Social Hierarchy of Ancient China

Like the other parts of the world, the ancient China also witnessed the social classes in its societal structure. The ancient Chinese society was divided on the basis of Fengjian structure of Circa. This gave rise to social hierarchy of ancient China by classifying the Chinese people into four social classes.  Following are the details about the social hierarchy of ancient China beginning from highest and going towards lowest strata of the country.

Social Hierarchy of Ancient China

  • King & his family
  • Shi Class
  • Nong Class
  • Gong  Class
  • Shang Class


The king and his family were placed on the topmost level of the ancient Chinese social pyramid. These people were the most respected, owned the largest amount of land and ruled the people in the entire kingdom. Apart from king, the higher classes were also shared by soldiers who were the second most respectable people in the ancient China. They were respected greatly due to the wealth that they possessed.

After these major classes lies the actual social hierarchy of ancient China that was based on occupation of people.


The Shi were the gentry scholars in the time of ancient Zhou and Shang dynasties. These were regarded as the low level aristocratic lineage in the social structure. They also possessed certain privileges that other people were not given like they had the right of riding in chariots and command the battles from their mobile chariots. The people from this class were also appointed in civil services of the country. earlier these were the people who were known for their warrior skills and were recognized double edged sword that was known as Jian, but later on the people started recognizing these knowledge, scholarship and their administration abilities.


The Nong class was comprised by the peasant farmers. since Neolithic age the agriculture in China remained as a key element for the entire civilization since the farmers produced the food to sustain the whole society. These were considered as part of higher ranks compared to craftsmen and traders. Although they did not enjoy the privileges that the Shi class was given but farmers were considered as the valuable members of society. These were landholders and were responsible for producing food and crops for themselves and the society.


The Gong class was composed by the craftsmen and artisans. As per Chinese understanding these were considered as the labors. They were like the farmers but since they did not possess any land of their own therefore they engaged themselves in developing good and crafts. This was also a wealthy class but was not considered as a good class in the social structure and hence was not given privileges & rights as compared to the higher classes.


The lowermost class in the social hierarchy of ancient China was the Shang class which was composed by traders and merchants. Since these people could not achieve good status in the society so they were placed on the lowermost levels of the social structure. They had significant wealth but because they indulged themselves in trading and transporting goods that were made by the other people, they were not considered as respectable people in the society.