Stone bust image
Clay minature warior


On other parts of this website you have learnt a great deal about the emperor, his officials, and how the wealthy lived and worshipped.

In this section it is all about how the majority of people lived. The four class divisions which existed below the nobility were known as "shi nong gong shang" (or scholar, farmer, artisan, merchant).


The role of the scholars in Qin society has been dealt with in another section of this website. Use the link on the word above to jump to that part


The largest part of the population was the peasants who made up 90 to 95% but about whom very little is known. We can only find out by looking indirectly at them through the evidence remaining.

Did You Know Did you know?

For almost all the time that there has been organised settlement in China the majority of people have lived in small villages or on separate farms. One such small village is shown below. This is near Gongyi. It is built into the old loess walls of the Yellow River and is estimated to have been established before the Qin Period. It is one of the very few left as they are disappearing quickly. It began as cave houses but the longer it has existed the more buildings have been put in front of the original caves.

The road disappearing away into the distance links the village to the outside world. In the foreground is the village's communal toilet which is shared by the hundred or so inhabitants

Village, near Gongyi

In this village there are also houses of two and three stories high built into the loess walls. One such example is below. The rest of the buildings are just one story high.

Still, most peasants worked on farms in a very labour intensive manner. Most of the work was done by hand with the use of a simple plough using oxen to pull it. The following modern pictures show how the work was done. These pictures are in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, Xian and have been taken from original sources of the period and recreated so that we can see them.

Ploughing with oxen A farm cart

Other farming implements can be seen on another page which can be accessed through this link.



Skilled artisans carried out many jobs in Qin times. They included wood workers, stone carvers, tile and pipe makers, specialist bronze smiths, black (or iron) smiths, silver smiths, gold smiths, jewellers, specialist painters, armourers, shoe and bootmakers, specialist clay modellers, minters and builders.

Carved frieze, Shaanxi Provincial Museum, Xian

Stone frieze found it Xianyang palace site, now in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, Xian. Shows an imperial dragon carved in relief into local stone. The head is on the left and the tail is on the right. Stone masons who made such friezes were very skilled artisans


Iron bolts, nails and other fasteners, Luoyang palace site

Iron bolts, nails and other fasteners made by blacksmiths found at the palace excavation site in Luoyang, now in the Luoyang Museum

Decorative brick found at Luoyang, now in Luoyang Museum

A specially made brick with a decorative face found at the palace excavation site in Luoyang, now in the Luoyang Museum
Simple decoration on the face of such tiles were often painted though little evidence of that exists on this tile. However, the skills of the tile maker and specialist painter/artisan were very important


Bronze cup, Luoyang Palace site

Simple bronze cup found in the palace excavation site in Luoyang, now in the Luoyang Museum

Millet broom photographed at the Green Ram Temple, Chengdu

A millet broom still produced today along the same style as used during Qin times. Photographed at the Green Ram Temple, Chengdu

Small clay figure, man kneeling, Shaanxi Museum

Small clay figure of a court groom, half a metre tall, found in the Terracotta Warrior site, now in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum

Bronze measure found at Xianyang

Bronze measure, clearly marked that it has been approved as an accurate measure by the Qin officials, found at Xianyang, now in the Xianyang Museum



With the stability of the conquered territories and the unification of the empire, came great opportunities for merchants. Although they were often seen as the lowest level in society, in reality, they could become very wealthy and even rise, through the marriage of their children, into the lesser aristocracy.

Merchants traded in all sorts of materials from iron products, to silk, to art and specialty foods. They took many forms from the local hardware merchant operating in just the village or town acting as the middleman for the blacksmith, to wealthy and powerful men conducting trade right across Asia and founding the basis for the Silk Road trade.

The establishment of a common coin throughout the empire also helped merchants as they could trade from one side of the country to the other confident that they could trust the money and that it would have the same value no matter where it was.

Merchant from a diorama, Pingyao.

This figure is part of a diorama display in the first bank building, Ri Sheng Chang, in Pingyao and shows a merchant carrying his goods on a shoulder pole with baskets. This form of carrying materials remains in use today.

The Army

There was no standing army in Ancient China although some of the armies created for specific purposes lasted quite a long time. Most of the armies were just called up in time of an emergency and were mostly made up of conscripts. Whereas in the past the nobles had been the generals (and not very good ones at that) because the emperor wanted to destroy the nobles' power he did not use them in the army. Instead, he appointed people on merit including important generals from his conquered states. His officers were also flexible in the tactics they used and so were often able to surprise their enemy. Sometimes they marched quickly with many hundreds of thousands of soldiers. At other times they played a waiting game until the other side relaxed and thought they were not going to be attacked.

Head of a terracotta warrior Head of a terracotta warrior

Although most of the emperor's army was made up of conscripts people did volunteer for the army and they came from all over the empire to serve. For many it was a way out of farming poverty. For others it was a way to make one's name. Either way they were very multicultural for their time and we see this in their faces.

. Head of a terracotta warrior