© 2017

Filial Obsessions

Chinese Patriliny and Its Discontents


  • Complicates the long-standing disciplinary assumption that social or collective phenomena cannot be explained with reference to psychology or individual desire

  • Demonstrates that understudied elements—such as fantasy—play a crucial role in the logic of Chinese patrilineal institutions

  • Advances anthropology’s longstanding mandate to connect cultural differences to commonalities of human experience


Part of the Culture, Mind, and Society book series (CMAS)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvi
  2. P. Steven Sangren
    Pages 1-12
  3. P. Steven Sangren
    Pages 57-80
  4. P. Steven Sangren
    Pages 133-166
  5. P. Steven Sangren
    Pages 167-216
  6. P. Steven Sangren
    Pages 283-327
  7. P. Steven Sangren
    Pages 329-343
  8. Back Matter
    Pages 345-381

About this book


This book employs a broad analysis of Chinese patriliny to propose a distinctive theoretical conceptualization of the role of desire in culture. It utilizes a unique synthesis of Marxian and psychoanalytic insights in arguing that Chinese patriliny is best understood as, simultaneously, “a mode of production of desire” and as “instituted fantasy.” The argument advances through discussions and analyses of kinship, family, gender, filial piety, ritual, and (especially) mythic narratives. In each of these domains, P. Steven Sangren addresses the complex sentiments and ambivalences associated with filial relations. Unlike most earlier studies which approach Chinese patriliny and filial piety as irreducible markers of cultural difference, Sangren argues that Chinese patriliny is better approached as a topic of critical inquiry in its own right. 


Psychology Anthropology Psychological Anthropology Psychoanalytic Theory Asian Studies Gender & Sexuality Studies Marxian Social Analysis Chinese Studies Chinese History Religious studies Chinese Patriliny Chinese Family and Gender Gender Ideology

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA

About the authors

P. Steven Sangren is Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies at Cornell University, USA. His work focuses on Chinese culture and society—especially gender, religion, and mythic narrative. 

Bibliographic information


“Steven Sangren’s book Filial Obsessions is a transformative intervention into the study of filial piety in the Chinese context … and densely packed theoretically informed thinking about desire, childhood development, fantasy, alienation, subjecthood or subjectivity, intergenerational relationships, relations between the terrestrial and celestial realms, ritual, gods, and adherence to the rule of law and decorum. … This is an important discussion of the subject that all scholars interested in the anthropology of Chinese societies must read.” (Christopher Lupke, China Review International, Vol. 23 (03). 2016)​