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Fēngjiàn (封建) was the political ideology of the Zhou dynasty of ancient China. Fengjian was a decentralized system of government, comparable to European feudalism, though recent scholarship has suggested that fengjian lacks some of the fundamental aspects of feudalism.
The sizes of troops and domains a male noble would command would be determined by his rank of peerage:
- gong (duke, ch. 公(爵) gōng),
- hou (marquis or marquess, ch. 侯(爵) hóu),
- bo (count or earl, ch. 伯(爵) bó),
- zi (viscount, ch. 子(爵) zǐ),
- nan (baron, ch. 男(爵) nán).
While before the Han dynasty a peer with a place name in his title actually governed that place, it had only been nominally true since. Any male member of the nobility or gentry could be called a gongzi (公子 gōng zǐ) (or wangzi (王子 wáng zǐ) if he is a son of a king, i.e. prince).
The four occupations, or "four categories of the people," was a social structure developed from Confucian and Legalist philosophers during the latter part of the Zhou dynasty. The four occupations were the shì (士) the class of "knightly" scholars, mostly from lower aristocratic orders, the gōng (工) who were the artisans and craftsmen of the kingdom and who, like the farmers, produced essential goods needed by themselves and the rest of society, the nóng (农/農) who were the peasant farmers who cultivated the land which provided the essential food for the people and tributes to the king, and the shāng (商) who were the merchants and traders of the kingdom.
The four occupations under the Fēngjiàn 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.
Zongfa (宗法, Clan Law), which applied to all social classes, governed the primogeniture of rank and succession of other siblings. The eldest son of the consort would inherit the title and retained the same rank within the system. Other sons from the consort, concubines, and mistresses would be given titles one rank lower than their father.
As time went by, all terms had lost their original meanings nonetheless. Zhuhou (诸侯), Dafu (大夫), and Shi (士) became synonyms of court officials.
Fengjian is particularly important to Marxist historiographical interpretation of Chinese history in China, from a slave society to a feudal society. This kind of feudalism was very different from the kind of "feudalism" most people influenced by the theoreticians of the PRC have viewed China, with the landlord/peasant relationship, as having.
- V MURTHY. MODERNITY AGAINST MODERNITY: WANG HUI'S CRITICAL HISTORY OF CHINESE THOUGHT. Modern Intellectual History, 2006 – Cambridge Univ Press
- QE WANG. Between Marxism and Nationalism: Chinese historiography and the Soviet influence, 1949–1963 – Journal of Contemporary China, 2000 – Taylor & Francis