China's patrilineal and patriarchal tradition has encouraged a long-standing preference for male heirs within families. Coupled with China's birth-planning policy, this has led to a severe gender imbalance. But a counterpattern is emerging in rural China where a noticeable proportion of young couples have willingly accepted having a single daughter. They are doing so even as birth-planning policies are being relaxed and having a second child, and the opportunity of having a son, is a new possibility.
Choosing Daughters explores this critical, yet largely overlooked, reproductive pattern emerging in China's demographic landscape. Lihong Shi delves into the social, economic, and cultural forces behind the complex decision-making process of these couples to unravel their life goals and childrearing aspirations, the changing family dynamics and gender relations, and the intimate parent–daughter ties that have engendered this drastic transformation of reproductive choice. She reveals a leading-edge social force that fosters China's recent fertility decline, namely pursuit of a modern family and successful childrearing achieved through having a small family. Through this discussion, Shi refutes the conventional understanding of a universal preference for sons and discrimination against daughters in China and counters claims of continuing resistance against China's population control program.
About the author
Lihong Shi is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Case Western Reserve University.
"Choosing Daughters is a persuasive, eloquent study of the changing gender roles. Full of surprises and new vistas for investigation, it is ethnography at its best."
—William Jankowiak, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
"Choosing Daughters gives us key insights into the complexity of reproductive choices in rural China. Through meticulous ethnographic research and a firm grasp of big issues, Lihong Shi shows us not only why some Chinese families choose—in fact, desire—to have only one daughter, but also how ideas about son preference, elder care, familial intimacy, and filial piety are being redefined."
—Rubie Watson, Harvard University
"With rich ethnographic detail, beautiful writing, and rigorous marshalling of evidence, Choosing Daughters presents a nuanced portrait of how and why gender roles and family life have changed in a Chinese village. Lihong Shi offers a bold challenge to widespread assumptions about bias against daughters in rural China."
—Vanessa Fong, Amherst College
"[T]his book is a delight to read....[It] is a persuasive and eloquent study of the changing gender roles in Chinese society. It is a ground-breaking account of the cultural transformation of northern Chinese society whose people have come to re-evaluate kinship bonds and to value a daughter over a son. This is the kind of book that opens up new vistas. Full of surprises, it is ethnography as it should be."
—William Jankowiak, China Information