There were four major professions in ancient China. Those professions were scholars (which included doctors and warriors), farmers, artistians (artists and craftsmen), and merchants. Unlike most ancient cultures, farmers were not on the lowest level of the social scale.
- Scholars were at the top of the social scale for professions. They were envied because they had a right to ride in chariots and carry swords.
- Next came the farmers. Farmers were important. They grew the food. They were honored for their effort.
- Artists and craftsmen were admired for their skill.
- Merchants were at the bottom of the social scale in ancient China. Many merchants became rich. This angered some scholars and nobles. They wanted merchants to act and behave and live in a lowly fashion. For a while, there was a law that did not allow merchants to ride in chariots, even if they could afford to. But this softened with time. Merchants were never treated with respect, but under most dynasties in ancient times, they were allowed to live as they could afford.
Within these four categories, there were lots of jobs. You could be sworn to secrecy and become a silk maker. You could make yardstick length noodles. You could paint watercolors. You could become an architect, a doctor, a warrior, a musician, a dancer, a hat maker, a jeweler, an animal trainer, a fortune teller, a trader, or a Buddhist monk, to name a few. Most people were farmers. All people were paid for their work, in money, food, or goods.
During Tang times, government officials became almost a new social class. In Tang times, anyone could take the exam to become a government official. No longer were these jobs reserved for members of the royal family or the sons of nobles. Many young men came to the city on examination day, hoping to better themselves by passing this exam.