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Daily Life in Ancient China. Farming,Life. Most of the people of ancient China were peasant farmers who grew crops on small plots of land. Every member of the family helped grow and harvest the crops. Farmers supplied food to the army and to people in the city.

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  • Most of the people of ancient China were peasant farmers who grew crops on small plots of land. Every member of the family helped grow and harvest the crops.
  • Farmers supplied food to the army and to people in the city.
  • Farmers in the north grew wheat, millet, and barley to eat. Farmers in the south grew rice to eat.
  • Farmers may have kept pigs and chickens, but dairy cows were not kept due to a lack of pasture land.
  • Oxen and water buffalo were used to pull carts and plows.

Farming, Life

  • Villagers dug ditches and canals to water the fields.
  • Many farmers used simple wooden or stone tools even after bronze and iron weapons were invented.
  • The lives of peasant farmers consisted of many long, back-breaking hours tending to crops.
  • Peasant farmers also had to serve in the army and help with government projects such as building walls and canals.
  • Poor people spent most of their time growing and preparing food, or doing heavy work such as digging and carrying large loads.
  • Farmers use a method known as terracing which is cutting flat plains into hillsides. They would farm on the flat plains. The flat plains looked like shelves coming out of the side of a hill. Cutting flat plains into the hillside would also slow erosion in a hilly area.


  • Poor people ate simple meals. Their main foods were rice, grains, millet, vegetables, and beans. If they ate meat, it was usually chicken or wild bird. Once in a while, they ate fish.
  • Wealthy people ate pork, lamb, venison, duck, goose, pigeon. For special occasions they might eat snakes, dogs, snails, sparrows, or bear claws.
  • Both rich and poor people used spices, salt, sugar, honey, and soy sauce to add flavor to the food.
  • Vegetables and fruits were always included in a wealthy person's diet.
  • To save fuel, food was chopped into small pieces and cooked quickly in an iron frying pan, or wok, for a few minutes only.
  • Steaming was also a common cooking method with the rich and poor.
  • People usually drank tea.
  • Water was usually boiled before drinking it.


  • Clothing was a mark of class in ancient China. The type of fabric, the color and decorations on the fabric, jewelry, headgear and footwear all told something about the wearer's position in society.
  • High-ranking people dressed in the finest silk in public.
  • Peasants wore a long, shirt-like garment, made of undyed hemp fiber. Hemp is a rough fabric woven from plant fibers.
  • The type of jewelry worn showed the position of that person in society.
  • A man almost always wore a hat in public. The hat showed the wearer's occupation and status in society.


  • Women's long hair was arranged in topknots and held in place by hairpins and other ornaments.
  • Wealthy women wore elaborate make-up.
  • People wore thick padded clothing in winter.
  • From the Sui dynasty onward, only the emperor was allowed to wear yellow. Ordinary people had to dress in blue and black. White was for mourning, and children could not wear white while their parents were alive.


  • Farmers usually made their homes from mud bricks with reed or tile roofs. The bottom floor was often built below ground to help keep the family warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
  • Some Chinese built their house with timber or bamboo poles. A timber frame held up the roof. The outer walls were sometimes made of brick. The Chinese preferred wood to stone for building because it looked more natural and it was less likely to injure people if the house collapsed during an earthquake.
  • Poor people often cooked outside in the open air. Wealth people had a kitchen indoors on the bottom floor. Servants would also live on the bottom floor.
  • Charcoal or coal was burned in the fireplace to keep the house warm.
  • A traditional home was divided into different sections by courtyards.

Beliefs and Customs

  • Families in China usually included many generations living together - often under the same roof. The oldest male was usually in charge of everyone in the house.
  • There was little individualism in Chinese families. Decisions were made that benefited the entire family and family honor and family achievements were more important than individual needs or achievements.
  • Age demanded respect. The old were considered wise and were treated with honor.
  • Children were taught to respect and obey their elders.
  • Children were taught that they must care for their mothers and fathers in sickness and old age.
  • Boys learned their family's trade, and girls learned to manage a household.

Social Class

  • The emperor was at the top of the social system.
  • Ancient China was divided into four main classes.
    • Scholars were respected above everyone else because they could read and write.
    • Peasants were the next most important because the country depended on them to produce food.
    • Artisans (people who worked with their hands) were next because they used their skills to make things that everyone needed, such as weapons, tools, and cooking utensils.
    • The lowest class were merchants because they made nothing. All they did was trade goods.
  • Soldiers who made a career of being in the army were not highly regarded and did not belong to a class of their own.

Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac is a twelve-year cycle. It started from Buddhism. According to the story, Buddha called all the animals of China to his bedside, but only twelve animals came. Because he wanted to honor the animals for their devotion, he created a year for each animal. The twelve animals that appeared were the rat, ox, tiger, hare (rabbit), dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and the pig.

Each animal has its own special characteristics. Many people believe that these characteristics affect events that happen during the year. In addition, some people believe that people born in a certain year will have qualities of that year's animal.





1948, 1960, 1972,

1984, 1996, 2008

charming, bright, creative, thrifty


1949, 1961, 1973

1985, 1997, 2009

steadfast, dependable, methodical



1950, 1962, 1974,

1986, 1998, 2010

dynamic, warm, sincere, a leader

humble, artistic, clear-sighted


1951, 1963, 1975,

1987, 1999, 2011


1952, 1964, 1976,

1988, 2000, 2012

flamboyant, lucky, imaginative


1953, 1965, 1977,

1989, 2001, 2013

discreet, refined, intelligent


1954, 1966, 1978,

1990, 2002, 2014

social, competitive, stubborn





1955, 1967, 1979,

1991, 2003, 2015


artistic, fastidious, indecisive

1956, 1968, 1980,

1992, 2004, 2016

witty, popular, good-humored, versatile



1957, 1969, 1981,

1993, 2005, 2017

aggressive, alert, perfectionist

1958, 1970, 1982,

1994, 2006, 2018

honest, conservative, sympathetic, loyal



1959, 1971, 1983,

1995, 2007, 2019

caring, industrious, home-loving