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Jiping Zuo

Chapter 20 examines marital construction of family decision-making power in China. In Western literature, family decision-making power is widely seen as a strong indication of one’s family status. Women are perceived as the powerless gender, given the predominance of the patriarchal family structure in world history. Therefore, women must increase their family decision-making power in order to raise their family status. Research on family patriarchy in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan in past decades has challenged this conventional wisdom in several ways. The author shows that since the 1990s, joint decision-making on major family affairs has been not only the most common but also the most preferred pattern among married couples. Women are often found to have greater power in routine financial management than men, but they do not necessarily consider it an indication of their increased family status. Many women and men exercise family power to serve the family interest, sometimes at the expense of their own well-being. Even in pre-1949 China, married women became powerful patriarchs as they acquired mother-in-law status in a multigenerational patriarchal household, reversing their subordinate status as daughters-in-law. In addition, existing research on contemporary Chinese societies shows rural_urban differences and differences between genders in subjective evaluations of family power. The above patterns render Western theories and methods inadequate when applied to Chinese situations, which are characterized by collective family settings rooted in an agrarian economy and Confucius ethics, and modified by changing historical circumstances.