Customary Mortgages and the Moral Economy of Kinship in Chinese Lineage Villages, 1905–1965

Kwok Shing Chan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


This article illustrates the development and characteristics of two customary forms of mortgage lending by analyzing a total of 3,630 mortgage cases found in four lineage communities in rural Hong Kong during the period 1905–1965 under British colonial rule. Two major findings are presented. First, there was a progressive decline of the dian 典 form, in sharp contrast to the increasing popularity of the diya 抵押 form. Second, while dian practices distinctly followed prevailing kinship-based moral values and obligations to help needy agnates, agnatic ties were not a significant factor in determining the terms of diya loans. This suggests that needy villagers did not feel disinclined to get a loan from lineage outsiders who could offer reasonable or attractive terms. The popularity of the diya practice demonstrates the existence of a strategic balance between self-interest and communal moral values and mutual obligations in lineage communities.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
JournalModern China
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Aug 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • British colonial policy
  • Chinese customary mortgage
  • lineage
  • moral economy of kinship


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