Ancient China

What were the social classes in ancient China?

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October 07, 2014 12:09PM

Social classes are divisions of people in society in accordance with their economic status. Ancient China was divided into six social classes.


The Emperor, leaders or other kinds of rulers


The nobles made up the highest-ranking class after the ruling family. They fought in emperor's army, provided weapons, foot soldiers, and chariots. Shang nobles enjoyed life of luxury. They lived in great palaces and spent time on hunting. From hunting they had the oracle bones.


Farmers were the largest social class in Shang society. They worked small plots of land, growing millet, wheat, barley, rice, fruit, vegetables, and nuts. The land was under the control of either the emperor or the nobles. The farmers didn't even get to keep most of their crops. They kept only enough to feed themselves and their families.


They formed a small social class. This class included bronze and jade workers, potters, and stonemasons. Bronze workers made the weapons and decorated containers for the emperor and nobles to use in religious ceremonies or simply as symbols of their wealth.


Technically, traders ranked below nobles, but above farmers in Shang Society. However, they were always looked down upon as they didn't actually produce goods themselves, merely bought and sold what everyone else made. So naturally, the commoners were angered when they saw merchants and traders extremely rich despite their laziness, when they themselves had nothing. Scholars believe that the Shang traded extensively because the modern Chinese word for merchant is shang ren, which could also mean Shang Men. During the dynasty people mostly traded goods. But they also used cowrie shells, a type of seashell as money.


They were working for some rulers or other people who had a lot of money. For example, they were working in some factory.