Associate 2013-14

Futing Liao


Social Structure, Family Structure, and Life Course in Tang China

Because there is no publicly available data for the Tang period of China (the seventh to tenth centuries), we know little about the relation between family structure and the larger social structure, or about the relation between social structure and people’s life courses. Professor Liao has collected and collated population-register data for this period from six archival sources at two locations, Dunhuang and Turfan, in western China. These are the only known places with surviving data, and they have yielded a single dataset of 276 household registers.

During his Center appointment, Professor Liao plans to process the data, check it for consistency, prepare a codebook, and then deposit the data in the Mosaic archive housed at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany. Thus, the most complete population-register data for this historical period will be available for public use via the Internet.

Professor Liao will also draw on the dataset to continue his book-length project to understand social and demographic behavior during the Tang period. One of the book’s themes seeks to gain insight into the relation between family structure and the larger social structure. Here, he proposes to build a theory for understanding the predominant stratification system in a society; the influence of stratification on the reproductive power of a family; and the shaping of household structures.

A second theme seeks to explain the relation between social structure and life course, and the indirect effect of social stratification on demographic behavior. Here he will examine a key life course event: women’s first marriages in the peasant and military officer classes represented by the Dunhuang and Turfan population registers. Because the social and structural contexts for these two social classes were different, he expects the women’s mean age at marriage will also differ.