In ancient times, a large population of China was that of farmers. The kings, nobles and merchants formed a small percentage of the total population.
Life as a Farmer
The majority of the people in Ancient China were peasant farmers. Although they were respected for the food they provided for the rest of the Chinese, they lived tough and difficult lives. The typical farmer lived in a small village of around 100 families. They worked small family farms. Although they had plows and sometimes used animals like dogs and oxen to do the work, most of the work was done by hand.
Most farmers were very poor. They owned chickens and pigs and sometimes an ox or mule. In the North people grew crops of wheat or millet while in the South they grew rice. In the 16th century new crops such as sweet potatoes, maize and peanuts were introduced. Other crops included tea, sugar and cotton.
The type of food that people ate depended on where they were living. In the north the main crop was a grain called millet and in the south the main crop was rice. Eventually rice became the main staple for much of the country. Farmers also kept animals such as goats, pigs, and chickens. People that lived close to the rivers ate fish as well.
Farmers had to work for the government for about one month each year. They served in the military or worked construction projects like building canals, palaces, and city walls. Farmers also had to pay a tax by giving the government a percentage of their crops.
Life in City
On the other hand, life in cities was very different. People in the city had jobs like merchants, craftsmen, scholar or government official. The merchants in ancient China were neglected. They were not given much importance in the social life.
During the time of wars, they were not allowed to enter the boundaries of the city till the war ended. The merchants were expected to defend themselves without any kind of help from the authorities.
The rich people of China ate very well. They ate grains like rice, wheat and millet. They also ate plenty of meat including pork, chicken, duck, goose and dog. Vegetables included yams, soya beans, broad beans and turnip as well as spring onions and garlic.
They also ate plenty of fish. Soup was made with shark’s fin, bird’s nest, bears paws and sea slugs. People drank wine made from rice or millet. They also drank tea.
Poor people of China had a boring diet. In north, people ate wheat in the form of dumplings, pancakes or noodles. While in south, staple food of people was rice. People who lived close to the river ate fish as well.
Chinese Houses and Families
Rich people lived in large wooden houses. Roofs were made of tiles and were built in a curved shape. However even in a rich house there was little furniture but rich people were very fond of their gardens.
Poor people lived in huts of perhaps 2 rooms. Roofs were often thatched and furniture was very basic such as wooden benches.
Three generations (grandparents, parents, and children) usually all lived in the same house. Most homes in the city had a courtyard in the middle that was open to the sky.
China was a male dominating society. In the Chinese family, the father ruled over his wife and children. The male had much more power over the household than the females.
The eldest male (usually the father) was in charge and dominated the affairs of all the family members.
The daily life of a women at this time was filled with taking care of the home and the children. The structure and difference between genders was greatly emphasized. The woman had to respect and obey her husband at all times. Women almost never were married to the men of their choice. If she did something wrong, her family would be in disgrace.
Lot of importance was given to male heir as he carried on the family. Girls were valued much less than boys and baby girls were often killed. In any case infant mortality rate was high.
Only boys went to school. There they learned the teachings of Confucius and calligraphy. Of course, only a minority of boys went to school. Most did not. Instead they worked in the fields from an early age.
Young girls had their feet painfully bound to prevent their feet from growing because small feet were considered attractive. This often caused their feet to become deformed and made it difficult to walk. This practice of binding the feet was called foot binding(Lotus feet).
The Chinese family was ruled by the father of the house. His wife and children were required to obey him in all things. Women generally took care of the home and raised the children. Marriage partners were decided by the parents and the preferences of the children getting married often had little impact on the parent’s choice. A big part of Chinese family life was the respect of their elders. Children of all ages, even grown ups, were required to respect their parents. This respect continued even after people were dead. The Chinese would often would pray to their ancestors and offer sacrifices to them. Respect of the elders was also part of the religion Confucianism.
History For Kids