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Chinese "Feudalism"


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#1 wuTao

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 01:48 AM

I've been reading "Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization", edited by Paul S. Ropp (good recommendation Yun, it's a good book :D ). One of the essays, by Jack L. Dull, makes this contrast between Western feudalism and Chinese "feudalism" during the Zhou dynasty:

The Chou period is sometimes referred to as feudal, but whether one has the Western Chou or the Eastern Chou in mind, the designation is not applicable. To be sure, the Chou king parceled out people and pieces of territory to real and fictive family members for them to govern, but at that point the similarity to Western feudalism ends. Three characteristics of Western feudalism highlight the differences. First, the relationship between a lord and his vassals in the West was a legal one in which the two parties were equals before the law; the notion of a legally binding contract between equals was not present in the Chou period, nor was it to become a feature of later Chinese laws. Second, at the base of the pyramid of Western feudalism was the mounted knight; above him was a lord who might be at the same time lord over that knight but vassal to a higher lord. The process of subinfeudation by which this vassalic pyramid was built, although not totally unknown in China at this time, was not common. The Chou king himself created most of the small states. The leaders of those states owed family loyalty, not a legally defined obligation, to the king, not to some intermediate lord. Third, the primary function of the Western knight was to fight for his lord; in Chou China there were simply no knights. Hence, the most fundamental building block of European feudalism is missing in China. Indeed, in the Western Chou period there was no cavalry.


I'm no expert in the structure of government during the Zhou, so how accurate is this assessment? Specifically, were there subdivisions in the fiefs granted by the Zhou king? For example, did the vassals of the Zhou king grant parcels of their own fief to their retainers? And wasn't there a class of warriors (the shi) who, although they were chariot based aristcratic warriors instead of cavalry based, functioned in the same way knights did? I've also read somewhere that the shi were also granted land, and owed their allegiance to the lord of the fief, similar to the relationship between a knight and his lord. If this was not the case, then what exactly was the role of the shi, and the relationship to his superior? Did he serve the emperor directly?

#2 Kulong

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 01:53 AM

It seems that Western "scholars" are obsessed with comparing China to the "West" and focus on what the "West" had but China didn't. How about the things that China had and the "West" didn't? :rolleyes:
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#3 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 03:29 AM

The Zhou dynasty implemented a policy known as "Junzhu Fengfen Zhi" (君主分封制), which means the 'act of granting fiefdom to relatives of the Zhou royalty house". This is equivalent to chinese feudalism. But I'm sometimes also confused by a chinese word "FengJian"society (封建社会), which also means feudalism. Basically "Fengjian" society
described the society of ancient China after Zhou dynasty(there was a transition from slavery society to "fengjian" society during eastern Zhou period)
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#4 RollingWave

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 03:42 AM

That seems wrong..... first of all there was different levels within the fiefdom, the Zhou King assign all the lords but the lords assign the 卿, 大夫, under them ... and those are passed down in the family too, and then there is the shi 士class which were the warriors... at least that's what the usual mainstream traditional history books teachs.... unless he somehow overruled these ideas than i don't see what he is talking about... there was indeed quiet a bit of simliarity between the Zhou Fedualism and the Western once.

He's definition of Knights seem to be "Calvary" that's just weird... the definition is the warrior class... which the Chou definately have... but being almost 2000 years before the western fedual age calvary really haven't been adopted by any settled civilization at that time anyawy.
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#5 Kulong

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 09:14 AM

He's definition of Knights seem to be "Calvary" that's just weird... the definition is the warrior class... which the Chou definately have... but being almost 2000 years before the western fedual age calvary really haven't been adopted by any settled civilization at that time anyawy.

That's a Western "scholar" for ya...
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#6 Yun

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 10:30 AM

You've got to be very careful when using the term "feudal" society (封建社会) in talking about Chinese history, because Marxist Chinese historians apply that term to apply to all of Chinese history from the Zhou to the end of the Qing. This is because of the need to fit Chinese history into the Marxist paradigm of a movement from primitive socialism to slave society to feudalism to capitalism to socialism (the dictatorship of the proletariat) to Communism (they truly classless society). Since slavery ceased to be an important part of Chinese society after the Shang dynasty, and capitalism only really began towards the end of the Qing, the 2,000 years or so in between is all classified as "feudal".

