23. China's warrior officials: the shih & the ju

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Warrior officials, the shih

Before leaving this section, let us discuss the social structure of the Western Chou.

Ruling class

On top were the shih, warrior officials. In the middle were the artists, craftsmen and traders and at the bottom were the agricultural laborers, the farmers.

“The ruling class [of the Western Chou], collectively called shih  (warrior-officials) consisted of the original conquerors, submissive Shang aristocrats and local chieftains, and their descendants. Their sense of unity was strengthened by intermarriage, so that all considered themselves members of a vast dispersed family of which the king was head. …Artisans and traders were few; they resided in the garrison towns as retainers catering to the needs of the elite. The common masses were serfs bound to the land on manorial estates from which the ruling class drew its revenues.”1

The ruling class consisted of warriors. We remember them in connection with the chariot training of the Shang. With the militaristic Bronze Age, the warrior king upon his bronze chariot became the primary ruler of large centralized political organizations. Riding a chariot demands rigorous martial training and primarily to do with waging war. The warrior-ruler trained his sons in the military talents so that they could maintain their political power. Over generations a military aristocracy comprised of trained warriors emerged.2 The shih were the warrior aristocracy of China. They were like the knights of Europe in that they were trained for both battle and leadership.

Shih trained in Chinese culture

There was one major difference. While the knights of Europe were only trained for battle and leadership, the shih of China were also trained in Chinese imperial culture.

“Supported by their subjects, the shih devoted themselves to a non-laboring, increasingly cultured life, cultivating such elite arts as charioteering, archery, ritual, music and literature.”3

Shih needed to know rituals to rule

Initially the shih were the ‘real’ men, the toughened warriors. However even these ‘real’ men had to learn the elaborate rituals of the Shang in order to survive by paying proper respect to the imperial dynasty. Furthermore these rituals were important in appeasing their ancestors, who put them in power and helped to keep them in power. As such, the Shang warriors had to be sophisticated enough to know the proper rituals.

Monkey, Piggy, and Monster’s ignorance of rituals funny

 One reason that Monkey, Piggy, and Monster are so funny to the Chinese reader is that they don’t know any of the rituals. Tripitaka, who knows all the rituals, is constantly apologizing for his companions, saying that they are quite useful in spite of their ignorance of proper ritual behavior. The humor is based upon the ritualized Chinese social structure. The humor is especially foreign to Americans with their lack of ritual.

The Literati, the ju

Writing necessary to organize government

Writing developed in the later centuries of the Imperial Shang dynasty. According to the I Ching, the reason writing was developed was to organize and administer to the masses. The warrior-rulers became literate in order to rule. By the later Shang, the sons of the rulers needed to be trained as warriors, trained in the rituals or ceremonies, and educated to be literate.

To rule shih must be literate warriors

In most Western cultures a separate class of scribes unassociated with war were trained to be literate. Hence the scribes of the west eventually evolved into computer geeks, while the warriors evolved into sports jocks. In China, the military and the literate were not isolated in different classes. Instead the males of the ruling shih class were trained to be both warriors and literate.

The ju, shih who cultivate Chinese culture

Over the centuries, Chinese culture became an important component of leadership. Presumably during the Western Chou period, a group of shih also began cultivating music, and numbers as parts of their talents. Furthermore Chinese calligraphy and painting have the same ideogram because of the intimate connection between the two. Many of these warrior officials also began to cultivate painting. These shih, who cultivated all these talents of Chinese culture, were called ju. The ju stressed the need to cultivate Chinese culture alongside of rituals and warrior training.

The ju, literati with warrior training

Initially ju meant weakling. Possibly the real men of the warrior class called them this in a pejorative fashion because these ju were emphasizing culture at the expense of war and battle. One translation of ju is ‘literati’. While literati captures their cultured side, the ju, although called weaklings, never gave up their warrior training. Indeed the ju school stressed 6 necessary elements to become a proper Chinese gentleman. They were the archery and charioteering of warrior training, the ceremonies and literacy of political power, and the music and science of Chinese culture.

The 6 'talents' of the warrior officials/shih serve multiple functions.


The 6 talents of the Chinese warrior officials/shih had several components. First, they had the practical value in leadership, already mentioned. Second, they separated rulers from barbarians. Third, these ‘virtues’ preserved Chinese imperial culture. Fourth, they created a balanced individual.

Differentiation between ruling class and peasantry

In every culture the aristocracy develops ritual and talents that will distinguish them from the peasantry. This was also true in China. These 6 talents were distinctly aristocratic. Initially it was even forbidden to teach the ceremonies to the peasantry. The rituals were reserved for the aristocracy.

Preserves Chinese culture

In earlier sections, we pointed out that preservation of species is a more powerful instinct than self-preservation. Further, we showed how an individual tends to transfer this intense species-preservation urge to cultural preservation. Cultivating the 6 talents of the military aristocracy had the function of preserving Chinese Imperial culture beyond the individual that made it up. It was an effective way for the culture to preserve itself.

The Balanced Individual

As always, the Chinese cultivated balance. Perhaps the harsh Siberian winters, or maybe the charioteering, encouraged this devotion to balance. The 6 virtues of the ju balanced the individual physically, politically, and culturally. The intention of the ju was to create well-rounded shih/warriors with balanced personalities. Specialization was not the focus of the ruling class. Balance became a dominant cultural theme in later centuries.

Warriors become officials during the Chou

Feudalism of the Chou turns the warrior into an official

Shih is translated as warrior-official. During the Shang dynasty, the neighboring provinces that surrounded the imperial government were semi-autonomous political structures. During the Chou dynasty, the Duke of Chou set up a much more integrated social structure based upon feudal obligations. Initially, the Duke of Chou appointed his warrior friends to administer these bordering provinces. At this point, these ruling shih were not only warriors; they were now officials of the Imperial government. These administrative provinces became hereditary for the ensuing generations.

Responsibility of leadership to rule well

Partly because of the Duke of Chou and partly because of Chinese tradition, these officials had an obligation to their subjects to rule well. Part of the ability to rule well was based upon their personal balance and control. Just as the charioteer ruled the battlefield through his personal balance, so did these officials earn their right to rule through their personal balance. Thus the virtues cultivated by the ju were in part to create a civilized, cultured Chinese individual suited for leadership.


1 China to 1850, Charles O. Hucker, p.36, 1978

2 In Europe the concept of a warrior-king existed through the 15th century. During the 100 years war between England and France, the King of France was captured leading his troops into battle. The King was ransomed for so much money that henceforth the King became a protected commodity, not a warrior. Cervantes in the early 1600s spoofs the outmoded concept of knights with his character of Don Quixote.

3 China to 1850, Charles O. Hucker, p.36, 1978


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