honour, particularly if the father-in-law is active in politics and business, in order to help him in these matters. The son-in-law is a representative of the wife-takers, and must render services to the wife-givers who are represented by the father-in-law. After the father-in-law's death, the relationship between the wife-givers and wife-takers will change. Although the wife-givers continue to give gifts and to bless the wife-takers, and the wife-takers support the wife-givers' social activities, the husband as the wife-taker has no ritual obligation to the wife's brother. Brothers-in-law are of the same generation, and the relationship between them is friendly. Neither of them has authority over the other because of a difference of generation as is the case with fathers-in-law.
The relationship between the son-in-law and father-in-law in each family is transformed into a relationship between the sister's son and the mother's brother in the next generation. The son-in-law repays the gifts and blessings from the father-in-law by gifts and support to the wife's natal family. The sister's son repays his mother's brother with respect, but he has no obligation to give him economic and social support. This is clear from the figures in the data on the donations. From his birth a sister's son receives many gifts from his mother's natal family, but his role is as receiver only. However, his father repays the ritual and economic gifts from the wife-givers with reciprocal gifts and support. The relationship must be considered as one of reciprocity over two generations.


Concerning the relationship between the married-out woman and her natal family, the villagers said, "We borrow from a daughter rice cakes which are carried eight times, so we must return these to her. At last when the daughter dies, we must offer a pig's head at her funeral, and it comes to an end." "Eight times" means the first gift for marriage from the natal family (heng-ho-su), the gift for the summer vacation and the gifts of the first month, fourth month, and first birthday for the eldest son and daughter. The pig's head is an offering which must be made by the natal family at her funeral, when the responsibility of the natal family is fulfilled. The wife-givers present ritual and economic gifts to the wife-takers and pray for the birth of children and prosperity of the wife-takers, giving support to the woman who has married out until her death. It is impossible for a married woman not to have a natal family. If her brothers and their sons have died off, she asks her patrilateral parallel cousins to play the role of her natal family, au-thau-chhu.
When a couple has married, even if the husband has not yet inherited his father's property, he has his wife's property and support from the wife-givers which he can utilise. But in a joint family he cannot use them as he likes. This is one of the factors which provokes a family division. Once the family has divided and he has received property from his father, the natal family of his wife presents many gifts or cash, especially on keng-chau, to his wife, which he can utilise. The economic base of the conjugal family consists of the property from each father. The wife and the property that she brings in invites division of a joint family into conjugal families. The arrival of a wife leads to the division of the patrilateral joint family, but she also maintains the continuity of patrilineal descent by ritual support from her natal family. The gifts of a lantern, altar and small shrine in the thia show that the continuity of patrilineal descent really depends upon the wife's natal family, the wife-givers.
Ahern has argued that the mother's brother, who provide generous gifts, is superior to the sister's son, and that the mother's brother can seldom accept anything in return from the sister's son. The relationship in interpreted as being affinal (Ahern 1974: 289-290). The mistake that Ahern makes is in thinking that the relationship between mother's brother and sister's son should be interpreted in terms of the relationship between wife-givers and wife-takers. We should not overlook the fact that the relationship between son-in-law and father-in-law is significant in the relationship between wife-givers and wife-takers. The son-in-law offers ritual service and support for social activities to his parents-in-law. It is reciprocal behaviour repaying the ritual gifts and economic support from the wife's natal family. The wife-takers are not receivers only. The roles of affines change over two generations.
Affinal relationships are usually rearranged. A proverb was often quoted to me in explanation of this rearrangement: "In the first generation there are chhin (siblings); in the second generation there are piau (cousins, excluding patrilateral parallel cousins); the third generation is scattered." While the married-out sister and brother are alive, the wife-givers occupy the higher position in ritual and provide economic support. After the death of the sister and her brother, their sons no longer have any special obligation towards each other. The relationship of cross cousin becomes the same as other chhin-chhek. And in the third generation, second cousins usually have no contact with each other.
In previous studies in Taiwan it was reported that affinal relationships last only two or three generations (Gallin, 1960: 642; Pasternak, 1972 :61; Ahern, 1974: 294), or until the mother's brother and sister's son are dead(Wolf and Huang, 1980: 81). Cohen observed that after the family division among husband' brothers, the tie between the new conjugal family and the wife's natal family becomes more intimate. There is no abrupt change after the death of the senior generations in her natal family, and in the following generation the affinal tie among cousins will be much weaker (Cohen, 1976: 40). Cohen's insight also applies to the data from Ka-chheng-lim. We may say that this transformation of affinal relationships is universal in Taiwan.
Several studies indicates that because of the recent dramatic economic and political changes, the importance of affinal relations has increased, both in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and on the mainland (Gallin and Gallin 1985; Han and Eades 1992:106-107; R. Watson, 1985: 156-161). In Ka-chheng-lim, because of economic development, villagers, especially those who have economic and political power, spend a lot of money on affinal relationships and dowry. These are opportunities to show their prestige. In traditional China the affinal relationship was significant among the upper class (Ebrey, 1991: 11-14; Goody, 1991: 101-102; R. Watson, 1981: 607-612, 1985: 132-136). It is fitting that in the donations to the temple of Ka-chheng-lim, many affines of the committee members and the lin-tiu give a lot of money, but ordinary men are not so interested in using their affinal relationships. Even among the committee members, most of them do not ask their wife-givers to contribute. The interaction between the wife-givers and wife-takers needs further consideration in China.
In Taiwan Chinese society a daughter creates a useful affinal relationship with her natal family. By having a daughter the family loses property, but if the family has no daughter, the members cannot acquire the advantageous positions of parents-in-law or mother's brother. Before marriage, a daughter's social significance is not recognised by her parents, least of all by her father, but after she marries out and provides a son-in-law, she becomes a significant entity for her father. Only after being married out can she perform the ritual responsibilities of a daughter. The birth of a daughter is not desired for its value per se, but for the significant relationships which it brings to the wife-givers. The married-out woman maintains her relations with her natal family. The natal family is her father's family, and after this family has divided, all of her brothers' conjugal families play the roles of au-thau-chhu or wife-givers. The responsibility of the wife-givers is distributed equally among her brothers. When they do something for their sisters, they have to discuss allocations, and one can say that the existence of sister is a factor maintaining cooperation among brothers after family division. The sister's role is in linking men at the level of the natal family, not only brothers but also sisters' husbands - tong-mng. Tong-mng are sons-in-law to the wives' father and must serve the natal family. Frequently they share gifts received by the natal family. On the death of the parents-in-law they must share the responsibility for the offerings and other expenses. The relationship among tong-mng frequently is very intimate. They may carry on business in partnership, work in close cooperation exchanging information, and so on. In the donations for the village temple, the average size of donations from tong-mng of family heads was greater than those from their wives' natal families. Because the wife's natal family has no obligation to contribute, their donations are not as great, but the donations of tong-mng depend upon the closeness of their own personal relationships.
A woman divides her husband from his brothers in the family through her private funds and support from her natal family, but creates close ties between men of the natal family and men of the marital conjugal family. And in the natal family the woman creates close ties among tong-mng and enables her brothers to maintain cooperation among themselves. The significance of the "daughter" really lies here. For a man who aspires to enlarge his network beyond the patrilineal descent group and the village, the "daughter" who brings him advantageous relationships is indispensable. We cannot overlook the fact that she contributes to the brothers' solidarity. The role of daughter as one of connecting men at the level of the natal family illustrates most clearly the significance of affinal relationships in Taiwan Chinese society.


