The most significant fact of early and mid-Qing social history was population growth. The population doubled during the 18th century. People in this period were also remarkably on the move. There is evidence suggesting that the empire’s rapidly expanding population was geographically mobile on a scale, which, in term of its volume and its protracted and routinized nature, was unprecedented in Chinese history. Indeed, the Qing government did far more to encourage mobility than to discourage it. Migration took several different forms, though might be divided in two varieties: permanent migration for resettlement, and relocation conceived by the party (in theory at least) as a temporary sojourn. Parties to the latter would include the empire’s increasingly large and mobile manual workforce, as well as its densely overlapping internal diaspora of local-origin-based merchant groups. It would also included the patterned movement of Qing subjects overseas, largely to Southeastern Asia, in search of trade and other economic opportunities.
According to statute, Qing society was divided into relatively closed estates, of which in most general terms there were five. Apart from the estates of the officials, the comparatively minuscule aristocracy, and the degree-holding literati, there also existed a major division among ordinary Chinese between commoners and people with inferior status. They were divided into two categories: one of them, the good “commoner” people, the other “mean” people. The majority of the population belonged to the first category and were described as liangmin, a legal term meaning good people, as opposed to jianmin meaning the mean (or ignoble) people. Qing law explicitly stated that the traditional four occupational groups of scholars, farmers, artisans and merchants were “good”, or having a status of commoners. On the other hand, slaves or bondservants, entertainers (including prostitutes and actors), and those low-level employees of government officials were the “mean people”. Mean people were considered legally inferior to commoners and suffered unequal treatments, forbidden to take the imperial examination.
Many Han Chinese were enslaved in the process of the Qing invasion of Ming, some of them later found themselves in positions of power and influence in Manchu administrations and even had their own slaves.
According to one study, the homicide rate in Qing Chin “ranged between 0.35 and 1.47 per 100,000 inhabitants during the 1661–1898 period, a low level unmatched by Western Europe until the late 19th century. China’s homicide rate rose steadily from 1661 to 1821 but declined gradually thereafter until the turn of the century.”