Way of Life
The Chinese Way of Life is quite unique and very different from that of Western cultures in both Traditional and Modern China.
Traditional Way of Life
Like all societies of the past, Traditional China had a very distinct class system. There was a very wealthy upper class as well as a poor, peasant class, and each lived their own separate ways.
How the Rich Lived
In ancient China, it was very easy to tell who was rich. From head to toe, the wealthiest had the finest clothes. Members of the royal family and high-ranking officials dangled jade, gold, or silver bracelets from their arms. They ate more and better-tasting food and had more leisure time. China"s richest man was the emperor. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the emperor lived in the Forbidden City, the 9,999-building Imperial Palace.
The empress" palace was called the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility, while the emperor"s was known as the Palace of Celestial Purity. No one could enter the Gate of Celestial Purity except the emperor. The empress, her female servants, and other members of her royal household lived in palaces behind the gate, but they couldn"t enter or exit through the same gate as the emperor.
Although fashions in men"s and women"s clothes changed over time, the fabric they wre made of did not. The rich wore silk. It was a status symbol and in some dynasties only the rich were allowed to wear it. During the Qing Dynasty, men and women wore robes tied at the waist with a large sash. Wealthy women wore silk slippers with wooden shoes.
The practice of binding the feet of young girls with long strips of cloth began among the rich during the Song Dynasty. Foot binding stopped the growth of the feet and was very painful. Tiny feet forced women to take small steps. Because small feet were admired, foot binding spread to other classes of society. However, farm girls, who were needed in the fields, escaped this torture. The custom died out in the early 1900"s.
The Peasant Poor
While the rich lived a life of ease, the poor worked very hard. Few could read or write. Most were farmers, living on small plots of land. Some owned their land, but other worked for rich landowners, giving them part of each harvest. Poor familites sometimes sold their daughter to be servants of the rich. Even in good times, farmer kept little of their crops. Their work helped feed everyone else in society. When crops failed because of drought or floods, farmers risked losing their land.
In Northern China, the poor ate wheat noodles, steamed bread, and bean curd. In the south, rice was the staple of the diet. Meals that included meat were rare. The poor ate their food in small bowls. Along with their meals they drank green tea. In the dry, colder north, the farmer"s main crops were millet, wheat, and barley. In the warmer, wetter south, farmers grew rice in flooded fields called paddies.
While a rich person"s house was often made of wood with a tiled roof, the poor made do with mud and straw. A sunken pit in the center of the house held a heating and cooking fire. Many built their houses partially underground to keep them warmer in the winter.
Workers did not have to worry about getting enough exercise. With few tools to help them with their chores, they did most jobs by hand or by foot. Some spent long hours pushing pedals which turned a large wheel that brought water up a wooden channel and into the fields.
As for clothing, women wore simple wool garments in winter and cotton in summer. They never wore silk. Peasant men wore baggy pants made of hemp with a loose cotton shirt. Both wore shoes made of straw. Once children were old enought to walk, they wore child-size versions of their parents" clothes.