Feudalism, in its most classic sense, refers to a MedievalEuropeanpolitical system composed of a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warriornobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals, and fiefs. Although derived from the Latin word feodum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Medieval Period.
The subsequent dynasties, the Shang (16th-11th century BC) and the Western Zhou (11th century-770BC) saw further development of slave society. This era was followed by the Spring and Autumn and WarringStates periods (770BC-221BC), marking the transition from slave society to feudal society. Chinese history from the Zhou Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty is thus described as the feudal period.
The Zhou Dynasty can be seen as a true feudal system as it was in many respects very similar to the system used in Medieval Europe. Each lord was given a state/land, and politics was strongly centerd around the noble households. In fact, the notion of "prime minister" in ancient Chinese came from the feudal time meaning the "chief housekeeper" or "butler" of the noble household. Each feudal state was governed independently with tax systems, currency and legal systems set by each individual household, but the nobles were required to pay regular homage to the Zhou Kings as an act of oath of fealty. In time of war the nobles were required to provide armed service to the King. Approaching the end of Zhou dynasty, the power of the King dwindled while the power of the nobles had risen. This resulted in what is known as the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods when the nobles fought each other constantly for supremacy. This had resulted in the claps of the noble ranking system, and during the late Warring States Period all major nobles had proclaimed them-selves the title of "Wang" (King).
The Wang Zheng of Qin (note that at the time the Bo of Qin was self-proclaimed as "Wang of Qin") eventually removed the Zhou household and defeated all other feudal lords and funded the first empire. To the horror of the people at the time, he completely abolished the feudal system in favor of the centrally governed imperial bureaucratic system had been used in China ever since the foundation of the republic in the 20th century. Noble titles including that of "Wang" were frequently used in the imperial periods, but their function were mostly honor titles that differed very much from that of the Zhou times.
Feudalism in 12th century England was among the better structured and established in Europe at the time. However, it could be structurally complex. Feudalism is the exchange of land for military service, thus everything was based on what was called the knight's fee, which was the amount of money and/or military service a fief was required to pay to support one knight. Thus, either a fief could provide the service of a knight, or an equivalent amount of money to allow a lord to hire a knight.
Among the complexities of feudal arrangements there existed no guarantee that contracts between lord and vassal would be honored, and feudal contracts saw little enforcement from those with greater authority. This often resulted in the wealthier and more powerful party taking advantage of the weaker. Such was (allegedly) the case of Hugh de Lusignan and his relations with his lord William V of Aquitaine. Between 1020 and 1025 Hugh wrote or possibly dictated a complaint against William and his vassals describing the unjust treatment he had received at the hands of both. Hugh describes a convoluted intermingling of loyalties that was characteristic of the period and instrumental in developing strain between nobles that resulted in competition for each other's land. According to Hugh's account William wronged him on numerous occasions, often to the benefit of William's vassals. Many of his properties suffered similar fates: seized by opponents and divided between them and William. William apparently neglected to send military aid to Hugh when necessary and dealt most unfairly in the exchange of hostages. Each time Hugh reclaimed one of his properties, William ordered him to return it to whoever had recently taken it from him. William broke multiple oaths in succession yet Hugh continued to put faith in his lord's word, to his own ruin.
The use of the term "feudal" to describe a period in Chinese history was also common among Western historians of China of the 1950s and 1960s, but became increasingly rare after the 1970s. The current prevailing consensus among Western historians is that using the term "feudal" to describe Chinese history confuses more than it clarifies, as it assumes strong commonalities between Chinese and European history that may not have existed after the Qin Dynasty.
The Wang Zheng of Qin (note that at the time the Bo of Qin was self-proclaimed as "Wang of Qin") eventually removed the Zhou household and defeated all other feudal lords and funded the first empire. To the horror of the people at the time, he completely abolished the feudal system in favor of the centrally governed imperial bureaucratic system which had been used in China ever since the foundation of the republic in the 20th century. Noble titles including that of "Wang" were frequently used in the imperial periods, but their function was mostly honor titles that differed very much from that of the Zhou times.
Arguably the first emperor of Qin had accomplished in China what Napoleon Bonaparte had partially failed to do in Europe. And indeed, the King of Qin at the time was seen among the nobles as public enemy number one, and his abolishment of the feudal system was listed by scholars at the time among the ten "crimes against humanity" he had committed after the fall of the short-lived Qin empire. However the central bureaucratic system he had established had obvious attractions to future rulers of the Han Empire and it was there to stay for the next two millennia.
Social Class Social class refers to the hierarchical distinctions between individuals or groups in societies or cultures. Usually most societies have some notion of social class, but concretely defined social classes are not found in every known type of human society. Some traditional hunter-gatherer societies do not have social classes, often lack permanent leaders, and actively avoid dividing their members into hierarchical power structures. In these societies, individuals are able to do the same activities. Since there is little labor specialization and no food surpluses are produced, there is little necessity or even opportunity for classes to form and develop. The most basic class distinction is between the powerful and the powerless. People in social classes with greater power attempt to cement their own positions in society and maintain their ranking above the lower social classes in the social hierarchy. Social classes with a great deal of power are usually viewed as elites, at least within their own societies.
Chinese In pre-Confucian China, the feudal system divided the population into six classes. Four noble classes with the king at the top, followed by the dukes, then the great men and finally the scholars. Below the noble classes were commoners and slaves. Confucian doctrine later minimized the importance of the nobles (except the emperor), abolished great men and scholars as noble classes, and further divided commoner workers based on the perceived usefulness of their work. Scholars ranked the highest because the opportunity to conceive clear ideas in a state of leisure would lead them to wise laws. The scholars were mainly from the gentry, who owned land, and may have been educated and wealthy but had no aristocratic titles. Under them were the farmers, who produced necessary food, and the artisans who produced useful objects. Merchants ranked at the bottom because they did not actually produce anything, while soldiers were sometimes ranked even lower because of their perceived expendability. The Confucian model is notably different from the modern European view of social class, since merchants could attain great wealth without reaching the social status accorded to a poor farmer. In practice, a rich merchant might purchase land to reach farmer status, or even buy a good education for his heirs in the hopes that they would attain scholar status and go into the imperial civil service. The Chinese model was widely disseminated throughout East Asia.