Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shang Dynasty

Shang Dynasty is considered by most to be the first true dynasty of China. Like the Xia, the Shang were originally considered to be a myth. They were discovered because Chinese phamacists were selling oracle bones the Shang had created; the parmacists sold the bones as dragon bones. The bones were first noticed in 1899 and by the 1920’s were traced to Anyang, where the last Shang capital was found and excavated. Excavations were halted in 1937, when Japan attacked China. In the 1950’s an earlier Shang capital was found near present day Zhengzhou. Traditional Chinese history indicates that the Shang Dynasty consisted of 30 kings and seven different, successive, capitals. The Zhou, the dynasty that followed the Shang, are responsible for the recordings of the kings and capitals of the Shang Dynasty.

The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was the second historic Chinese dynasty and ruled in the northeastern region of the area known as "China proper", in the Yellow River valley. The Shāng Dynasty followed the possibly mythical and preceded the . Information about the Shang Dynasty comes from historical records of the later Zhou Dynasty, the Han Dynasty ''Shiji'' by Sima Qian and from Shang inscriptions on bronze artifacts and oracle bones—turtle shells, cattle scapulae or other bones on which were written the first significant corpus of recorded Chinese characters.

These divinations can be gleaned for information on the politics, economy, culture, religion, geography, astronomy, calendar, art and medicine of the period, and as such provide critical insight into the early stages of the Chinese civilization. One site of the Shang capitals, later historically called the , is near modern day Anyang . Archaeological work there uncovered 11 major Yin royal tombs and the foundations of palace and ritual sites, containing weapons of war and human as well as animal sacrifices. Tens of thousands of bronze, jade, stone, bone and ceramic artifacts have been obtained; the workmanship on the bronzes attests to a high level of civilization. In terms of inscribed oracle bones alone, more than 20,000 were discovered in the initial scientific excavations in the 1920s to 1930s, and over four times more have since been found.


Archaeological discovery

During the Song Dynasty , scholar-bureaucrats and the became avid antiquarians and collectors of ancient artwork, some claiming to have found Shang Dynasty era bronze vessels with written inscriptions. Despite this, archeologists of the 19th century knew of written records and historical documentations spanning only as far back as the Zhou Dynasty . In 1899, it was found that Chinese pharmacists were selling "" marked with curious and archaic characters. These were finally traced back in 1928 to a site near Anyang in the Yellow River valley, modern Henan province, where the began an archeological excavation. Work at the site was halted during the Japanese invasion in 1937, but by 1950 a Shang capital had been discovered near Zhengzhou.

At the excavated royal palace of Yinxu, there were large stone pillar bases found along with rammed earth foundations and platforms "as hard as cement" as Fairbank asserts, which originally supported 53 buildings of wooden construction. In close proximity to the main palatial complex, there were pits used for storage, service quarters, and housing quarters. The remnants of the rammed earth walls at Zhengzhou are determined to have risen in height, and formed a roughly rectangular wall around the ancient city. Construction of these rammed earth walls was actually an inherited tradition by the Shang civilization, since much older rammed earth fortifications were found at Chinese Neolithic sites of the Longshan culture . In 1959, the site of the Erlitou culture was found in Yanshi, south of the Yellow River near Luoyang; their culture is often associated with the legendary Xia Dynasty that preceded the Shang. They also had large palaces that also suggested the existence of a dynastic kingdom preceding the Shang. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the Erlitou culture flourished ca. 2100 BC to 1800 BC.

 as obtained from the seacoast were also excavated from Anyang, suggesting the Shang were somewhat of a maritime people. Neolithic sites one hundred miles off of mainland China's southern coasts of Fujian — on the island of Taiwan — are dated as far back as 4000 BC. However, there was very limited sea trade in ancient China, since China was isolated from other large civilizations during the Shang period. Trade relations and diplomatic ties via the Silk Road and Chinese ventures to the Indian Ocean to reach other formidable empires did not exist until the reign of during the Han Dynasty .

