Shang Dynasty — Empire of Bronze Age and Oracle Bones
Restoration Map of Palace of the Shang Dynasty
What is Shang Dynasty?
Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC) was the first kingdom in Chinese history that was directly documented by words, which had developed exquisite bronze wares and jade articles.
In about 554 years of the Shang Dynasty, about 31 kings had reigned the empire.
Jade Figurine Wearing A Phoenix Crown of the Shang Dynasty — National Museum of China
Facts about the Shang Dynasty
The inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty, which were excavated in the early 20th century, documented many of their important events and divination activities.
From that time on, all Chinese history has been documented, clearly and continuously.
Inscriptions on Bones or Tortoise Shells of the Shang Dynasty
Divination was an important belief for people of the Shang Dynasty; most of the oracle bone inscriptions were about the noble’s diving activities.
Witchcraft, ghost, supernatural worship was the dominant ideology during this period.
Human Sacrifice was quite popular, most of whom were prisoners of war.
It dramatically decreased in the late Shang Dynasty, when the theocracy was strongly challenged by some monarchs, like King Wu Yi.
Bronze wares were well developed and used in people’s daily lives.
Ceremonial Bronze Cooking Utensils (Ding) of the Shang Dynasty Decorated with Mythical Animals' Patterns — Jiangxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Shang Empire had changed its capital city seven times; it was finally settled after King Pan Geng chose and decided to move to Yin (the relic site of Yin is now in the Anyang City of Henan Province in China), a city with good political and military values.
There are some other civilizations in other places in China during this period, like the Sanxingdui Ruins (http://www.sxd.cn/en/) and Tanheli Relic Sites.
The first female general Fu Hao/Zi in Chinese history was from the Shang Dynasty; her well-preserved grave now has been excavated.
Jade wares were quite popular in people's lives, from grand sacrificial ceremonies to accessories.
Unearthed Jade Wares of the Shang Dynasty — National Museum of China, Shanghai Museum, The Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, etc.
Brief History of the Rise and Fall of Shang Dynasty
Origin and Bird Totem of the Shang Clan
More than 4000 years ago, a colorful swallow flew to a young woman and laid an egg in front of her; she got pregnant after eating that egg, and then gave birth to a baby boy named Xie.
After this boy grew up, he had assisted Yu the Great defended the Great Flood and made remarkable contributions. Consequently, Xie was rewarded his feudatory state by King Shun, and named this clan Shang.
Xie was an excellent monarch with advanced skills in astronomy and agriculture, so his state kept expanding under his ruling.
The following Lords of Shang invented carriages and ox carts, which allowed them to develop the bartering business and accumulate property.
As a dependent state, Shang respected the kings of the Xia Dynasty as the most honorable monarch and kept paying tributes.
Unearthed Owl Shaped Bronze Wine Vessel (Xiao You) — Shanxi Museum
Establishment of the Shang Empire
Then an all-mighty, slave-born minister named Yi Yin made a connection with the queen of King Si Jie and got much useful information about the Xia Empire.
Lord Tang and Yi Yin together, defeated states that were still loyal to Xia, and then won the final war against King Si Jie.
The Shang Dynasty was established after the final success.
Unearthed Dragon Shaped Turquoise Artifact of the Shang Dynasty — Harvard Art Museums (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Development and Flourishing of the Shang Dynasty
Because of bad weather, and political conflicts among the ruling class, the Shang Empire kept moving their capital city, until King Pan Geng settled in the City Yin and finished those endless conflicts.
Since then, the Shang had stepped into the chapter of prosperity.
When the crown came to King Wu Ding, a remarkable monarch, the kingdom reached to peak.
His queen was the Lady Fu Hao/Zi, the first female marshal in Chinese history, who had achieved glorious military successes. Her mausoleum now was discovered; those amazing relics are telling her great life and exciting stories.
This couple led their people and defeated invasive enemies, and largely expanded their territory.
Unearthed Bronze Weapons (Yue) of the Shang Dynasty — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Controversial Last King and Ending of the Shang Dynasty
Decades later, a controversial monarch, King Wu Yi, ascended to the throne. He was an Atheist who kept challenging the Theocracy, which was unacceptable at that time. People considered him crazy, while more states started to rebel against the Kingdom Shang.
The last King of the Shang Dynasty was Di Xin, who was considered quite controversial.
He was ambitious and smart, who had largely extended Shang's realm eastward and southward.
Bronze Softshell Turtle With Four Arrows on Back that Recorded King Di Xin's Archery Etiquette — National Museum of China
Inscriptions on it noted that King Di Xin shot four arrows on a large softshell turtle accurately, and rewarded it to an historiographer.
However, those expansion wars also caused serious losses within his kingdom, as well as rebellions and betrayals.
A strong state named Zhou, one day, attacked King Di Xin’s capital city. After intensive fights, the king failed, and his loyal soldiers were all sacrificed.
Di Xin, the last king of the Shang Dynasty, then, wore all of his precious jewelry and clothes and burnt himself in his favorite fancy palace.
After the Shang Dynasty was ended, some of their people refused to surrender and moved northward far away; others stayed and were given lands that were ruled by Shang's complied nobles.
Unearthed Jade Figures of the Shang Dynasty — National Museum of China
Political Structure and Social Systems of the Shang Dynasty
About 5 million to 10 million.
Specialized officers were assigned to be in charge of sacrifice and worship ceremony, historic documentation, military activity, divination, astrology, law and judiciary, horse and chariot, education, tax, agriculture and livestock, business, and industry, wine, ceremony, and etiquettes, music, etc.
Official Selection System:
People should help the cultivation of some public farmlands, which were belonged to the royals.
Shell Currency of the Shang Dynasty
Everyone in the kingdom had the obligation to fight in their army and protect their family.
The nobles and civilians could serve as warriors, while slaves were only allowed to do miscellaneous affairs.
King of Shang was the supreme military commander, sometimes the king also led his army and fought in battles.
All farmland belonged to the Kings of Shang; peasants could cultivate land in local communities.
Unearthed Bronze Dart Head of Fishing Tools of the Shang Dynasty — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Scientific Achievements and Artifacts of Shang Dynasty
Application of the Decimal System and the Four Fundamental Operations of Arithmetic.
Formed an advanced calendar system that considered movements of the sun and the moon, and added an intercalary month every a few years to adjust and balance day numbers of each year.
Starting with freshwater fish farming.
The specialized handicraft industry led to the development of business and pedlar.
Gallery of Exquisite Unearthed Bronze Wares of the Shang Dynasty (Photo by Dongmaiying)