Single-surname villages were the predominant order of rural society in South China. This order was described by Maurice Freedman as “lineage,” which he characterized as essentially a corporation with a clear idea of membership and the ability to hold property. Membership in the corporation had to be demonstrated through participation in sacrifice and the active tracing of genealogy. In South China, rituals informed the imperial magistrate of contractual rights and obligations, where parties to a contract were not individual persons but lineages. The lineage became the successor of the household in ritual. This book, which examines the history of the lineage in China, focusing on its local and political context and its importance to Chinese society, shows that incorporation via the ritual process tied the lineage closely with the growth of business and the pooling of capital for investment purposes. It also explores how imperial ideology sought to relate the state to rural society and peripheralized the cities.
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