Ancient China Merchants

Ancient China merchants were a much needed group of people. They were needed to keep trade open within the country and other countries around the known world.

But ancient China merchants were not always highly regarded in society. Their social status within ancient China changed over time from dynasty to dynasty.
a market scene

Pre-Imperial ancient China

During pre-Imperial ancient China, merchants were thought of as necessary people. They were needed to open trade routes and circulate trade goods that were produced in ancient China.

Early evidence found on oracle bones in ancient China, have researchers believing that ancient China merchants were highly regarded during this time period in ancient China.

In pre-Imperial ancient China merchants even became emperors. Emperor Shun was once a merchant.
ancient china merchants
Another important ancient China merchant that rose to power was Guan Zhong. He was appointed Prime Minister under Huan of Qi.

As Prime Minister, Zhong helped merchants in a variety of ways including lowering taxes and building rest stops for traders.

Imperial ancient China

During Imperial ancient China, merchants were considered quite differently. Ancient China merchants in this time period were regarded as the least desirable social class.

Farmers, artisans, government officials, and Gentry Scholars were given a higher social status than ancient China merchants. Gentry Scholars believed that ancient China merchants were a risk to social order.

They believed that ancient China merchants preyed upon farmers by manipulating markets which helped them become more profitable.
Chinese Merchant Ship
There were even specific laws for ancient China merchants. Ancient China merchants were not allowed to own or ride in chariots. Gentry Scholars wanted ancient China merchants to conduct their behavior and live in a humble manner.

Necessary for society

Ancient China merchants seldom received respect from the other three social classes. But they were often more wealthy than some noble families.

Ancient China merchants could own land and despite their social status, they had considerable impact on policy and influence on government officials.

There were times that government officials asked ancient China merchants to help fund projects such as pagodas, schools, roads, bridges, and other projects that could benefit the public.

Over time, ancient China merchants increased their social status by following Confucian ethics.

Important facts about ancient China merchants

  • Ancient China merchants were seen as the lowest form of social class in ancient China.
  • Government officials, farmers and artisans held a higher social status.
  • Gentry Scholars believed ancient China merchants hurt farmers by manipulating markets.
  • In pre-Imperial ancient China, they held higher status and could even become an emperor.
  • Emperor Shun was a merchant.
  • Guan Zhong was an important merchant that became Prime Minister and he built rest stops and lowered taxes for ancient China merchants.
  • In Imperial ancient China, merchants could not own or ride in a chariot.
  • Over time, government officials asked ancient China merchants to help fund public projects such as roads, bridges, pagodas, and schools.


1. What group of people held a higher social status than ancient China merchants in Imperial ancient China?

Government officials, farmers and artisans

2. What type of projects would government officials ask ancient China merchants to fund?

Roads, pagodas, bridges, and schools

3. Government officials, farmers and artisans believed ancient China merchants became more profitable because of what tactic used by the merchants?

Market manipulation

4. Which Prime Minister in ancient China lowered taxes and built rest stops for ancient China merchants?

Guan Zhon