Fears of Inheritance Disruption: Tracing the Practice of ‘Establishing Heirs’ in Ancient and Early Imperial China

Visiting Scholar Talks

Oct 24, 2023 | 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Hsinning Liu | Associate Research Fellow, The Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24


Michael Puett | Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Anthropology, Harvard University

Co-sponsored by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

It is widely acknowledged that in Imperial China, the system of inheritance adhered to the principle of patrilineal succession, which bore the responsibility for performing ancestral sacrifices. Consequently, every man was obligated to have a male heir. In cases where he did not have a biological son, it became imperative to select and establish an heir who would carry forward his lineage, whether he was alive or deceased.

This presentation endeavors to trace the historical origins of this practice and reexamine the intricate relationship between inheritance and ancestral sacrifice. In ancient China, while inheritance was closely intertwined with ancestral sacrifice, it exhibited marked differences compared to later periods. Early Imperial China stands as a crucial transitional phase in this evolution.