Friday, January 4, 2013

Chigan: Society


Chigan is a large and extensively subdivided region, so despite a number of shared ideas and practices, individual realms host a great deal of cultural diversity. Chigan societies are relatively “flat” with regard to social classes. Though people range from street beggars to royalty, and some families command greater wealth and power or better reputation than others, there are no formal, much less inheritable, class or caste differences. The ruling classes hold their position on the strength of their wealth and collective personal influence, not by holding titles. So while it may be difficult, it is certainly possible for one to start out destitute and become fabulously powerful. To put it another way, there is status, but status is not by itself inheritable and the range of status levels is fairly small.

There are a few exceptions connected to particular offices and professions. In some of the more stable monarchies, the ruler is regarded as semi-divine and must be protected from the profane and impure. This usually means that the ruler, despite having considerable theoretical authority, is a semi-prisoner in a royal palace and must rule through a palace bureaucracy which holds the real power.

The sexes can’t be called equal, strictly speaking, but they do have some kind of parity. Many Chigan societies are matrilineal and matrilocal. That is, one reckons descent through a line of mothers and grandmothers, and when a couple marries, the man usually moves in with his wife’s family. When a family outgrows its residential compound and some members of the household must move into a new dwelling (typically sisters in younger generations along with their spouses and children), it is generally thought of as the house of the most senior woman in the group. Professions may be reserved for one sex or another, or at least exhibit a strong gender bias. For example, in one valley, men are expected to be farmers while women are merchants or craft professionals, while in another women control banking but men control trade, and in yet another doctors are male while scholars are female, and so on. The specifics, though, vary widely from realm to realm. Foreigners violating those norms are regarded as odd or a little crazy, but are excused on the grounds of being ignorant barbarians who don’t know any better, and widows and widowers are accounted free of any such restrictions. Most warriors are male, but there is an active tradition of woman warriors as well. A monarch is as likely to be a king as a queen; in the vicious game of Chigan politics, winning is what matters most. Monasteries are usually single-sex and the few which aren’t have strictly segregated facilities. However, men and women are equally likely to become monks, and both will have no trouble finding a monastery to take them.

Chigan societies recognize a complex scheme of life stages, ascribing proper activities and relationships to each. Generally speaking, infants are treated very indulgently, but those old enough to walk and speak become subject to strict discipline and, often, demanding education. By mid-adolescence, young people should be marriage prospects, though most spend four or five years “on the market” before marriages are arranged for them. Adolescents and younger adults take on more responsibilities within the family and whatever enterprises it carries on (and young adults are expected to start having children as soon as they’re married), but only when they approach middle age do they generally take on oversight of the family and its business. At an advanced age, people are expected to go into partial retirement, spending more time in virtue-building activities and advising people of late middle age or younger.

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