Eugenics and the changing of view of marriage in Republic of China

Assoc.Professor Nan Wang

Nanjing University

During the May 4th Movement, freedom of marriage was highly praised by intellectuals in China, not only on grounds of its divergence from Confucian ethics but also because it conformed to the science of eugenics. The argument was that only when marriage was based on romantic love could parents produce healthy children. However, developments in eugenics science effectively challenged the equation between freedom of marriage and eugenics. Pan Guangdan, China’s most famous researcher on eugenics at the time, suggested that since the principal purpose of marriage was not love but carrying on the family line, traditional marriage customs had value and celibacy benefited no one. Pan’s views of marriage represented a complete departure from the value of May 4th Movement, especially individualism, and were the source of great controversy. For their part, however, his critics offered views that were heavily inflected by evolutionism. The arguments they advanced for freedom of marriage were no more free of nationalism and a class character than the counter-arguments put by Pan.


Dr Nan Wang is associate professor in the Xueheng Institute for Advanced Studies of Nanjing University. She received a doctorate in history from Nanjing University. Her primary research involves historical memory and conceptual history in modern China.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd