Gentry (China)


Gentry (China)

In imperial China, gentry were the class of landowners who were retired mandarins or their descendants. Their power and influence eclipsed that of the Chinese nobility during the Tang dynasty when the civil service exam replaced the nine-rank system which favored nobles.

Under the Confucian class system the scholar-official was at the top with farmers, artisans, and merchants in descending order. Since the next highest class was agricultural, scholar-officials retired to landed estates. They did not work the land themselves but hired peasants as tenant farmers. The sons of these mandarins aspired to pass the imperial exams and continue the family legacy. Members of the gentry were expected to be an example to their community as Confucian gentlemen.

By late imperial China, sons of merchants used their money to buy an education and enter the civil service. Also, financially desperate gentry married into merchant families which led to a breakdown of the old class structure. With the abolition of the exam system and the overthrow of the Qing dynasty came the end of the mandarins.Now known simply as landowners, they were criticized for demanding and collecting high rent from their tenants during the republican period. Many organized violent gangs to enforce their rule. They were frequent targets of the communists who were able to rally much of the peasant population through their promises of agrarian reform and land redistribution. After the People's Republic of China was established, many landlords were executed by class struggle trials and the class as a whole was abolished. Former members were stigmatized and faced persecution which reached its heights during the Cultural Revolution. This persecution ended with the advent of Chinese economic reform under Deng Xiaoping.

----Excerpts from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica:
*"The only class which at all resembles the territorial magnates of other countries is the class of retired officials. The wealth of an official is not infrequently invested in land, and consequently there are in most provinces several families with a country seat and the usual insignia of local rank and influence. On the decease of the heads or founders of such families it is considered dignified for the sons to live together, sharing the rents and profits in common. This is sometimes continued for several generations, until the country seat becomes an agglomeration of households and the family a sort of clan. A family of this kind, with literary traditions, and with the means to educate the young men, is constantly sending its scions into the public service. These in turn bring their earnings to swell the common funds, while the rank and dignity which they may earn add to the importance and standing of the group as a whole. The members of this class are usually termed the literati or gentry."

*"The peasant class forms the bulk of the population. The majority of Chinese are small landowners; their standard of living is very low in comparison with European standards. This is in part due to the system of land tenure. A parent cannot, even if he wished to do so, leave all his land to one son. There must be substantially an equal division, the will of the father notwithstanding. As early marriages and large families are the rule, this process of continual division and subdivision has brought things down to the irreducible minimum in many places. Small patches of onetenth or even one-twentieth of an acre are to be found as the estate of an individual landowner, and the vast majority of holdings run between one and three acres. With three acres a family is deemed very comfortable, and the possession of ten acres means luxury."----

References

ee also

*Chinese nobility


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