Feudalism refers to the political system of feudalism; the social form of feudalism; with the color of feudal society. It is derived from the poem “Shang Song – Yin Wu”: “The order was given to the lower state, and feudalism built up its blessings”.

Basic Meaning

Feudalism is a verb used in conjunction with two near-meaning verbs in Mandarin syntax, meaning to divide land and establish a vassal state, which has been used in China since ancient times. As a political system, feudal refers to the feudal system of ancient China.

The term feudalism in modern times is a Japanese and Chinese-language term, and Japanese historians have translated the European feudalism as feudalism and used it to refer to the local decentralization system in Japanese history.

The modern sense of feudalism, which Marx broadly defined as a social system in which the landowning class exercised autocratic rule over the peasant class, is well known in modern China, especially because of Marxist political economy, and is often brought into its concept in a narrow sense.

Social Formation

According to the bipolar world theory, during the Warring States, Qin and Han dynasties, the Guanzhong was a political form of the scholar and serfdom economy, the Central Plains was a political form of the Qing dynasty and a subordinate peasant economy, and the South was a political and economic form of the primitive tribes, and the overall social form of China was a political form of the Qing dynasty and a subordinate peasant economy. During the Wei, Jin, North and South Dynasties, Sui and Tang Dynasties, Guanzhong was the political form of commoner landowners and sharecropping economy, the Central Plains was the political form of scholar landowners and serfdom economy, and the South was the political form of Qingdaifu and slavery economy, and the overall social form of China was the political form of scholar landowners and serfdom economy. During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, the political and economic form of Guanzhong was that of the peasant farmers, the political and economic form of the commoner landlords and the sharecropping system in the Central Plains, and the political and economic form of the scholar landlords and the serfdom system in the South, the overall social form of China was that of the commoner landlords and the sharecropping system.

During the period from the formation of the Hun Empire in 300 B.C. to the fall of the Turkic Empire in 745 A.D., Central Asian society changed from tribalism to semi-tribalism and semi-feudalism serfdom; during the period from the fall of the Turkic Empire in 745 A.D. to modern times, Central Asian society changed from semi-tribalism and semi-feudalism serfdom to feudal serfdom.

The political form of the Arab Empire period and subsequent dynasties was a relatively unified feudal political form and the economic form was serfdom.

The political form of medieval Europe was decentralized clan system and the economic form was serfdom.


Feudal Tenno

Feudalism is a system that originated in ancient China in which the emperor divided the territory into coveted territories according to the rank of the emperor, and under which vassals, lords, or large landowners were able to forcefully claim land revenue and exercise governmental authority over their territories.

The historical systems that modern scholars call “feudalism” include

Feudalism (China): began in the 11th century B.C. with the Western Zhou feudal system and was gradually replaced by a centralized system after the establishment of the Qin Dynasty in the 3rd century B.C.

feudal system (Europe): flourished in the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries and declined with the rise of nation-states in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Feudal system (Japan): originated in the Heian period from the 8th to the 12th century, became the mainstream system during the Takeda regime from the 12th to the 19th century, and ended in the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of the 19th century.

It should be noted that the definition of “feudalism” is divided into a broad sense and a narrow sense. In the narrow sense, “feudalism” refers to a social system similar to the feudal system in Western Europe. Marx defined the concept more broadly as a social system in which the landowning class exercised autocratic rule over the peasant class, which has a more general meaning, but has often confused historians in its specific use.


Most historians believe that China did not have a so-called feudal system in a narrow sense, or that feudalism in China was limited to the Zhou dynasty or even the feudal system of the Western Zhou period. In contrast, according to Marxist historiography, most countries and regions in history have experienced periods of feudal societies, such as Europe from the 9th century to about the 15th century, which is considered a feudal period. And China also went through a long period of feudal society starting from the Warring States period. In feudal societies, in addition to the emphasis on the division of land ownership, there was usually a clear hierarchy of top versus bottom.

Characterization of society

In feudal society, a natural economy was formed based on land, combining agriculture and handicrafts, with the family as the unit of production, self-enclosed, independent, and focused on satisfying its own needs. The key means of production in this economic structure were mostly in the hands of landlords (or feudal lords), thus forming the class relationship of “landlords (feudal lords) exploiting peasants”.

In feudal society, the root of the landlord class’ domination over other classes was the feudal land ownership system. By holding the land as a means of production, the landlords exploited the peasants who used the land by extracting rent and usury. At the same time, the forms of feudal land ownership varied from contractual leases, payment of land rents, and employment of tenants, but its essence remained a relationship between the exploited and the exploited, and would not change the essence of feudal society as a class society.

