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Infant and Child Mortality Among the Qing Nobility: Implications for Two Types of Positive Check

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Demographers, as early as Malthus, have assumed that in traditional China the positive check, mortality, was largely beyond human control. This paper re-examines the role of the positive check in late imperial China through an analysis of an historical source of unprecedented demographic detail and accuracy: the genealogy of the Qing (1644-1911) imperial lineage. Basing ourselves on our calculations on the infant, child, and young adult mortality of 33,000 lineage members born in Beijing between 1700 and 1840, we conclude that during the late eighteenth century, many lineage couples regularly used infanticide to control the number and sex of their infants. At the same time, they also took advantage of innovations in paediatric care to protect the children they decided to keep. Although these results derive from an elite population, they, nevertheless, call into question our understanding of the operation of the positive check in late imperial China's demographic system, suggesting a much larger potential role for individual agency than was previously thought.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 1994

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