Ancient China Occupations

There were mainly four divisions of occupations in ancient China. These four occupations were based upon hierarchical social class structure. These were developed by the legalist scholars of Zhou Dynasty which is considered a central part of the Fengjian social structure.

At the base of this structure were the merchants and traders referred to as the shang. Above it were the artisans and craftsmen referred to as the gong. Then were the class of peasant and farmers commonly known as the nong.


At the apex were the gentry of scholars called the shi. Because of the commercialization of the Chinese society during the Song and Ming period, these categories were more an idealization than the reality.

What were classes of ancient Chinese people?

The educated people formed the shi class. People who cultivated and irrigated the soil formed the class of nong. The skilled people with talent to produce something classified themselves as the gong.

Lastly, the traders who transported these articles formed the shang class. With the passage of time the definition of the shi class changed. It included the ancient warrior caste, aristocratic scholarly elite and also bureaucratic scholarly elite.


The people of the shi class was considered to be as an elite class people, who had the privileged to ride in chariots and command battles, apart from performing their civil functions. It was the food produced by the people of the nong class on which the whole society sustained.

This class was a very important and essential part of the society. It was due to this essential feature of theirs which commanded them more respect in the society and due to which they were placed next to the shi class in the society. The artisans and the craftsmen were basically the labor class of Chinese society, like the farmers, who produced different articles and goods.

Because these people dont have their own land which could be taxed, like the farmers, they could not provide much revenue in the form of land tax to the government. They were either government employees or who worked privately. The artisan which was very successful and highly skilled who had very high earning could employ other artisans as labors under his supervision.

Although the shang class was placed at the last, yet they were viewed as an important member of the society by the people of the elite shi class. These were basically the people who were engaged in the sale and purchase of the goods and commodities.

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