Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 April 2022
Theformal traditional culture was the province of men. Grandmothers, many of them illiterate until recently, did not partcipate in this culture. Theirs was the rich popular culture of stories and legends, which they transmitted to their grandchildren as they cared for them, talked to them and entertained them. Theirs was also the world of religion, spirits and ghosts. They prayed for their treasures at temples and shrines, they found ways to protect them from malevolent spirits. They were the trasmitters of an immense informal, oral culture. Much of this culture survived Maoist attacks on religion and superstition; grandmothers were unwitting agents of subversion. The old popular culture has rebounded strongly in the Reform Era.
Many grandmothers practised informal medicine, as midwives and healers. Traditional Chinese medicine was the province of men.
A child’s first language was and often still is a dialect, learnt from grandmothers. Standard language came later, at school. Many children became bilingual, in standard Chinese and a dialect. If the dialect carried prestige (Beijing or Shanghai) then being bilingual was an advantage in later life.
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