This book describes an extraordinary traditional marriage system, 'delayed transfer marriage', that is virtually unknown in the ethnographic literature on Chinese Society, though it was widely established in the Canton Delta. In striking contrast to the orthodox Confucian form of marriage, brides in delayed transfer marriages were required to separate from their husband shortly after marriage and return to live with their parents for at least three more years. During this customary period of separation, brides were expected to visit their husband on several festival occasions each year. Idelly, brides became pregnant about three years after marriage and then settled in the husband's home. The area in which delayed transfer marriage was the customary and dominant form of marriage encompassed the rich silk-producing district of the Canton Delta as well as adjacent rice-producing areas. The book analyzes the effect of economic change on the practice of delayed transfer marriage in the silk district.
With the mechanization of the silk-reeling industry in the late nineteenth century, young women employed in silk-reeling factories achieved a significant measure of economic independence, giving rise to several radical alternatives to traditional marriage with delayed transfer. One of these practices was compensation marriage, in which young women negotiated an extended period of separation from their husband, providing him with funds to acquire a second wife and returning to live in the husband's home only in old age. Another radical marriage alternative was a special form of spirit marriage in which a young woman arranged to marry the spirit of a deceased unmarried man, a tactic that gave them both the benefits of marriage and independence from husbands. A later alternative was the practice of sworn spinsterhood, in which young women took vows to remain unwed, rejecting marriage altogether and embracing the self-supporting life-style of the spinster. The author also discusses the role played by girls' houses - group houses for adolescent girls - in promoting the rise of these radical alternatives to delayed transfer marriage.
F or this book, the author interviewed over 150 elderly women from more than 70 villages in the Canton Delta.<