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Liu, Jieyu (2022) 'Childhood in Urban China: A Three-Generation Portrait.' Current Sociology, 70 (4). pp. 598-617.

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This article examines how the experience of childhood has changed in urban China against the backdrop of the wider political, social and economic transformations in the 20th century. Drawing on 95 life history interviews in three urban sites in China, it explores the nature, origins and impact of continuities and changes in childhood experiences across three generations. While expressive intimacy between the only-child generation and their parents increased, the three-generational comparison disputes previous theorizing about the modernization of childhood and the value of children based upon a Euro-American empirical reality. Rather than being trapped in a linear progression model, this article reveals that while the economic value of children as family helpers has dramatically reduced across three generations, the economic prospect of children as old age security goes hand in hand with the emotional value of children, which is shaped by the cultural tradition of filial piety, social welfare context and demographic structure. As a consequence, in contrast with the existing argument of an individualization of childhood in China, this article indicates that the youngest generation – the only-child generation – experienced an increasing regimentalization of childhood, exercised by their parents and driven by both neoliberal market and post-socialist state forces. This article also draws attention to the gender difference in childhood experience across three generations and reveals how the one-child policy has contributed to the increasing value of girls in urban China.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: generation, childhood, life history interviews, gender, urban China
SOAS Departments & Centres: Regional Centres and Institutes > SOAS China Institute
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women
H Social Sciences
ISSN: 00113921
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2021 17:30
Funders: European Union

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