Time for a bit history on China. This will make you understand the next chapters of Chu Wang Fei better. I tried to make a rough draft of the ranks in ancient China. The rank system is a bit complicated, because there are ranks in the ranks. This is a simplified version.

People need to bow to the ones above their ranks. People of the same ranks bow to each other or they don’t need to bow. Aside from the women of the emperor, all women follow the ranks of their husbands. So if their husband’s status is below a duke, they are also below a duke.

  1. Emperor: ranked above all, except the empress dowager.
  2. The imperial family: direct family members of the emperor. They have the eight privileges. These privileges were: red carriage wheels, purple horse reins, heated carriages, purple cushions, gemstone mandarin hat crests, two-eyed peacock feathers on mandarin hats, using leather whips to clear paths, and employing eunuchs. The Eight Privileges entitled the prince to participate in state councils and share in spoils. However, the prince was also bound to reside in the capital and render service to the imperial court.


  1. Taizi: the crown prince. Only under the emperor, the empress and the empress dowager. If a wangye is an uncle, thus the brother of the emperor then they are of the same rank. If a wangye is the taizi’s brother then he is higher than the wangye.
  2. Wangye/ Qinwang: Prince of the first rank. Usually the sons of the emperor. His oldest son from the official wife is called shizi. Their daughters are called Junzhu.
  3. Junwang: Prince of the second rank. Their daughters are called xianzu
  4. Beile: Prince of the third rank
  5. Beizi: Prince of the fourth rank

Female: they say an emperor’s harem has 3000 women.

  1. The empress dowager: higher in rank than everyone. Because she is the emperor’s mother, even the emperor needs to bow to her.
  2. The empress: only below the emperor and the empress dowager. Her children will most likely succeed the throne.
  3. Guifei: the noble conort
  4. Shufei: the decent consort
  5. Defei
  6. Xianfei
  7. And many more.

Female: aside from the emperor’s women there’s also the emperor’s daughters (gongzhu), the wife’s of the crown prince, their daughters and many more.

  1. Ranked third are the nobles, the officials and the military.

The nobles: Usually extended family of the imperial family. The title can be inherited.

  1. Gong: Duke
  2. Hou: Marquise
  3. Bo: Earl
  4. Zi: Viscount
  5. Nan: Baron

The officials: Position gained through imperial examination or through connections.

Position can’t be inherited. Officials work their way through the nine ranks (pin). 9 is the lowest and 1 is the highest. The nine ranks were further divided into two classes, a (zhèng 正) and b (cóng 從). Each class of ranks 4 through 9 was further divided into upper (shàng 上) and lower (xià 下) grades. There were thus 30 separate grades with the highest rank was thus designated 正一品 and the lowest (從九品下等). The specific offices held by government officials all had a corresponding rank in the 30 grade system.

  1. Zaixiang/xiangye: Prime minister/ Chancellor: During most reigns, there were one or more high-ranking officials who were the Emperor’s close advisors. They held of variety of official posts in the administrative hierarchy. There are two types of prime minister. The left and the right. The left is considered the senior one and the right is the junior one. The left is greater than the right.

A zaixiang is in the same rank as a duke and a marquise. An earl and under must bow to a zaixiang.

  1. After the zaixiang, there are six ministers of the same rank.
  • Minister of personnel: in charge of appointments, merit ratings, promotions, and demotions of officials, as well as granting of honorific titles
  • Minister of revenue: in charge of gathering census data, collecting taxes, and handling state revenues, while there were two offices of currency that were subordinate to it.
  • Minister of rites: in charge of state ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices; it also oversaw registers for Buddhist and Daoist priesthoods and even the reception of envoys from tributary states.
  • Minister of defense: in charge of the appointments, promotions, and demotions of military officers, the maintenance of military installations, equipment, and weapons, as well as the courier system. In war times, high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Defense were also responsible in providing strategies for commanding generals, and sometimes even serving as commanding generals themselves.
  • Minister of justice: in charge of judicial and penal processes, but had no supervisory role over the Censorate or the Grand Court of Revision.
  • Minister of works: in charge of government construction projects, hiring of artisans and laborers for temporary service, manufacturing government equipment, the maintenance of roads and canals, standardization of weights and measures, and the gathering of resources from the countryside.
  1. Each minister has a Vice minister. Each vice minister also has their own servants.

The military: Position gained through military exam or inherited.

  1. Unit commander: A commander was the military officer who headed entire military hierarchy and possessed supreme authority of command in the military. This was the top most rank in the ancient Chinese military hierarchy.
  2. Second in Command: This rank was assigned to the military officer who followed commander. This rank can also be considered as the deputy commander rank. The second in command was responsible for taking complete charge in the absence of commander and to assist commander in various operations.
  3. General or Jiangjun: The army general in ancient Chinese military hierarchy was the officer who was responsible for supervision and training of army officers. The general was the top most military rank of a division and was responsible for all the military operations of that division.
  4. Lieutenant General or TongJun: This rank was quite similar to the second in command rank, where Lieutenant general was responsible for assisting the general in leading the division of army and was responsible for taking charge as general in his absence.
  5. Colonel or Jinzhou: The colonel used to be the top most officer of a regiment and was responsible for the supervision, training and leading the military operations in the regiment.
  6. Lieutenant Colonel or JunFu: A lieutenant colonel was responsible for assisting the colonel in his activities pertaining to the regiment.
  7. Captain or Duizhu: A captain was the senior most officer of a company.
  8. Lieutenant or Duifu: A lieutenant was among the junior officers in the company. These officers were mainly responsible for fighting on the battlefield.
  9. Detachment Commander Chuangzhu : A detachment can be defined as the military unit that has been detached from major army sections for certain specific reasons. The officer leading a detachment unit was named as detachment officer.
  10. Garrison Commander or Shuzhu: A garrison commander in the ancient Chinese military hierarchy was the in charge of a certain military facility and was responsible for the day to day operations of that facility.
  1. Commoners
  2. Artisan: people who practice arts like courtesans and painters.
  3. Merchants
  4. Slaves: usually sold to rich families by their own family

Imperial examination: From that time, the system consisted of three levels of examinations that were repeated every three years. Passing the local examination earned the candidate the “degree” (or status) of shēngyuán 生員 (often rendered as “licentiate”). The next examination was taken either in the provincial capitals or the national capital and conferred the degree of jǔrén 舉人 (literally “raised person”). Finally, the jǔrén could take examinations in the capital. If they passed those, they would become jìnshì 進士 (“presented scholars”).

  1. Zhuangyuan (狀元, lit. “top thesis author”), the jinshi who ranked first overall nationwide.
  2. Bangyan (榜眼, lit. “eyes positioned alongside”), the jinshi who ranked second overall just below zhuangyuan.
  3. Tanhua (探花, lit. “flower snatcher”), the jinshi ranked third overall.

See also Ranks of the females of the imperial family