Ancient Chinese society was a hierarchy of four distinct occupational classes: Shi, Nong, Gong and Shang. These classes were ruled by the king and his family.
The Shi were the most respected of the occupational classes. Originally respected as warriors, the Shi gradually shifted into a class of scholars recognized for their knowledge and administrative skills. Due to the high respect they received, they often possessed privileges that other classes did not.
The Nong were the farmers of ancient China. Although not as respected as the Shi, the Nong were considered an important part of society because they produced the food for the whole kingdom and were landholders. Soldiers often came from the Nong class.
The Gong class was made up of artisans and craftsmen, and they identified with the Chinese character for labor. They were similar to the Nong in that they produced goods essential to society, but as they didn't own land, they were less respected. The skills of the Gong class were traditionally passed down orally from father to son.
The Shang was a merchant class and was the least respected in ancient China. They were considered essential and had significant wealth, but they were also seen as parasitic because they profited on goods made by others.