Chinese History: The Four Social Classes

Learn about Chinese history and the segragation of the society into four classes. China was not an industrial sociey and their development of the four social classes exemplifies this.

China was not an industrial society although there was industry there. This is an important factor in what determined the four social classes of China. The social classes were ranked by their importance to society. We will begin with the low end of the totem pole and work our way to the top.

The lowest and poorest class was that of the merchants. These were people who conned people into buying goods they did not need. They were considered to be like parasites as they made their living off other people. It was believed that it took no skill to be a merchants so they had little value in society as they were easily replaces.

The third class was the artisans. These are the people who crafted things with their hands. They are considered skilled which gives them more value than the merchants. Artisans often formed guilds and were respected for belonging to these organizations. Most artisans lived near cities.



The second class was the farmers and peasants. Seven out of ten people belonged to this category. Peasants were considered to be the economic base of the country and were valued as such. This is not to say that they were not taken advantage of and charged high rents and exorbitant taxes. The farmers worked in family agricultural groups. Grains was the chief crop. Farmers owned land and land was highly valued as it was split between sons.

The highest class of people were the scholars and officials. This group of people was given examinations to determine government positions. There were three levels of exams and they were for men only. They were district, provincial, and national. The exams were based of Master Kong's texts. Passing the exams opened the door to the government, a highly respected place. This provided wealth, power, and prestige. Though one could move into this class it was often that it passed on down family lines and these men could afford the best education for their sons which resulted in better exam scores. No more than one out of ten people qualified to be in this class.

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