The primary political and social development of the Zhou dynasty was the idea that the Emperor ruled with the Mandate of Heaven, a doctrine somewhat similar to the idea of divine right. The mandate stated that the emperor was the "son of heaven," and ruled so that harmony might be maintained between heaven and earth. If the Emperor failed to rule in such a way as to maintain harmony, the end result would be chaos and turmoil, in which case heavenly forces would select a new ruler.
Class distinction appeared early on in China and reflected itself in a number of ways. The main sign of distinction was the use of bronze for tools and utensils. It was so expensive that the poor could not use it, so the rich used it conspicuously to demonstrate their wealth, an early example of conspicuous consumption. The nobility's diet consisted of fish, mutton, even rabbit, while the poor ate only porridge made from millet or rice. At the bottom of the social totem pole were slaves, generally war captives who were condemned to hard labor and were occasionally used for human sacrifice at funerals.
The poor owned no land, and normally worked for the nobility. There was a middle class of artisans who engaged in trade in cities and towns. They sold jewelry, silk, and embroidered fabrics. Cowrie shells, which were imported, were used for money. There was apparently a large seafaring trade with Korea, with goods travelling by ship.There is evidence that there was trade between Zhou China and Malaysia and even Mesopotamia.