The population of the Ascendancy are divided into a number of social “tiers”, with higher tier individuals and groups having greater freedom and autonomy, but with a greater expectation to contribute to the Ascendancy as a whole. Their society closely mimics the system of feudal patronage in the European Medieval Period on ancient Terra. The naming convention for the different tiers has a root in ancient Terran Confucian & Legalist philosophy and culture.
The lowest tier, the Gong, is occupied by the mass of humanity and vassal aliens that makes up the vast bulk of the population. Members of this tier are effectively serfs or proles - they live in relative poverty, and are expected to work hard for the majority of their lives. They have access to few comforts, are heavily taxed, constantly bombarded with propaganda and restricted from travelling to other worlds without authorization. People at this tier are thralls to the Noble Houses that control their colony or habitat.
Above this tier you have individuals with higher status who have made a name for themselves, called the Shi - effectively the “freemen” of the feudal model, typically those who have some degree of Ascendancy Reputation. Members of the Shi class can recruit and vouch for the lower classes, set up businesses, own starships, start ventures and move around the galaxy relatively easily. They are expected to contribute to the Ascendancy as a whole, and are often monitored closely by agents of the military and Noble Houses, but can enjoy moderate freedom, wealth and power. As they rise in prominence, these individuals usually become drawn into the webs of manipulation and intrigue of the Houses, which can make or break them. Although most people in this tier are human, members of vassal species who have proven their loyalty and distinguished themselves can gain the freedom and status of this tier.
Above this level you have the Junzi, the members of the lesser Noble Houses, who hold territory and larger business interests up to the scale of a few planets or star systems. They are powerful, and the “rules” are somewhat relaxed for them depending on how powerful they are and how much they can get away with. The lesser Houses are viciously competitive, their politics machiavellian and brutal. The Houses are hereditary, although prominent individuals can be adopted into them as long as they can prove some genetic connection with the survivors of Terra’s collapse in the ancient Sol System.
At the very top of Ascendancy society sit the Sheng, members of the Great Houses - the descendants of the ruling council of Sol. These Houses are all represented on the Council that rules the Ascendancy, issues diktats that must be followed and controls the vast might of the Ascendancy military machine. As you would expect, the Great Houses jostle continuously against each other for power and resources, and much of their time is spent on infighting and politicking.