Many of the Shang tombs had been tunneled into and ravaged by of ancient times. In the spring of 1976, at Yinxu revealed a tomb that was undisturbed and one of the most lavished Shang tombs that archaeologists had yet come across. With over 200 bronze ritual vessels and 109 inscriptions of Lady Fu Hao's name, archaeologists realized they had stumbled across the tomb of the militant consort to King Wu Ding, as described in 170 to 180 written Shang oracle bones. Along with bronze vessels, there was also found stoneware and pottery vessels, bronze weapons, of figures and hair combs, and bone hairpins. Historian Robert L. Thorp states that the large assortment of weapons and ritual vessels in her tomb correlate with the of her military career and involvement in Wu Ding's .


The Shang dynasty is believed to have been founded by a rebel leader who overthrew the last Xia ruler. Its civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. The ''Records of the Grand Historian'' state that the Shang moved its capital six times. The final and most important move to in 1350 BC led to the golden age of the dynasty. The term Yin dynasty has been synonymous with the Shang in history, and indeed was the more popular term, although it is now often used specifically in reference to the latter half of the Shang. The Japanese and Koreans still refer to the Shang dynasty exclusively as the Yin dynasty.

A line of hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of northern China, and Shang troops fought frequent wars with neighboring settlements and nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. The capitals, particularly that in Yin, were centers of glittering court life. Court rituals to propitiate spirits developed. In addition to his secular position, the king was the head of the and spirit-worship cult. The king often performed oracle bone divinations himself, especially near the end of the dynasty. Evidence from the royal tombs indicates that royal personages were buried with articles of value, presumably for use in the afterlife. Perhaps for the same reason, hundreds of commoners, who may have been s, were buried alive with the royal corpse.

The Shang had a fully developed system of writing as attested on , oracle bones, and a small number of other writings on pottery, jade and other stones, horn, etc.; its complexity and state of development indicates an earlier period of development, which is still unattested. Bronze casting and pottery also advanced in Shang culture. The bronze was commonly used for art rather than weapons. In astronomy, the Shang astronomers saw Mars and various comets. Many musical instruments were also invented at that time.

Shang influence, though not political control, extended as far northeast as modern Beijing, where early pre- culture shows evidence of Shang material culture. At least one burial in this region during the Early Shang period contained both Shang-style bronzes and local-style gold jewelry. This Shang influence likely made possible the integration of Yan into the later Zhou Dynasty.

The Shang king, in his oracular divinations, repeatedly shows concern about the ''fang'' groups, which represented barbarians outside of the civilized ''tu'' regions that made up the Shang center. In particular, the ''tufang'' group of the Yan Shan region is regularly mentioned as hostile to the Shang.The discovery of a Chenggu-style ''ge'' dagger-axe at Xiaohenan demonstrates that even at this early stage of Chinese history, there was some level of connection between the distant areas of north China.

Shang Zhou, the last Shang king, committed suicide after his army was defeated by the people. Legends say that his army betrayed him by joining the Zhou rebels in a decisive battle.

A classical novel ''Fengshen Yanyi'' is about the war between the Yin and Zhou, in which each was favored and supported by one group of gods.

After the Yin's collapse, the surviving Yin ruling family collectively changed their surname from their royal Zi to the name of their fallen dynasty, Yin . The family remained aristocratic and often provided needed administrative services to the succeeding Zhou Dynasty. The King Cheng of Zhou through the Regent, his uncle the , enfeoffed the former Shang King Zhou's brother the ruler of Wei, WeiZi in the former Shang capital at with the territory becoming the state of Song . The State of Song and the royal Shang descendants maintained rites to the dead Shang kings which lasted until 286 BC.

Both Korean and Chinese legends state that a disgruntled Yin prince named Jizi , who had refused to cede power to the Zhou, left China with his garrison and founded Gija Joseon near modern day Liaoning to what would become one of the early Korean states .

Many Shang clans migrated northeast and were integrated into culture during the Western Zhou period. These clans maintained an elite status, continuing their sacrificial and burial traditions.

