Feudalism in Ancient China: Lesson for Kids

Lesson Transcript
David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Ancient China built its society on commoners, nobles, and emperors. Learn about the feudal structure of China and the ranking of peoples in this lesson. Updated: 12/22/2021

Feudalism & Hierarchy

Imagine you could be anyone in the world--a president, an astronaut, or a rock star. While the odds may be long, it's possible to work hard and achieve your dreams, but for many ancient societies people only could go as far as what their parents and grandparents did. That's because many cultures had a hierarchy, a ranking of people according to their social status and responsibilities.

In the case of ancient China, that society followed a hierarchy called feudalism. Feudalism divided society into three different categories: emperors, nobles, and commoners, with commoners making up the vast majority of the population.

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  • 0:04 Feudalism & Hierarchy
  • 0:47 The Emperor
  • 1:36 The Nobility
  • 2:13 The Commoners
  • 3:01 Lesson Summary
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The Emperor

If you got to be in charge of an entire country, what would be the first thing you'd do? Maybe fill a swimming pool full of ice cream! In ancient China, the emperor had lots of power and lots of money, making him capable of doing just about anything that he pleased.

People believed that the emperor received his authority from Heaven itself, meaning that nobody questioned his actions (at least not to his face) and that everyone in China had to serve him. Almost all the emperors were men. Only one woman in all of Chinese history managed to become an empress: Wu Zetian, who helped build a massive castle called the Wild Goose Pagoda.

The emperors couldn't control all of China on their own, however. They needed the help of the nobility in order to govern, collect taxes, and keep the population in line.

The Nobility

If you were lucky enough in ancient China to be born to a rich and powerful family, you had a lot of advantages. The nobles who had the most power in China, known as the ''gong,'' enjoyed privileges because they could trace their family or ancestors to the emperor himself. Only members of the emperor's extended family could be ''gong'' lords and they received the most land, servants, and wealth.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Feudalism in Ancient China for Kids:

Definitions Prompt:

Provide the definitions of all of the terms that are in bold from the lesson (hierarchy, feudalism, peasants). Each definition should be one to two sentences in length.

Example: Peasants were farmers or workers.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Make a chart or some other type of graphic organizer that lists the order of the societal hierarchy in ancient China. Be sure to include sub-categories of each level. (For example, a "nan" was the lowest type of noble.)

Example: Slaves were at the bottom.

Essay Prompt 1:

In one paragraph, write an essay that explains the powers of the emperors in ancient China and how people thought emperors got these powers. Your essay should also answer the following questions: Who was Wu Zetian? What did Wu Zetian do?

Example: In ancient China, people believed that emperors received their powers from heaven.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay of one paragraph that describes the structure and roles of the nobility in ancient China.

Example: Members of the nobility helped the emperor collect taxes.

Poster Prompt:

Make an informational poster about the roles of peasants, servants, and slaves in ancient Chinese society. Your poster should include the kinds of activities that peasants, servants, and slaves did, and how they were treated.

Example: Many worker peasants helped build the Great Wall.

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