Feudalism and Ancient China: An Historical Argumentation

Ma, Florence
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Hawaii at Manoa
“The study of feudalism”, wrote H.A. Cronne, is not only a most difficult task but "is fatally easy to go astray not only at the outset, but at every step of the way."(1) Various meanings and usages have been attached to the word "feudal" and it has been widely misunderstood and misused, much to the frustration of scholars and to the confusion of the students. The origin and nature of feudalism is too often filled with misconceptions derived from a tendency to evaluate it on the basis of its evils associated with the fall of feudal institutions, and the definition of the term is often colored by social and political prejudices. Western European society, beginning with the tenth century, was considered as a type of feudal regime. But this period of Western history was also marked by profound disturbances and internal disintegration. France, for instance, was weak and ineffective under the representation of the Carolingians. The social and political anarchy of this period were often attributed to feudalism, thus making it the cause of the turmoil of the Middle Ages. Feudalism came under severe attack during the eighteenth century and the term came to explain the many abuses of the Ancien Regime of France. The term became the source of much heated debate although very few people knew its meaning. The Constituent Assembly of France, for instance, decided to abolish feudal rights but discovered that it did not know what they were and was unable to determine what the essential characteristics of feudalism were. Although the men of the Enlightenment, the philosophes, were not unanimous in the usages and meaning of the term, they seemed to agree that the word feudalism was more or less a synonym for the word bad. Philosophes such as Voltaire attacked feudalism as a system of inequality and exploitation. With the emergence of the physiocrats such as Adam Smith, feudalism became a system of production under which the workers were exploited. According to Smith, such a system will inevitably breed low production in the absence of incentives. Thus, feudalism came to represent an unproductive economy, in which the workers were miserable and exploited.
Access Rights
Email libraryada-l@lists.hawaii.edu if you need this content in ADA-compliant format.