Ancient China Society

Ancient China society was based on four sectors of people which were aristocrats, farmers, merchants and artisans. The four sectors of people were based on the writings and teaching of Confucius.


The majority of the population in ancient China society was farmers. The farmers led a very difficult life. Farmers were tied to the land they worked and called serfs or peasants.

Each year farmers were required to work for the government for one month. During this time of service they would construct canals, government buildings or fortify city walls.

In times of war, the farmers became soldiers. Each year farmers had to pay tax in the form of a portion of their crops sowed.


In ancient China society aristocrats had the economic power based on fief holding. Aristocrats were also closely tied to the emperor.

They owned large swaths of land with lesser aristocrats owning smaller chunks of land. All the fiefs were worked by the peasant farmers or serfs.

During ancient China the aristocrats were paid tribute by the serfs and the aristocrats paid tribute to the emperor.

The aristocrats sent their boys to school to become “Gentry Scholars”. After the boys finished school they were able to take jobs in the government or as military leaders.
Gentry Scholar

Artisans and Merchants

Artisans and merchants in ancient China society were not seen as good people. This sector of society was generally wealthier than others.

Many times merchants were discriminated against and made to pay higher taxes or tribute. Artisans mainly worked for noble families or the ruling class people.

The artisans crafted beautiful things of bronze like vessels and other luxury goods. Merchants sold these finely crafted items through a network of shops throughout the country.

Merchants in ancient China were not allowed to wear silk or ride in carriages.

Social Mobility

Social mobility was non-existent in ancient China. If your father was a farmer then you trained to be a farmer. In this respect ancient China was no different than most ancient societies.


In ancient China females obeyed every wish of their husbands and their fathers. At birth many baby girls were left in the street to die if they were not wanted by the family.

In ancient China society this was considered to be of their culture. Females were thought of as less valuable to the family than males.

Females took care of the household duties like cleaning, cooking and teaching the children. Females were expected to teach respect for their elders to children.

Marriages were arranged by the parents without the consent of females. Females did not attend school.

Females of noble families had foot bindings which was a painful practice that required breaking all the bones in their feet.
Women and Children
Foot binding was thought to be necessary to produce the perfect foot or lotus foot. Females with tiny feet were more apt to marry a wealthier male.


Ancient China males had an easier life than females. Young boys trained at an early age to perform the job of their fathers. Only males from wealthy families were allowed to attend school.
School consisted of learning how to write in calligraphy, studying poetry and the teachings of Confucius. A wealthy male was called a “Gentry Scholar” after completing school. Gentry Scholars would then be employed by the government in powerful positions.

Important facts about ancient China Society

  • A majority of ancient China society was farmers.
  • Farmers held a higher social status than merchants and artisans.
  • Only males from wealthy or noble families were allowed to go to school.
  • Girls from wealthy or noble families had to endure painful foot binding.
  • Merchants were not allowed to wear silk or ride in chariots.
  • Social mobility was non-existent in ancient China.
  • Farmers worked for the government for around a month each year.
  • Men who graduated from school became Gentry Scholars.


1. What social class in ancient China had the most people?


2. Who were not allowed to ride in chariots or wear silk?


3. How long did farmers work for the government each year?

One month

4. Girls from wealthy or noble families endured what type of procedure?

Foot binding