Exclusive Ideology

In feudal societies there was often a rather obvious class system, such as the Patriarch-King-Lord-Jazz system in Western Europe, which formed a pyramidal structure of rule, but the relationship between them was not also so perfect, and usually the lord’s jazz would no longer be loyal to the king, hence the famous saying “My vassal’s vassal is not my vassal “. However, the basis of this structure of rule was the ideology of the feudal society, which was usually composed of a skeleton of “the power of the king”, integrated with some ideas that served the ruling class. These ideas also contained many good moral values, such as the Chinese “Confucianism”.

Changes in society

The peasant revolts and bourgeois revolutions were class struggles aimed at changing the feudal system of land ownership and thus the whole feudal system. The most typical of these was the basic production relation of capitalism – the hiring of labor.

The earliest capitalism was born in Italy, where the commodity economy was developed at that time, such as Florence, Venice and other regions. Capitalism was represented by a commodity economy with commodity exchange and commodity production as its core. As the purpose of production changed from single satisfaction to providing products to the society, it was decided that the relations of production would be different from the original feudal system. As a result of the development of the commodity economy, the original natural economy was impacted and began to disintegrate, and the peasants and craftsmen began to lose their means of production and became the proletariat, with whom the factory owners – the earliest bourgeoisie – then entered into employment agreements, forming new relations of production and employing labor.

With the disintegration of the original feudal natural economy by the capitalist economy, the increasingly powerful bourgeoisie was able to remove all the factors that were contrary to the development of capitalism, such as the ideas of “divine right” and “three rules”, and the production structure of male farming and female weaving, and finally Overthrow the feudal society and establish a capitalist state.

The destination of society

Usually feudal societies transform into capitalist societies due to the development of productive forces, forming constitutional monarchies (Britain, Tsarist Russia, Japan, etc.) and republics (French Republic, Federal Republic of Germany, United States of America, etc.) according to the various relations of the bourgeoisie to the feudal classes.

However, there are also special changing relations, such as China forming a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society from an authoritarian feudal society, and then crossing over to a capitalist society to become a socialist society. Societies consisting of various relations of production can exist in the same period.

Chinese system


Feudal lords

Feudal system is a social system. It is a political system in which the common lord or the central dynasty gives fiefs to members of the royal family, kings and vassals.

The term “feudalism” means “building a kingdom from the land”, i.e. the Son of Heaven divided the land outside his direct jurisdiction into lords and vassals, and granted them titles to establish feudal states to defend the central government. In essence, it is the same as the feudal system, to which Liu Zongyuan’s “Treatise on Feudalism” refers.

In Chinese, for the Central Plains dynasty in ancient China, the land they feuded was called “vassal” (“vassal state”, “feudal state” or “kingdom “), and the ruler of the vassal (kingdom) was called “vassal king”, “king” or “king of the country”, and the title “king” was also used. The title of “king” was also used.


In the past, people often thought that the feudal system was created by King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty, but Liu Zongyuan of the Tang Dynasty already refuted this in his article “On Feudalism”, arguing that “feudalism is not the intention of the sages, but also the trend.” According to Liu Yimou, “Since Tang, Yu and Zhou were feudal times, the emperor and the vassals ruled separately.”

“Feudalism”, in simple terms, means that the king divided the lords and vassals with their titles, and made them build their state in the feudal area. This was a way of ruling by the victorious tribes over the defeated lands and populations in the ancient times. Thus, it can be seen that the so-called feudalism had already taken shape since there were tribal wars. However, recent scholars have different views on the formal origin of feudalism in the Zhou Dynasty, but most of them claim that it began in the Western Zhou Dynasty.

In view of the fact that there were so many lords and vassals at that time and each of them had their own key points, the future generations would be the common lord’s trouble, so the Zhou Dynasty was established in the name of the extermination of the state and the succession of the world, and the Zhou surname and the meritorious vassals were divided into various key places by colonial methods, and the original clans and tribes in each place were used to establish the state.

The descendants of the legendary saintly kings, the remnants of Shang and the meritorious generals were allowed to be “vassals” in the localities, to be managed by sub-districts and to assist the king of Zhou, and the “vassals” who were enfeoffed continued in the “feudal states”. Through this division, the subordinates were obliged to pay tribute to their superiors, to defend them militarily, and to obey orders.

