What Type of Social Structure Existed in Ancient China?

The social structure that existed in Ancient China was based on an agricultural feudal system that consisted of a ruling class of kings, nobles and provincial warlords and, representing the largest portion of society, the peasants who farmed the land and usually turned over a portion of their crops to the ruling class. Religion was a powerful tool in maintaining control over Ancient Chinese society, which functioned in the manner of a theocracy. The dynastic rulers were believed to be the earthly representatives of the gods, and their appointment to the throne was based on lineage and ancestry.

Ancient China refers to the portion of Chinese history beginning after the Neolithic period, as noted by historical records of the Xia Dynasty, and continuing up to the beginnings of Imperial China marked by the rise of the extended and consolidated power of the Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C. Historians speculate over the actual existence of the first dynasty of Ancient China, the Xia Dynasty, which left behind no records of its own and was only described in later historical texts. However, recent archaeological findings appear to authenticate its existence and place its beginnings around 2100 B.C. The Shang Dynasty was the first to leave behind actual written records and its beginnings as a ruling authority are believed to have developed around 1600 B.C.

In its entirety, the history of Ancient China spans about 2,300 years, and it was based on a carefully controlled agricultural system and an attempt at centralized power. Rulers often based their decisions on the advice and divinations of priests and oracles. Provincial governors were picked by emperors to rule over portions of their kingdoms and the responsibility of waging war, offensive or defensive, remained with the ruling class.