The Mischievous, the Naughty, and the Violent in a Taiwanese Village

Xu, Jing. 2020. The Mischievous, the Naughty and the Violent in a Taiwanese Village: Peer Aggression Narratives in Arthur P. Wolf's "Child Interview" (1959). Cross-Currents: East Asia Culture and History Review (33).

This article brings to light a unique set of field notes on Taiwanese children's life collected by anthropologist Arthur P. Wolf (1958–1960). Designed as an improved replication of the classic Six Cultures Study of Child Socialization, Wolf's study was the first anthropological and mixed-methods research on ethnic Chinese children, marking a historically significant moment when Sinological anthropology first intersected with the anthropology of childhood. Based on a subset of Wolf's standardized interviews with seventy-nine children (ages 3–10), this article focuses on children's narratives about peer aggression. They distinguish serious forms of aggression from milder ones in perceived negativity, and they react differentially; these perceptions and reactions reflect important concerns and strategies in local socio-moral life, some of which diverge from adult ideologies. These findings highlight the role of children as active moral agents. Through analyzing children's voices of peer aggression, this article illuminates a dark side of moral development that would otherwise remain obscured in the historical literature of childhood: the mischievous, naughty, and even violent interactions among children. The article reveals the tensions and conflicts in children's interactions underlying the Chinese cultural value he, or social harmony. It also reveals a complex spectrum of reciprocity in children's understandings and adds an important theme, "negative reciprocity"—defined as responding to a negative action with a negative action—to the recent advocacy in anthropology for taking children seriously in understanding human morality.