The “feudal system” is the original meaning of the ancient Chinese word “feudalism”, i.e., to “build” a state by “feuding” land; the ancient literature In ancient literature, “feudal system” means “feudal system”. “In the Zhou Dynasty, the “feudal system” was a social system in which the Zhou royal family divided the land of its territory into vassals. They only had to pay a certain amount of tribute to the Zhou royal court to fulfill their obligations, which was equivalent to the relationship between the medieval European kingdoms and the Holy See, i.e., the basis of a federation in the modern sense, but still very different from the European “feudal system”. The Zhou kings were co-owners. The land of the vassals could theoretically be recovered and redistributed by the Zhou royal family after their death, but it was generally hereditary. At the end of the Spring and Autumn Period, with the collapse of the Jingtian system and the development of hegemonic wars, the royal family of the Zhou dynasty declined, and the situation of “rituals, music and conquest from the Son of Heaven” was replaced by “rituals, music and conquest from the lords”. “The “feudal system” began to be destroyed. After Qin Shi Huang unified China, the “feudal system” was abolished and the Qin Dynasty implemented a single “county system” throughout the country.

The Han Dynasty inherited the administrative system of “county system” from the Qin Dynasty, but unlike the Qin administrative system, the “county system” was implemented along with the feudal system, which included kingdoms and marquis states, and the two parallel systems were also called The two parallel systems were also called “county-state system”. During the Han Dynasty, although the counties were parallel, the “county-state system” was still the main system.

At the beginning of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang faced with the power of vassals and the background of the six states after the fall of Qin, his first task was to maintain stability and eliminate the vassal kings with different surnames, and to reconcile the deviations between the vassal kings with different surnames and the county system by dividing the sons and daughters. After he became the emperor, he also divided nine kings with the same surname, so that the rivalry between the central government and the feudal states continued for a long time afterwards. In the early Han Dynasty, the feudal system was restored and the county system was implemented, so that the counties were mixed and controlled each other, which played a positive role in maintaining centralized power and national unity.

In Chinese history, from the Three Kingdoms to the last dynasty of Qing Dynasty, the “feudal system” was practiced to different degrees in the administration of administrative divisions of the country, but feudalism was not the main body; after the stabilization of power in each dynasty, feudal states and marquis states actually became part of the administrative division system or were formally feudalized; even if there were warlord regimes, in most cases, they were subject to the rule of the Central Plains. For example, Ma Yin, king of Chu, one of the ten kingdoms in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, was crowned “King of Chu” by the Later Tang Dynasty in 927 (the second year of Tiancheng), even though the kingdom was established in 907.

Western Zhou Society

The first feudalization was carried out by King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty for three reasons: firstly, to appease the Yin people and monitor them at the same time; secondly, to expand his power through armed migration; and secondly, to enlist the hearts of the people in order to consolidate the rule of the Zhou Dynasty.

The First Feudalization

Feudalism was actually the division of land into vassals, i.e., the distribution of land to vassals to establish their jurisdiction. The following are the main details of the first feudal establishment in the early Zhou Dynasty.

After King Wu of Zhou destroyed the Shang, he automatically withdrew from the capital of Yin and installed Wu Geng, son of King Zhou, there to continue to manage the remnants of the Shang.

King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty installed his three brothers, Guan Shu, Cai Shu and Huo Shu, in the vicinity of Yin, in order to keep an eye on Wu Geng, called the “Three Supervisors”.

After King Wu settled his capital at Haojing, he also divided up his relatives and vassals into vassal states, most of which were concentrated on the southern bank of the Yellow River.

The Duke of Zhou’s Eastern Conquest

Two years after the establishment of the Western Zhou Dynasty, King Wu of Zhou died. His son, King Cheng of Zhou, succeeded to the throne at a young age, and his younger brother, Duke Ji Dan of Zhou, acted as the regent, a practice called “regency”. The three supervisors were dissatisfied, so they spread rumors that the Zhou government would be against King Cheng, and encouraged Wu Geng to rebel together, which was called the “Rebellion of the Three Supervisors”.

The Duke of Zhou personally led his troops to the east to deal with the three supervisors, and it took him three years to put down the rebellion. Later, he built the eastern capital in Luoyi (now Luoyang, Henan Province) and moved the “Yin naughty people” who had participated in Wu Geng’s rebellion there, and stationed heavy troops there to supervise them. In addition, the Duke of Zhou established rituals and music in order to maintain order in the state and society.

The Second Feudal Society

The Duke of Zhou put down the rebellion of the three superintendents and introduced the second feudal society, which mainly consisted of the following.

