The Buriat social system at the time of their incorporation into Russia was an intricate web of clan and feudal institutions. The ancient clan was called obokh. (Sometimes it is incorrectly referred to as okok or amag). The clan was divided by lineage ( yasa, yakha). Buriats had to know to which lineage they belonged. They also had to know their relatives by lineage nine times removed, as intermarriage was forbidden. Groups of families of the same lineage formed an ail. Several nomadic ail in one territory formed a hoshun, led by a chief ( zaisang). Several hoshun united as an aimag, a large administrative unit headed by a feudal ruler ( taisha). The term "ulus," as used by the Buriats, did not have the same meaning when used by the Mongols. For the Mongols, "ulus" meant the unification of several aimag, which they equated with a "state." But for the Buriats, the ulus was a clan territory, often designated by the name of the clan rulers. In Russian documents, such rulers were called "princes" ( knjaztsy). The later meaning the Buriats had for the term ulus was simply a locality or settlement where several extended or nuclear families of different clans lived. Sometimes only one family group ( hoton ) lived in such an ulus.
In 1822 the Russian administration issued a decree on governing the non-Russian peoples of Siberia, dividing them into settlers, nomadic settlers, and nomads. Nomadic Buriats were governed by their clan leaders and feudal lords, retaining their previous ranks as taisha, zaisang, naion, shulenga, and others. Criminal occurrences within the bounds of Buriat nomadic settlements were subject to traditional common laws.