This explains the common use of "feudal" (封建) in Chinese speech to refer to anything old-fashioned and smacking of pre-republican times. Serious non-Marxist historians, however, should not use "feudal" to refer to imperial China, because the feudal system of the Zhou (if we can agree to call it that) did not last on into the Qin dynasty. What the Qin established was something new - a centralised imperial state where different administrative areas were under not feudal lords but centrally-appointed governors. The word feudal is no longer applicable to China after the Qin unification, except for the brief period when Xiang Yu tried to revive the feudal system.
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#7 RollingWave

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 10:35 AM

Yun but ur going off topic :P what the original poster is quoting is basically saying that the Zhou dynasty is no fedualism like the west because it had no warrior class and no class levels ......
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#8 Yun

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 10:52 AM

Yep, I was responding to GZ's confusion about the term "fengjian". In my opinion, using the term 'feudal' to describe the Zhou system is as good as using any other. Dull's objections to the use of the term aren't really very valid:

1. Regarding the issue of the legal obligation, that is one big difference between Confucian society and Western society. The Romans emphasised laws; the Chinese emphasised ethics. But the result was essentially the same.

2. Subinfeudation, and "intermediate lords" who received more loyalty from their men than the Son of Heaven, certainly became the case from the Spring and Autumn onwards. That may not have been the original design of the Zhou system, but it clearly had the potential to develop. The hegemons like Duke Huan of Qi and Duke Wen of Jin commanded the allegiance of numerous lesser lords, on behalf of the Son of Heaven - but that "on behalf" was just a formality.

3. The aristocratic warrior class of "shi" certainly did exist - Confucius reformulated it (as he did with many other aspects of Zhou society) into a class of scholars giving their lives for righteousness and morality, and that reformulation has misled many scholars into believing that a great warrior class never existed in China. That is indeed proof of how influential and successful Confucius' social project became.
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#9 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 09:19 PM

Thanks for your explanation, Yun.. my doubts and confusion about "Fengjian" is cleared.
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"夫君子之行:靜以修身,儉以養德;非淡泊無以明志,非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮

One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang

#10 wuTao

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Posted 10 August 2004 - 07:10 PM

I was browsing through a book at the bookstore, and it said the class structure of the Zhou period was a 3 tier class heirarchy, with a position called ch'ing at the top, then tai fu, and finally the shi making up the foundation (Is this what you wrote in your post RollingWave? I can't read Chinese, and I don't have software to display Chinese characters anyways). Is this correct? If this description is correct, what were the functions and duties of the ch'ing, tai fu, and shi, and what were their relationships and obligations toward each other?

#11 RollingWave

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Posted 10 August 2004 - 09:54 PM

Yes that's what I wrote in Chinese Wutao.

Basicaly Chin and Dai Fus are administrators, while Shi are warriors (in theory anyway) Chin are like high lvl administrators while Dai Fu are mid/lower onces.

Then there is the lords about them and then finally the Zhou King, there is a system on how the heirchy of the lords themself too (who is higher prestige than he other and allow more army etc.... ) but i'm not incrediablly familiar with the detail.
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#12 Kulong

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Posted 10 August 2004 - 09:58 PM

What are "Chin" and "Dai Fu" in Hanzi? I assume "Shi" is 士
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#13 wuTao

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Posted 10 August 2004 - 10:10 PM

Yes that's what I wrote in Chinese Wutao.

Basicaly Chin and Dai Fus are administrators, while Shi are warriors (in theory anyway) Chin are like high lvl administrators while Dai Fu are mid/lower onces.

Then there is the lords about them and then finally the Zhou King, there is a system on how the heirchy of the lords themself too (who is higher prestige than he other and allow more army etc.... ) but i'm not incrediablly familiar with the detail.

Were the ch'ing, tai fu, and shi then landholders? Are they given land by their lords in exchange for their services? I read that shi usually were not landholders, and that is why served as shi (as a means of advancement, since they were not first sons and did not inherit land).

I also read the shi developed their own moral code/code of conduct, since they were trained primarily as warriors (but they were literate to some extent). Is this correct, and is this code similar to bushido/chivalry?

#14 RollingWave

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Posted 11 August 2004 - 03:45 AM

Chin and Dai Fu have fiefs of their own, Shi have pays that are sometimes fiefs but it's not permanent (i.e can't pass down to ur son) but as time worn on this system obviously started to run into trouble as you start to run out of land.

The Zhou feudal code was Li 禮, which is what Confucious based his teachings on.

Shi and other higher nobels were all trained in the 6 arts, which IIRC are Li (manner, behavior etc...), music, archery, charioteering, books(wide range knowledge basically), math(accounting), 禮樂射御書數

Basically though most of the old fedual fightings of the Zhou were more ritualized (like the Greek hoplite war) than practical... which was why the Spring and Autumn/Warring States period saw very rapid changes of how wars were fought.
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#15 Yun

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Posted 11 August 2004 - 12:37 PM

Qing/Ch'ing: 卿

Dafu/Tafu: 大夫 (not pronounced as "daifu/taifu", which is a Chinese slang for 'doctor' although written with the same characters)

Shi: 士
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