Ancient Chinese Peasants

Like all other ancient civilisations, the Chinese society was also characterised by class structure or class hierarchy. Ancient China was not an egalitarian society. The hierarchy consisted of the emperor, nobles, the artisans and the peasants, who were at the bottom of the hierarchy.

The life of ancient Chinese peasants may be examined in brief.
Both the rich and the poor lived in ancient China. The wealthy class lived in luxury while the poor were striving hard to make both ends meet.

The status of a person could be understood from his outfits. The wealthy preferred expensive materials like silk and jewellery like god and silver while the poor had only cotton and wool garments.

Although farming was the poorest occupation of that time, the peasants formed the majority of the population. They had small families living in a life of poverty and misery. Some of them owned plots while some others worked for landowners like nobles and royals.

They grew wheat and millets. Other crops like sweet potatoes, maize and peanuts were introduced in the 16th century. Majority of the peasants was not literate and only a few could read and write.

Most of the peasants in china lived in villages. They lived in floorless small huts made of mud or bamboo. Doors faced south. A sunken pit in the centre of the house held a heating and cooking fire. Many houses were built partially underground for warmth in the winter season. The farmers owned animals like chickens, mule, ox and pigs.

The tools used for work were primitive made of stone and wood. As they worked in the environment, beliefs of gods originated. Gods were gods of nature. Tien, the sky god was the most powerful of all the gods. Worship of river god, earth god, rain god etc. also was important.

The peasants celebrated the spring festival. Several villagers would gather and this celebration was to ensure a prosperous New Year and good harvest. It was a time when young couples were paired and married off. The age at marriage of a girl was less, at around 16. It is equivalent to the Chinese New Year.

A mention on the clothing styles of Chinese peasants is important. Since their work demanded severe hardship and consumed time, simple clothes were preferred. Rich garments were neither allowed for them nor used. The peasant families were self sustaining at least in the aspect of clothing because the clothes they wore were made in their homes by the female members of the family.

Garments made of hemp and ramie were worn. Women wore one piece garments and men, loose trousers and cotton shirt. Clothes were durable and cheap. People did not hesitate to walk bare footed. But shoes were also made of wood or straw.

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