Lu. Zhou Gongdan’s son, Boqi, fought against Huaiyi and Xu Rong, and was then enfeoffed in Lu.

Qi. Duke Ding, son of Jiang Tai Gong, was feuded in Qi.

Wei. He was enfeoffed to Kang Shu in Wei and got seven tribes of Yin people.

Song. Feuded Weizi Qi to Song.

Jin. He enfeoffed Tang Shu in Xia Hui.

Cai. Feng Cai Zhong in Cai.

Eastern Capital. The Duke of Zhou made Luoyi the eastern capital and set up the Yin naughty people.

The purpose was threefold: to divide the remnants of the Yin land and prevent the Yin people from rebelling again; to consolidate the rule of the Zhou dynasty and serve as a screen for the royal family; and to expand the scope of rule and strengthen the control over local areas. The second feudal period at the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty mainly consisted of the division of the old Yin lands into two states, Song and Wei, to facilitate the ruling; the feudal of relatives and meritorious vassals to serve as a royal vassal; the Duke of Zhou deliberately moved some of the first feudal states to the east, partly to the eastern seashore, in order to expand the scope of his rule, and to surround the Yin feudal states to prevent them from rebelling again.

The role of the feudal lords

King Wu and the Duke of Zhou had a total of more than 70 feudal states, of which 53 were vassals with the surname Ji. This shows that most of the vassals were the sons of the king of Zhou, followed by meritorious officials. Under the feudal system, the king of Zhou was also called the “Son of Heaven” and had high authority, and the role of the feudal lords was to serve as a central vassal.

In addition, the titles of vassals were divided into five categories: Duke, Marquis, Bo, Son, and Male. The lords had to obey the orders of the Son of Heaven, pay tribute to the Son of Heaven, make regular pilgrimages to the Son of Heaven, and bring troops to fight with the Son of Heaven.

Patriarchal System

The Western Zhou also established a patriarchal system to complement and sustain the development of the feudal system. The patriarchal system stipulated that only the “first-born” son was eligible to inherit the positions of son of heaven and vassal, while other sons were divided into secondary positions, i.e., vassal, minister, or scholar. These two systems were closely combined to further consolidate the rule of the Zhou Dynasty.

Disintegration of the feudal system of the Zhou Dynasty

“By the time of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States, there was a gradual change from feudalism to counties and counties.” “At the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty, there were 800 states, but at the beginning of the Spring and Autumn Period, only 124 states remained. In the Spring and Autumn period, the states annexed the small and weak, and most of them used their state lands as counties. The system of feudalism gradually changed into the system of counties.” Qin destroyed the Six Kingdoms, abolished feudalism, set up counties and counties, and established a centralized system of monarchical rule.

Western Han Society

Parallel feudal states and counties

At the beginning of the Western Han Dynasty, Emperor Gaozu of Han made the seven vassal kings (vassal kings with different surnames from the royal family) who had assisted him in fighting Xiang Yu into kings with different surnames; later, he used the charge of conspiracy or other methods to eliminate these feudal states, and instead made the royal sons and daughters in the old lands of the seven kings. As for other places, the county system of the Qin Dynasty was still adopted.

This situation of “parallel counties” made the vassal kingdoms a threat to the central government and laid the groundwork for the political crisis of the Western Han Dynasty.

The pacification of the rebellions of the Seven Kingdoms of Wu and Chu

During the reigns of Emperor Wen and Emperor Jing, the economy recovered and developed, people’s livelihood improved, and the country prospered. However, the vassal kings became more and more powerful and domineering. In order to strengthen the central power, Emperor Jing implemented the policy of cutting down the clans, which aroused the discontent of the vassal kings and led to the rebellion of the Seven Kingdoms of Wu and Chu. Emperor Jing sent his general Zhou Yafu to quell the rebellion and cut the power of the vassal kings, making them idle members who only received salaries and no longer governed the people. As a result, the foundation of centralized rule became more solid.

Reduction of the power of the vassal kingdoms

After the Seven Kingdoms of Wu and Chu were put to rest, the power of the vassal lords was reduced, but they still had vast territories and great economic power. After the death of Emperor Jing, Emperor Wu inherited his father’s policy of reducing the number of vassals by issuing the Decree of Push Grace, which allowed the vassals to divide the land of their kingdoms to their sons and daughters, so that the power of the vassal kings became smaller and smaller, and their power was greatly weakened, and from then on, “the big kingdoms were only ten cities, and the small vassals were only ten miles “The lords were no longer a threat to the central government.

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