This article reveals that in response to the dramatic social changes since the 1949 revolution, Chinese rural families have undergone a process of profound transformation, which I refer to as the “individualization of the family.” This transformation took place at two interlocking yet differing domains: the family as a social institution and the family as a process of individual experiences, that is, the lived experience of family life. While the individualization of the family institution is mostly reflected in the weakening of the bonds between the family and the larger kinship/community organization, the individualization of family life manifests itself through the disembedment of the individual from previously all-encompassing social ties, especially that of the patriarchal order. In the first section, I review the institutional changes in family structure and size. Next, I examine the rising importance of the individual in family life and how it in turn transforms the family as an institution. In the last section, I discuss the new challenges that the more individualized family faces in the larger context of China's transition toward a more open, mobile, and modern society.

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