Society in China experienced great change over the nearly 3 centuries of Qing rule. The population exploded, growing from 150 million in 1700 to perhaps around 350 million (estimates vary) in the mid-19th century.

Most people continued to engage in agriculture, but economic prosperity also increased the size of the urban population, thanks in part to the expansion of regional trade. This led to more people having leisure time for popular cultural pursuits, such as literature, drama, music and painting. A booming book industry catered for these interests.