The Structure and Form of Shang and Zhou Clan Organizations

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No. 4, 2022


The Structure and Form of Shang and Zhou Clan Organizations



Chen Jie and Tian Qiumian


The key to discussing the structure of Shang and Zhou clan organizations lies in the analysis of the relationship between sub-clans (yazu or fenzu), xiaozi clan families (xiaozi shijia) and the royal clan. The sub-clan was an independent kinship group, with its own place of residence, graveyard, financial resources, and independent ritual system, in which the clan name was the symbol of clan identity. Such clan organizations accepted little control from above. The xiaozi clan family was a clan organization headed by a xiaozi, possessing private property and land. As the basic economic unit of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, it was independent in terms of living but lacked ritual rights and had no independent clan name, so was an integral part of the clan organization. This was the essential difference between the xiaozi clan family and the sub-clan. When a xiaozi gained an official position and enough land, it became possible for him to establish a sub-clan. Shang and Zhou clan organizations were composed of the zi, the xiaozi and their respective family members, with internal structures that were simple and fixed. The clan organization in a broader sense also included the sub-clans that emerged from within the royal clan. In the Zhou dynasty, the concept of clan broadened, to the extent that people with the same surname were considered one clan, but these kinship organizations did not have a substantive existence. With the expansion of the coverage of clans, their social function decreased.