Ancient China for Kids
In ancient China, some people were born in slavery because their mother was slave. Others were sold into slavery, perhaps to pay a debt. During the Qin Dynasty, captured people were made into slaves.
Slavery in ancient China was not a pleasant experience. The lives of slaves were filled with hardship. Many were abused. Many slaves were children.
Most people who were slaves worked in the fields, alongside of peasants. They did the same job, and had the same hours, and pretty much the same clothing and food, as free farmers. But they were not treated with the same respect given to farmers. Some slaves built roads. Some worked in government.
But slaves who worked for the emperor, the royal family, and sometimes the nobles, had the worst of it. They could only do what they were told to do. They were treated in any way that their master and his family felt like treating them. Many were treated with great cruelty. When their master died, they were killed, and buried with their master in his tomb, so they could continue to serve their master after his death.
The slave society in China started in very ancient times, and continued up until the Qin Dynasty. Qin did not do away with slavery, but rather the reverse. First Emperor Qin was more ruthless than any other master. Qin was so ruthless in his treatment of slaves, that after the Qin Dynasty was overthrown, the concept of slavery in the Han Dynasty was not nearly as popular or as cruel as it once was in other dynasties. The Tang Dynasty tried to discourage slavery; slavery was reduced during this family's rule. But slavery rose in popularity again when this family's rule was over.
Over the centuries, since the Qin Dynasty, other Chinese emperors have attempted to control or do away entirely with slavery. The Ming Dynasty, for example, made slavery illegal. Still, some people in ancient China continued to have slaves. Even today, although slavery is illegal in China, slavery continues in remote regions. Forced child labor continues. The government of modern day China is working to correct this very serious problem.