From my understanding of the Qing Dynasty (and a few more dyansties before it as well), the Empire (under the Emperor) owned all land. Power and responsibilities were delegated to state elected bureaucrats who control either a geographic region or an aspect of government. (pretty much like modern day governors and secretaries).

From my knowledge, there were no fiefdoms, nobles, warrior-lords (knights), nor exchange of land for protection deals between the multiple layers of government.

The Qing Dynasty seems more like a monarchical federalist bureaucracy than feudalism. Why is it still considered the feudalistic era of Chinese history?

In fact I feel like Qing Dynasty's system of government management is almost as far from feudalism as you can get.

3 Answers 3


Could you please provide example of where Qing China is called "feudal"?

Most likely, it was a common (not historian) usage, or an abuse of the term.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Outside a European context, the concept of feudalism is normally used only by analogy (called semi-feudal), most often in discussions of Japan under the shoguns, and sometimes medieval and Gondarine Ethiopia.

However, some have taken the feudalism analogy further, seeing it in places as diverse as ancient Egypt, the Parthian empire, the Indian subcontinent, and the antebellum American South.

The term feudalism has also been applied—often inappropriately or pejoratively—to non-Western societies where institutions and attitudes similar to those of medieval Europe are perceived to prevail.

Some historians and political theorists (E.g. Elizabeth Brown) believe that the many ways the term feudalism has been used has deprived it of specific meaning, leading them to reject it as a useful concept for understanding society.

The above assertion is repeated in a Wiki article on the examples of feudalism.

In People's Republic of China, official views of history are based on Marxism, and attempts have thus been made to describe Chinese historical periods in Marxist terminology[citation needed]. Chinese history from the Zhou Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty is thus described as the 'feudal period'. In order to do this, new concepts have to be invented such as "bureaucratic feudalism", which most Western historians would consider a contradiction in terms.

As a result of this Marxist definition, feudal, as used in a Chinese context, is commonly a pejorative term meaning 'old unscientific'. This usage is common among both academic and popular writers from Mainland China, even those who are anti-Marxist. The use of the term feudal to describe a period in Chinese history was also common among Western historians of China of the 1950s and 1960s, but became increasingly rare after the 1970s. The current prevailing consensus among Western historians is that using the term 'feudal' to describe Chinese history confuses more than it clarifies, as it assumes strong commonalities between Chinese and European history that may not exist after the Qin Dynasty.

The proper "feudal" period in China should be the period from the Zhou Dynasty 周 to Qin Dynasty 秦 (1122 BC—256 BC) by which time the state of Qin 秦国 had conquered all other states and established the empire.

Please note that the above statements are un-cited on Wiki; but they fully match with the way history was taught in USSR, where any period in any country preceding Capitalist system was called "feudal" - basically meaning "medieval, pre-capitalist in Marxist interpretation of history".

I was able to find the following reference:

"China and Historical Capitalism: Genealogies of Sinological Knowledge" by Timothy Brook, Gregory Blue, Cambridge University Press, Sep 5, 2002

(Can't copy/paste the quote from Google Books, so just follow the link and read page 139)

  • That makes a lot of sense. I mostly heard of imperial china being called feudalistic from a Marxist perspective. It was the stuff people took for granted when I lived in China. After thinking about the subject a bit more I realize that the imperial chinese government is almost as unfeudalistic as a monarchy can get. Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 2:54
  • In David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series of novels that presuppose a near-future earth dominated by China there is talk of the late-20th-century Ko Ming dynasty (as in Communist Party :)
    – Drux
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 9:44

While it is not that similar to a classic medieval feudalism of Europe, it still is bearing a striking similarity to European absolutism.

Absolutism is characterized by rise of state bureaucracy, rise of professional armies, appointed officials ruling the territories rather than hereditary nobles, extensive codified laws.

The timeline of Qing Dynasty also exactly coincides with absolutism of Europe, that is 16 century - beginning of 20th century. Similar forms of government occurred during the same period for example in England, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia.

  • Cool, that's what I thought as well. The Qing Dynasty, and several before it as well showed a lot of centralization of power. All delegations were under the direct authority of the Emperor, and reported to the Emperor in a purely subordinate-leader relationship. At least that's how it was set up. As far as time periods go, I feel like China developed absolutism as early as the very first dynastic Empire created by Qin Shi Huang. Am I mistaken? Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 20:36

The Chinese Revolution of 1911 was the equivalent of the French Revolution (of 1789). Both were directed against "archaic" monarchial structures considered "feudalistic."

That was not technically true in either case. But both monarchies contained "traces" of feudal practice that were the object of scorn.

To take just one example, one of the targets of the French Revolution was to eliminate the droit de seigneur, basically the right of a nobleman to sleep with any woman living on his lands.


The Qing dynasty had a similar institution called "concubinage," the right of rich men to have concubines, or multiple wives. It was practices like these that caused people to consider these monarchies "feudal."

  • 1
    Concubinage is rather different from the droit de seigneur. Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 15:02
  • 3
    I thought droit du seigneur didn't actually exist. Am I missing something?
    – Anubhav C
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 17:07
  • No it doesn't really exist at that time en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droit_du_seigneur. Now it exists and practiced freely by nobel studs while hapless middle class males are taxed to support countless of their children. The studs don't really force the women. However, they use their awesome noble power called voting to pretty much block most legitimate competitors, called johns, from women's mating choice.
    – user4951
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 13:26

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