The four occupations (
The system did not factor in all social groups present in premodern Chinese society, and its broad categories were more an idealization than a practical reality. The
In some manner this system of social order was adopted throughout the
From existing literary evidence, commoner categories in China were employed for the first time during the
Scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants; each of the four peoples had their respective profession. Those who studied in order to occupy positions of rank were called the shi (scholars). Those who cultivated the soil and propagated grains were called nong (farmers). Those who manifested skill (qiao) and made utensils were called gong (artisans). Those who transported valuable articles and sold commodities were called shang (merchants).
Anthony J. Barbieri-Low, Professor of Early Chinese History at the
The categorisation was sorted according to the principle of economic usefulness to state and society, that those who used mind rather than muscle (scholars) were placed first, with farmers, seen as the primary creators of wealth, placed next, followed by artisans, and finally merchants who were seen as a social disturbance for excessive accumulation of wealth or erratic fluctuation of prices. Beneath the four occupations were the "mean people" (
The four occupations were not a hereditary system. The four occupations system differed from those of European feudalism in that people were not born into the specific classes, such that, for example, a son born to a gong craftsman was able to become a part of the shang merchant class, and so on. Theoretically, any man could become an official through the Imperial examinations.