Considering that the Samurai class had its distant roots in Chinese political structure, did China or Korea have a similar warrior class?

  • 1
    When you say warrior class, do you mean a social class similar to that of that Samurai, people with similar abilities to the samurai, both, or something else? Nov 27, 2012 at 23:43
  • @ReliableSource Any and all of that. Nov 28, 2012 at 5:18
  • Chinese wuxia (武侠) fiction and movies are (partly) relevant here: "Typically, the heroes in Chinese wuxia fiction do not serve a lord, wield military power or belong to the aristocratic class. They are often from the lower social classes of ancient Chinese society ... The Chinese xia traditions can be contrasted with martial codes from other countries, such as the Japanese samurai's bushido tradition, the chivalry of medieval European knights and the gunslingers of America's Westerns."
    – Drux
    Jan 21, 2013 at 9:03
  • Did China have a warrior class? Yes absolutely. I don't know about Korea, but I have no doubt. How are we defining warrior class? Professional standing warriors? Do we include a code of conduct (bushido?) do we include the extraordinary fealty of the Samurai? Their political status?
    – MCW
    Jun 11, 2014 at 13:53
  • How do you define "equivalent"?
    – MCW
    Jun 11, 2014 at 14:56

8 Answers 8


In China, there were warriors similar to ronin - the xia. As a link, I found only those regarding their philosophy or literature about them. GURPS Martial Arts (it's no solid historical work and I didn't manage to find any better source) states they were more like Robin Hood than Lancelot - they were not upper class like samurai.

Korean Hwarang are approximation of Samurai from the other side - they were upper class young men probably serving as warriors, but it's not their defining feature. In GURPS Martial Arts they are presented as very similar to Samurai, but when I consider what is written in Wikipedia, it might be just a myth.


There is a Chinese saying (in pinyin), "Hao tie bu da ding, hao ren bu dang bing." (Good iron is not used to make nails. Good men do not become soldiers.)

For most of Chinese history, soldiers were vilified, rather than honored. Hence, they would not generally be regarded as members of the upper class, which was occupied by landowners and philosophers.

Most of Korea, whose culture is more similar to China's than Japan's felt much the same way.

  • I wonder if this is not a bit of an overstatement. E.g. Jonathan D. Spence in Treason by the Book introduces 18th-century General Yue Zongqi. He was governor-general of Shaanxi and one of the few officials with direct access to the Emperor. While I cannot recall a specific name right now, I also seem to remember that some senior officers styled themselves as philosophers e.g. after having succeeded in imperial examinations in their youths.
    – Drux
    Jan 20, 2013 at 21:24
  • @Drux: I said that this proverb held for MOST of Chinese history. Naturally, there were occasional exceptions, but these did not lead to the establishment of a "samurai" class. Also, your "exceptions" have the effect of "proving the rule." That is, men who passed the examinations for philosophers who were also military men were honored. But most soldiers can't do this.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 20, 2013 at 21:29
  • Alright, fair enough.
    – Drux
    Jan 20, 2013 at 22:20
  • I don't have it handy, but Scott Rodell's book on Chinese Swordsmanship asserts that the height of martial virtue occurred earlier in China, and the warrior philosopher was obsoleted by masses of unskilled peasants with cheap weapons. This may help to explain the quote - as you point out the perception of martial virtue changed over time.
    – MCW
    Jun 11, 2014 at 18:01

Korea had a Yangban class which might be compared with samurai status but was closer to the Chinese scholarly ruling class. Most historians hold that the scholar class achieved power in China (or Chinese dynasties of whatever race, except perhaps the Mongol Yuan one) while the warrior class gained power in Japan. During the late 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, this warrior class became a scholarly administrative class, or at the lower level a parasite class who lived off peasants' labour through small stipends from their clan lords. A few clans, notably, Satsuma, allowed samurai to also engage in horticulture, but they were the exception rather than the rule.


Before China was unified there was a warrior class(mostly noblemen), until the warlords realized that they could hire peasants with a cheap price and give them cheap weapons to expand their army. After that, most noblemen became scholars or military commanders, because of the change in the tactics of warfare(the ceasing of chariot warfare and agreed warfare,and the start of surprise attack which were considered treacherous by the noble warrior class but was promoted by Sun Tzu and so on.)

