Ritual Accounts of Birth:

According to the Liji, when a child was born, a bow was hung on the left side of the door for a boy and a cloth on the right side for a girl, but the child itself did not play a part in these rites. The first rite in which arrangements were made for the reception of a child outside of the room where it was born occurred on the third day of life, suggesting that the existence of the child as a member of the family was officially recognized only after this period of time had elapsed.[1] According to Ban Zhao's (c. A.D. 48-116) Nüjie or Lessons for Daughters, on the third day of an infant's life, its birth was to be reported to the ancestors, and the child was presented with objects emblematic of its future gender role.[2] Ban Zhao also states that on its third day of life, the female infant was moreover ritually placed on the ground for the first time and then made its first appearance outside of the birthing chamber.[3] Apart from the need to make decisions about whether or not to raise a child, other reasons why the infant was not immediately accorded formal recognition may have been due to a parent's unwillingness to perform rites for a child who might not survive the first few days of life. The prohibition against introducing a newborn into the household immediately after birth was also probably influenced by the desire to avoid the pollution of childbirth. If a parent decided to expose a child, it is only logical that the abandonment had to be carried out before it became necessary to ritually recognize the child's existence.[4]

[1] "Neize," Liji in SSJZS, vol. 2, juan 28, pp. 241-242; James Legge, translator, Li chi: Book of Rites (1885 rpt.; New York: University Books: 1967), vol. 1, pp. 471-476.

[2] Ban Zhao, Nüjie in Hou Hanshu 84, p. 2787.

[3] Ban Zhao is here probably alluding to the ode “Si Gan,” which mentions placing female infants on the ground but does not indicate that this rite was performed on the third day after birth. See Mao no. 189; Legge, Chinese Classics, vol. 4, p. 303. The Taichan shu or Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth found at Mawangdui may also refer to a version of the practice of placing the infant on the ground. Although here, the text implies that to strengthen the infant's muscles, it should be placed on a mound of purified earth shortly after birth and then bathed immediately afterwards. No reference is made to a three-day waiting period. See Mawangdui Hanmu boshu, vol. 4, p. 139. Granet discusses this practice in his essay, “Le Dépot de L’Enfant sur le Sol,” Études Sociologiques sur la Chine (Paris: Presses Universites de France, 1953), pp. 159-202.

[4] Hou Hanshu 84, p. 2787.


Site Map | System Requirements | Contact Us | Funding Opportunities | Links | Credits
IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia