People in ancient China: Women, families, slaves, school

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Rich men hunt, but other people work in the fields (Han Dynasty, about 100 AD)

Rich men hunt, but other people work in the fields (Han Dynasty, about 100 AD)

People in China have always put a lot of emphasis on everybody acting the right way for their position in life. People thought poor people should act different from rich people, and women should act different from men. 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

Women working in a silk factory

Most boys and girls in China did not go to school. They 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 enslaved people 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.

Learn by doing: Chinese foot-binding project

Bibliography and further reading about Chinese people:

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.

Chinese women
Or Chinese schools
Chinese houses
Ancient China

By | 2017-06-06T23:47:21+00:00 June 6th, 2017|China, People|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. People in ancient China: Women, families, slaves, school. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 6, 2017. Web. December 11, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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