part of the ruling class in feudal China, roughly equivalent to the English gentry.

The shen-shih were persons who had passed the examinations for an academic degree, which gave them the right to hold official posts at the local and national levels. They supplied the personnel for all levels of the state bureaucracy and for the landowners’ local organs of self-government and served as guardians of the official Confucian ideology and traditions; in addition, they directed the rural schools and local courts.

The shen-shih did not have to pay the poll tax, were exempt from military service, were not subject to corporal punishment, and wore a special costume.

The shen-shih estate developed between the second century B.C. and the tenth century A.D., during which period the examination system for filling most government posts took form. After the system was done away with in 1905, the term shen-shih was used to designate part of the ruling class in the countryside. With the victory of the revolution in 1949, the shen-shih estate was abolished.


Ho Ping-ti. The Ladder of Success in Imperial China: Aspects of Social Mobility, 1368–1911. New York-London, 1962.
Chang Chung-li. The Income of the Chinese Gentry. Seattle, Wash., 1962.