For the fieldwork in Ka-chheng-lim on which this paper is based, the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica accorded me the position of Visiting Scholar. The survey of affinal relationships in Taiwan in 1986 was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Encouragement of Young Scientists from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. I would like to acknowledge here the generosity of these organisations. An early form of this paper first appeared in 1987 as "Wife's Father and Mother's Brother: An Analysis of the Affinal Relationships in Taiwan Chinese Society", Japanese Journal of Ethnology, 51(4): 375-409. I wish to express my gratitude to many people for reading the earlier paper and making a number of helpful suggestions.


1. Chhin-chok and chhin-chhek are Taiwanese. The following italic words are Taiwanese folk terms. In this paper the romanisation is based on the peh-oe-ji system, except for tone symbols, semi-nasalised vowels, and the distinction between "o" and "o.".
2. Horie observes that the categories of "mother-giver" and "wife-giver" are necessary to analyze the affinal relationship in Taiwan Chinese society. He emphasises the difference of the two kinds of interactions, one being between sister's son and mother-giver, and the other being between groom and wife-giver. I agree with the view that the relations of each generation are not the same, but the affinal relationships which are concluded between two families must be examined through the generations, and so I venture to use the category of "wife-givers" which implies the idea of "mother-giver".
3. The wider research on affinal relationships was carried out in seventeen places all over Taiwan Island in 1986. While there is still insufficient data to be able to generalise about Taiwan as a whole, relations between married women and their natal families in the Tainan case do seem to be unusually strong.
4. On ghost marriage in Sai-kang District see Jordan (1971; 1972: 140-155).
5. Robert Weller indicates that this contradiction is found in several reports in Chinese society (Weller, 1984: 256-259).
6. Seng-le is a set of offerings that consists of pork, fish, chicken and so on. It is offered to gods, ghosts and ancestors.
7. This custom is not universal in Taiwan. In some areas the wife-takers do not give ang-pau, in some the wife-givers must accept money, and in others it is up to the wife-givers.
8. Wang discusses the importance of the various networks for the social activity in Chinese society (Wang 1987: 37-40).
9. The motive for the donation does not always depend on a single social relationship, but where information on more than one social relationship was given, the categories were given priority according to their alphabetical order in the table. For instance where a donor was pointed out by the villagers to be an ex-villager [b], with affinal links [d] and a political leader [e], he is classified under [b]. This analysis is limited to contributors who made a donation of 1,000 yuan or more. The name of a contributor who has donated less than 1,000 yuan is not carved in the temple.
10. Ho-tiu means head of the ho, a family unit for the purposes of the family register and for the allocation of the temple expenses.

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Updated 4 June 2020