Rich men hunt, but other people
work in the fields (Han Dynasty, about 100 AD)
May 2016 - People in China have always put a lot of emphasis on everybody acting the right way for their position in life. They thought poor people should act different from rich people, and women should act different from men, and city people should act different from country people (compare this to the Indian caste system, or European feudalism).
In China, people thought your most important relationship was with your family. Kids often lived in the same house not just with their parents, but also with their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, and their cousins. People thought that family was much more important than friends.
Women working in a silk factory
Most boys and girls in China did not go to school, but worked on their parents' farms, pulling weeds and planting seeds. Even rich girls did not go to school, but boys from rich families did. The boys worked very hard at school, because doing well on the state examinations was the only way to get political power.
When girls grew up, they got married and left the house they had grown up in to go live in their husband's house, with his family. This was often hard, because girls got married young, and when they went to live in their husband's house they had to do whatever his mother told them to do.
But the lives of slaves were the hardest of all. Many Chinese people were slaves. Most people who were slaves worked in the fields, the same as free people. Some slaves worked as servants in rich people's houses. The Emperor owned hundreds of slaves, and some of them worked for the government, collecting taxes or building roads. Some people were born slaves, because their mothers were slaves, and other people were sold into slavery to pay debts. Often, as in India and West Asia, children were sold into slavery to pay off their parents' debts.
Eyewitness: Ancient China, by Arthur Cotterell, Alan Hills, and Geoff Brightling (2000). , with lots of excellent pictures.
Daily Life in China, on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276, by Jacques Gernet (1962).
The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the SungPeriod, by Patricia Buckley Ebrey (1993).
Women of the Tang Dynasty, by May Holdsworth (1999). A short introduction, with many pictures of T'ang period figurines.