Family in Ancient China

In Ancient China, all members of the family lived together in one house. This included aunts, grandparents, uncles and cousins. The head of the household was the oldest man.


Marriages were arranged by the family in Ancient China. Fathers would choose who their daughters married. After they were married, the daughter would leave the family home, then they had to obey their mother-in-law and be their servant.

Women could only have one husband, even if their husband died. Men were allowed to have several wives.



Women were not equal to men at this time. They were only allowed to do housework, cook and prepare food. Women could do some jobs like spinning, sewing and weaving. It was preferred for women to give birth to sons because daughters were seen as a drain on society.

There were some exceptional women. One of them was Empress Wu. During her time women were slightly more respected. Another remarkable woman was Xi Shi.

Empress Wu

Family in Chinese philosophy

The philosopher Confucius wrote a lot about the Chinese family. He thought that Chinese families should be well structured and also that they are important for society in general. Confucius set some rules to makes sure there was order in the family and community.

Confucius outlined five main relationships that everybody should respect. The five principal relationships were:

1) ruler and subject

2) father and son

3) elder brother and younger brother

4) husband and wife

5) friend and friend

Confucius wrote that only the fifth relationship did not involve the power of one person over another. In all the other relationships, one person was more powerful than the other, according to Confucius.

Confucius placed great importance on family because it was seen as training for later in life. What you learnt at home would train you about how to live in society. The family was responsible for training a child to be a good member of society.


Chinese people were taught to respect their elders more than anything else. Elders meant anyone who was older than you.  From Ancient times in China, people worshipped their family who had passed away. These people were called ancestors.

Ancestor Veneration

These ancestors were worshipped a bit like gods. It was believed that ancestors turned into spirits who looked after families after they had died. There was a special festival called Qing Ming that was dedicated to worshipping ancestors.

Every house would have a shrine for their ancestors and would make offerings to those family members who had passed away. The ancestors protected the home.

Ancient China