Feudalism in ancient China


Writer: Bashir Ahmad

M-Phil (Political Science)

China is not only considered to be a country having long ancient civilization history, but also one of the country contained feudal society in ancient period. it is described in ancient history of China that feudalism worked as a scale of Europe feudalism, in which king provides army and money on demand bestows land on his nobles. so Chinese feudal system has long interesting history. When we discuss about the role of Chinese feudal, it is necessary to understand the famous feudal dynasties of ancient China but with the passage of time many ups and downs occured and feudal system was converted to communist system.

The Zhou Dynasty

The larger Zhou era region was separated by a network of feudal states and was ruled over by kings. The king of Zhou only had direct control over a small portion of the dominion and established acknowledgements from the feudal states. The first part of the Zhou era was called the Western Zhou. It was a fairly peaceful time but, the Zhou king lost his authority and seven prominent states emerged. This era was divided into three periods: the Western Zhou Dynasty the spring and autumn period and the warring state period. It marked the transition from tribal society to feudal society.

The Qin and Han Dynasties

The great feudal unity period of china is considered to be the era of QIN and HAN DYNASTIES. It is said that Qin Dynasty had a great power to rule china. Another name of it, is feudal dynasty. Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor and feudal of Qin dynasty. Many prime ministers used to work under emperor and the appointments of these successors were passed only by the command of emperor. These prime ministers supervised the army, bureaucracy and other departments of the country.The first famous consolidated feudal kingdom in Chinese history is the Qin Dynasty, which was recognized in 221 BC, until the downfall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, this period is known as the imperial era of China.
This majestic China era makes up the bulk of Chinese history. The Qin Dynasty was the initial and shortest royal dynasty in China. It was well-known for unlimited erection projects, such as the Great Wall and the Terracotta army. Liu Bang, a farmer groundbreaker,during the later period of the Qin Dynasty, overthrew the ostracized Qin regime.
LIU BANG who was a peasant and always used to speak against Qin Dynasty, defeated it and established the Han Dynasty. The western Han and the Eastern Han are the two periods of Han dynasty. Consequently, this era is full of strong feudal system. Emperor imposed his order for the implementation on his ministers and prime ministers and got benefits from them. But it is right to say that during these two dynasties, national defense was developed, production grew, economy prospered, culture and technology consolidated, and a lot of outstanding achievements were made such as medical science, astronomy, etc.

The Sui Dynasty

Yang Jian a prominent and famous feudal lord appropriated the sovereignty in the North as Emperor Wen, amalgamated the rest of China under THE SUI DYNASTY. It was a little, powerful dynasty, with unlimited conquests and realizations, such as the Grand Canal and the rebuilding of the Great Wall. Emperor Yang Jian had no polite attitude toward his subordinates. All his prime ministers, ministers and others authorized persons got their jobs under his supervision. One of Emperor Wen’s most prominent achievements was to create the imperial examination system to select talented individuals for bureaucratic positions.

The Tang Dynasty

During the time of peasant uprising, a famous and powerful Sui official named Li Yuan and his sons seized the opportunities to revolt and established TANG DYNASTY. The territory of it was broader than that of any previous dynasties. It ruled for three centuries, and it was also the golden age for poetry, painting, tricolored glazed pottery, and woodblock printing. In the middle of the Tang Dynasty, an immense rebellion appeared and some regions refused to follow the state’s authority. This situation continued to the end of the Tang Dynasty.
The continued development of feudal lords and feudal society produced five more feudal dynasties in ancient china such as Liao, Song, Xia, Jin and Yuan dynasties. But the decline of feudal society occurred during the period of Qing and Ming dynasties before opium war of 1840.
Chinese feudal pyramid was quite comparable to the British feudal hierarchy. China perceived the development of feudalism between the eras of 1122 BC to 256 BC in the ruling period from the Zhou dynasty to the Qin dynasty.
When the king Fa of Zhou dynasty defeated the Shang dynasty’s Yin House, the king created some ranks in the China which further with time took the form of Chinese feudal hierarchy.
There were some distinctive principles in the Chinese feudal hierarchy. These ranks were Gong, Bo, Hou, Zi and Nan which were equivalent to Duke, Earl/ Count, Marquis, Viscount and Baron in British feudal hierarchy respectively.
The Chinese feudal hierarchy is momentarily expounded as below:

The Emperor

The person with the utmost power and all the rights in the Chinese feudal hierarchy was the emperor. He was considered the divine son of God and all were bound to abide by him. Wrong or right his decision was the final one and it was countrymen duty to serve their loyalty towards the emperor.

The Nobles

The emperor granted his land to some of his royal authorities which was termed as state and city respectively and in return these nobles were expected to serve the emperor throughout their life. The emperor further categorized these nobles in five sub division which were as follow:

  • Gong: The first member of the Chinese nobility, a Gong is equivalent to the duke in British feudal hierarchy. They were a part of Shang royal family. The lord of Song was granted this rank.
  • Hou: The member next to the gong in the Chinese nobility was Hou equivalent to marquis in British feudal hierarchy. The lord of Qi was entitled with this rank.
  • Bo: The third member of the Chinese nobility was Bo equivalent to the rank of earl in the British feudal hierarchy. The lord of the Qin was granted this royal rank.
  • Zi: Next to Bo was the rank Zi which was granted to the lord of Chu. This was equal to the title viscount in British feudal hierarchy.
  • Nan: The last one in the nobility was Nan which was equivalent to the rank baron in British feudal hierarchy.


The last in the hierarchy were commoners or we can say common men. This category neither possessed any power nor any land and they were totally in the hands of the king and the nobles. This category can be further divided into sub categories which include peasants, servants, artisans and slaves.

  • Peasants: The nobles rented their lands to peasants and in return expected some special services.
  • Artisans: These were the men who did not take land on rent and opted work like blacksmith, carpenter etc.
  • Servants: The people who work in the houses and lands of nobles.
  • Slaves: People made slaves in wars or bought to serve for their entire life without getting paid.

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