Daughters of the Canton Delta by Janice E. Stockard

DaugthersOfTheCatonDelta_BookNonfiction — print. Standford University Press, 1989. 221 pgs. Purchased.

Subtitled “Marriage Patterns and Economic Strategies in South China, 1860-1930”, Stockard’s book serves as a contradiction to Margery Wolf’s book. Whereas Wolf worked in Taiwain, Stockard works in mainland China.

Whereas Wolf reports on the major and minor forms of marriage supported by Confucian ideals, Stockard reports on a minor form that is actually a major form in the Canton Delta — delayed transfer marriage. In these marriages, women would be married and then return to live for three more years with her natal family or until she becomes pregnant.

Even more interesting than this is form of marriage was the opportunities women had to resist marriage all together. “Spirit marriages” were sought after opportunities because women could embody Confucian ideals while still continuing to live with their natal families. The trauma of separation was avoided entirely in these situations. There were also women who managed to become “sworn spinsters” although most families would still marry their spinster daughters after death in order to provide a tie for their spirits out of fear an untied spirit would lead to famine or infertility in the family.

For me, this book was not an interesting as Wolf’s. Although the contrast in marriage practices was interesting, the writing style was not as engaging. This may possibly be because the Stockard does not refer to her interviewees by name (whether real or made-up); instead, she calls them all “informant”. How very impersonal!

One comment

  1. Wenting

    Agree with the writing style point. But to me, what makes it not so interesting is the author’s tendency to repetition. A conclusion is inferred from both the author’s perspective and the informant’s account, which is not a good reading experience. However, the phenomenon itself is interesting, especially to someone who lives near the delayed transfer marriage area and has heard about the sworn spinsterhood/spinsters.


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