  • 1
    When did this shift in tactics happen? Jul 30, 2016 at 9:13

In Korea (gojoseon goguryeo baekje shila Balhae goryeo joseon etc) you were either commoner, slave, yangban (rich gentlemen class?), scholar, or a warrior called Muin or Musa. 2 of the ways of getting a government position were to become a scholar or a muin thru tests.

A warrior class like the ninja came about because commoners wanted to fight upper class. There wasn't really a situation like this in Korea. Those who wanted to fight became musa and just killed or simply payed back. But there was "Gaema Budae", "Gemma Squad" or Chulgap busae. These were squads of warriors who were fully armored in the strongest metal armor and even their horses were fully armored.

Chulgap was made with small plates of metal about inch x 2 inch large that were stitched together like fish scales. This made the armor lot more flexible unlike plate armors used by rest of the world, it was very light like leather but stronger than plate armors. Armors made with plates like used in china and rest of the world can be pierced by strong Metal tip arrow but chulgap was nearly impossible. All goguryeo armors were made in fish scale style. Later other parts of world did the same.

Studies found out Korea was first to use this style of advanced armors which were one of lightest and strongest. Also their shoes were embedded with spikes on the bottom to kick and stab enemies who were too close while fighting on horse. This was also found to be first invented in Korea. Yes there were other armies who were fully armored head to toe in other parts of world but not like goguryeo. Also GGR was one of if not the first to fully armor their horses since the bc times.

There were monks who learned to fight (like Shaolin) but studied secret Korean martial arts strictly for quickest killing silent as possible. They had the simplest armor that only covered the most vital area to increase their speed. One way their were called were JoEuiSunIn. When country was in trouble they worked as mercenaries. They weren't part of any body of government nor any army but them selves. They would sneak into enemy territories and burn their supplies and murder the leaders.

In Korea warrior classes were more separated by style of martial arts they studied than creating whole new class like Japan. There were many more martial arts in Korea than just tae kwon do hapkido taekyun etc.

  • 1
    This answer would be improved by sources.
    – MCW
    Oct 13, 2016 at 15:22
  • There were also hints that samurai began when gods came to japan. Around same time baekje n goguryeo was defeated by shilla and many warriors escaped to wei(japan) n china. There were hints that the "warrior gods" were baekje or goguryeo warriors but wei depicted them as gods. Back than koreans were larger than wei people who were about 5 ft tall average vs 5ft 6 and larger krns. Samurai seems to have come from Sanai which means Man in korean. There are parts of japan that hosts ceremonies for baekje royals n call them gods n sing baekje songs. Japans emperor told the world hes decendent of BJ
    – sdotanon
    Oct 13, 2016 at 15:26
  • Discussion of gods and mythology is out of scope for H:SE
    – MCW
    Oct 13, 2016 at 15:27

Not a myth, a fact. For 1800 years in the Silla kingdom, aka Slusa, they pre-date samurai. By the examples I've seen in writings, their armor looks as if the samurai copied them. In fact, they have code of 5 rules of conduct governing them from Buddhist and historical archives.

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    Are there sources and references for this?
    – Marakai
    May 23, 2016 at 3:25

The Qing Dynasty were not truly "Han" so while I would not call them Samurai in the sense of a "way of being" to say they weren't militaristic would be an understatement. You would have to do your research on this matter to devise your own conclusions. The only thing I recall is that the "Manchu's" had a highly advanced form of communication that allowed them to move truly massive Armies over great distances. They weren't considered to be "warrior like" upon ruling the entirety of what we would call Modern China today...but I believe besides being the last Dynasty they also ruled the longest.


of course for example, jinyiwei or dongchang,secret polices of Ming. everything you see from Japan or Korea were from China, ninja is just Japanese version of China Wuxing Taoists.

  • 4
    Assertions without evidence, and without a framework to permit evaluation of their validity.
    – MCW
    Jun 11, 2014 at 14:28

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