The story

The family and cultural aspects of China


For most Chinese, and for most of China's history, the family was the center of social life, and devotion to it was considered a great virtue. Parents felt responsible for imparting the teachings that came from their ancestors to their children, such as preserving family property.

Chinese families were very large. Usually relatives lived in the same house (father, mother, children, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles), often reuniting three or four generations.

For a married woman, the greatest virtue was faithfulness, and that was also true if she were widowed. However, it was not illegal for a woman to marry after her husband's death, which in fact was even common because of economic hardship. However, this was seen as an inferior moral practice. According to popular belief, a woman who married on a second wedding would be considered, after death, a ghost in her husband's family.

In China, boys received differential treatment as they were considered the future heads of households. When they were 20 years old, their hair was carefully tied to the top of their head and protected by a cap. Marriages were usually arranged between families and, after marriage, the wife moved to her husband's house. Chinese emperors used to marry their daughters with members of the royal families of neighboring peoples and thus protected their borders.

Boys and girls could attend schools. Chinese society has always given much importance to education. Even the poorest children received instruction, often from their own families.

The girls' education was designed to prepare them for household chores such as embroidering and sewing. For the boys, the central objective was to prepare them to run for the position of royal official, which was chosen by the emperor himself. If chosen, the boys would have a privileged situation within the state.

Chinese cities

From the beginning Chinese cities were densely populated. Chang-an was one of China's most famous cities in antiquity.

By the 7th century BC Chang-an already had 1 million inhabitants. The types of housing varied according to their social conditions. The nobles and wealthy merchants lived near the palaces, and the impoverished population huddled on the outskirts of the cities. The finest villas were more than one story high, covered with tiles, and decorated with care and harmony. Urban workers and peasants lived in small, poorly ventilated houses covered with bamboo.

The food of the privileged layers was rich and varied: meat, eggs, cereals and vegetables. The food was served in beautiful porcelain bowls, and as cutlery they used chopsticks made of bamboo or wood. For the poor, food was almost always insufficient. They usually ate a vegetable stew. In regions where there were many rice paddies (Hoang-Ho and Yang Tse-Kiang Valley in southeastern China), the food was added with a bowl of rice.

Alcoholic drinks and teas were appreciated by the population. The banquets organized by the nobles were served in beautiful jars decorated with ornaments of gold, bronze or silver.