Daily Life in Imperial China

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

This lesson details how the people of Imperial China lived, including their religion, home life, and diets. In addition, you will learn about differences in social class, education, and ancient Chinese working life.

Daily Life

Imperial Chinese people practiced Confucianism, and most lived simple lives. Rice was the main part of their diet, and farming was the main job across the country. Differences in social class created a different lifestyles for people and family life included very traditional roles. Let's look more specifically at the daily life of someone in Imperial China.

Food and Health

As a Chinese citizen in Imperial China, you would have enjoyed a diet made up mostly of rice. Rice was a staple in the Chinese diet. It was eaten at every meal, often used to pay taxes, and to make rice wine. Imperial Chinese people enjoyed a mostly vegetarian or meatless diet, focusing on grains, fish, and eggs. Religious leaders encouraged this diet, stating that it led to a long, healthy life.

Tea was a popular beverage, particularly among the rich class. Tea ceremonies were signs of respect for important guests, who actually helped prepare the tea during the ritual. Could you imagine putting your house guests to work as a sign of respect and honor? In addition, tea was believed to have health benefits in ancient China so much so that the tea leaves were often eaten to supplement or go along with meals.

Ancient Chinese Teapot

Family and Religion

Many of us have heard the old saying, 'There's no place like home.' This belief was held by citizens in Imperial China. The Chinese home was the center of the family in ancient China, and the father was the ruler of the household. Children had very little choice in whom they married, as this was decided by their parents.

The fathers were strictly obeyed by the wives and children. The wives cared for the children and home, while the husbands provided for the welfare or fortune and security of the family. The elderly played a central part in ancient Chinese society. They were highly regarded and extremely respected by their family.

Respect of the elderly is actually a big component of the Chinese religion, Confucianism. In this religion, respect was shown to the elderly even after their death. Chinese people prayed to their ancestors, and offered them sacrifices. This led to a strong belief in ghosts in Imperial China, and a belief that the future could be told by the bones of those who had died.

A Ghost Festival was held each year in ancient China, during which incense was burned and shops were closed so spirits could shop in peace. Imagine your favorite stores being closed for the day to give ghosts a chance to shop the racks! Tomb Sweeping Day was a day in which loved ones of those who had died cleaned the grave sites of their relatives and often left gifts as a sign of respect and honor for their ancestors. Many of these traditions are still practiced today in China.

Education and Social Class

Education was only a privilege for the upper-class boys of China. The fortunate few who attended school engaged in lessons that prepared them for government work. In school students learned about the teachings of Confucius, an influential teacher of philosophy, education, and politics. They studied poetry and learned how to write calligraphy, which is a decorative, but professional form of writing used in public documents. Since education was not open to all, illiteracy (the inability to read and write) was a common problem across China, and the station at which you were born often dictated your social ranking in society your entire life.

Clothing showed the wealth and social class in ancient China, much like it does now. Few of us in modern society can afford a closet full of designer clothes and shoes that cost thousands of dollars apiece. If you were a wealthy person in Imperial China you were among the lucky ones who could afford to wear silk. As a matter of fact, the folks who made and sold this beautiful fabric could not even afford it! Many in ancient China wore hemp, a much less expensive material that was common and easier to get.

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