Scholar-officials of China (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004, October)
Beginning about the fourth century B.C., ancient texts describe Chinese society as divided into four classes: the scholar elite, the landowners and farmers, the craftsmen and artisans, and the merchants and tradesmen. Under imperial rule, the scholar elite, whose exemplar was Confucius, directed the moral education of the people; the farmers produced food; the craftsmen made things that were useful; and the merchants promoted luxury goods. Because in theory the Confucian elite advocated simple rural values as opposed to a taste for luxury (which they viewed as superfluous, leading to moral degeneration), the merchants who sold for profit, adding nothing of value to society, ranked low on the social scale (though, in reality, economic success had its obvious advantages). Read through this article to learn more about the scholar elite.