Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bleg: The development of the modern parent-child relationship

Here in China, parents still hold position of unquestioned authority for most people. This is true even for adults. I had one student, a man well into his fourties, still unmarried, who wanted to marry a woman who had adopted a child. His parents forbade it, threatening to disown him if he went through with it. He acquiesced and last I heard had married a woman more to his parents liking.

This seems completely inconceivable to most westerners, yet I believe this kind of practice was not always unique to China, India, or other cultures with which we associate filial piety; I'm pretty sure this was once the standard in the west as well. But we've moved away from it, just as we've moved away from other nasty things of the old days.

Gary Becker told a story of how the transition to industrialization created a more dynamic environment that made the knowledge of older generations much less useful. This seems very plausible to me, but I guess I'm looking for more of a history of ideas on this subject. What were people writing about the authority of parents during, say, the Enlightenment?

I'd be grateful for any knowledge any of you have on this topic.

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