Chinese children like children in other countries over time have had to work. We notice Chinese cildren working under various conditiions. Sometimes for wages and sometimes as slaves. Often the separation between the two were blurred. Child labor until very recently was a fact of life in China and almost universal. Slavery has been more limited, but varied considerably from dynasty to dynasty.
Many Chinese children had to work. Child labor was also a problem in America and Europe, but it was an especally severe problem in China because of the crushing poverty. Relatively few children were able to attend school and a vast part of the population was illiterate. Children in China worked as virtual slaves in terrible conditions. This included very young children. For girls that did not work, there was the horrors of food binding that were inflected upon girls from affluent families that did not have to work. Most of the available images show Chinese child laborers in traditional clothing. Once the Republic was established in 1911, there was increasing interest in launching a national educational system. Many schools were founded, but still most chgildren had to work. The Government energies were focused on first fighting the war lords (1910s-20s) and then the Japanese (1930s and early 40s). Only after the Communists emerged victorious in the Civil War (1945-49) did the Chinese Government begin to address the issue of child labor and education in a comprehensive fashion. HBC hasrelatively little information on the issue of child labor in historical terms. An internet search on Chimese child labor turns up numerous sites addressing the contemporary issue of child labor in China.
All of the great early river valley civilizations developed in contact with each other, except for China. Even so we see many of the same human instititions developing in China and the other great civilizations from earliest times. One of those institutions is slavery. Slavery seems similar in China and the other great river valley civilizations Mesopotamia and Egypt). It was a relatively minor institution in these early civilizations , in part because the rural peasantry, the great bulk of the population, was reduced to a status close to slavery, often working land thedy id not own. Slavery may have been more important in China, but only marginally so. This vaied somewhat from dynasty to dynasty. It certainly was much less important than in the classical Western societies like Greece and Rome. It never took a racial turn as in the ante-Bellum South in America or a religious turn as in the Islamic world. The nature and extent of slavery has varied over time through the various dynasties. Chinese slaves came to be viewed as objects, kind of 'half-man, half-thing' (半人, 半物). [Hallet] Slavery in China dates back at least to the Shang dynasty in China (18th-12th century BC). One estimate suggests that about 5 percent of Shang China's population was enslaved. This relatively small proprtion appears to have been the case is subsequent Chinese civilizations. People became slaves through the same mechanisms as in the West, through slave raiding and military captives and debtors. Impoverished individuals could sell themselves or their wives and children into debt. China never develop into a slave society largely because of its large population which offered ampel labor which could be exploited through serfdom. Affluent Chinese families may have slaves to do menial labor, both field work and house servants. The Emperor and his nobels would the largest slave holders. The Emperor's slaves might be castrated to become court eunuchs. The Republic of China abolished slavery (March 10, 1910). The practice, however, continued in China, especially in remote areas. We note captives being turned into slaves by Lolo tribesmen. Slavery was repeatedly abolished as a legally-established. An abolition law was passed (1909) and fully enacted (1910), The practice continued on aimited scale until the Communist Revolution (1949). While the Communists ended traditional slavery, they initiated a slave system of their own, setting up slave labor camps. Even after the free market reforms (1980s), forced labor has been reported in modern China, both in prison camps and emplyers paying bribes to local officials.
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