Late and Early Shang

Written records found at Anyang confirm the existence of the Shang dynasty. However, Western scholars are hesitant to associate some settlements contemporaneous with the Anyang settlement with the Shang dynasty. For example, archaeological findings at Sanxingdui suggest a technologically advanced civilization culturally unlike Anyang but lacking writing. The extent of Shang control is difficult to determine, given the lack of archaeological exploration. It is accepted among historians that Yin, ruled by the same Shang of official history, coexisted and traded with other culturally diverse settlements in North China.

Chinese historians living in later periods were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty succeeding another, but the actual political situation in early China may have been more complicated. The Xia and the Shang can possibly refer to political entities that existed concurrently, just as the early Zhou , is known to have existed at the same time as the Shang.This approach to the Sandai system was promoted by noted archaeologist Kwang-chih Chang.

Furthermore, though the ruins of Yinxu confirms the existence of the Late Shang dynasty, no evidence has been unearthed proving the existence of the Shang dynasty before its move to its last capital. This is seen in research by the reference to Yin-era Shang as Late Shang and pre-jiaguwen Shang as Early Shang. The difficulty is less one of conspirators trying to legitimize the Shang Dynasty and more the problem of historians and archaeologists sorting out historical societies and pre-historic archeological cultures.

At the Shang Dynasty site of Ao, large walls were erected in the 15th century BC that had dimensions of 20 meters / 65 feet in width at the base and enclosed an area of some 2100 yards squared. In similar dimensions, the ancient Chinese capital for the , Handan , had walls that were again 20 meters / 65 feet wide at the base, a height of 15 meters / 50 feet tall, with two separate sides of its rectangular enclosure measured at a length of 1530 yards.


As far back as c. 1500 BC, the early Shang Dynasty engaged in large-scale production of bronze-ware vessels and weapons. This production necessitated large labor force that would handle the mining, refining, and transportation of copper, tin, and lead ores. The Shang Dynasty royal court and aristocrats required a vast amount of different bronze vessels for various ceremonial purposes and events of religious divination, hence the need for official managers that could provide oversight and employment of hard-laborers and skilled artisans and craftsmen. With the increased amount of bronze available, the army could become better equipped with an assortment of bronze weaponry, and bronze was also able to furnish the fittings of spoke-wheeled chariots that came into widespread use by 1200 BC.

Apart from their role as the head military commanders, Shang kings also asserted their social supremacy by acting as the high priest of society and leader of divination ceremonies. As the oracle bone texts reveal, the Shang kings were viewed as the best qualified members of society to offer sacrifices to their royal ancestors, to the high god Di, who in their beliefs was responsible for the rain, wind, and thunder.

Shang Military

Shang infantry were armed with a variety of stone or bronze weaponry, including ''máo'' spears, ''yuè'' pole-axes, ''ge'' pole-based dagger-axes, the compound bow, and bronze or leather helmets . Their western military frontier was at the Taihang Mountains, where they fought the ''ma'' or "horse" barbarians, who might have used chariots. The Shang themselves likely only used chariots as mobile command vehicles or elite symbols. Although the Shang depended upon the military skills of their nobility, the masses of town dwelling and rural commoners provided the Shang rulers with conscript labor as well as military obligation when mobilized for ventures of defense or conquest. The subservient lords of noble lineage and other state rulers were obligated to furnish their locally-kept forces with all the necessary equipment, armor, and armaments, while the Shang king maintained a force of about a thousand troops at his capital, and personally led this force into battle. A rudimentary military bureaucracy was needed in order to muster troops of three to five thousand troops in border campaigns, while it was recorded that up to thirteen thousand troops were mustered in order to suppress uprisings of insolent states to Shang authority.

The army was divided into three sections - left, right, and middle. There were largely two types of army units in these sections, those being the loosely organized infantry that were conscripted from the privileged populace and played a supporting role, while the core of the army was the warrior nobility who rode in chariots.Chariot-based warfare continued as a prime means of conducting battle well into the Warring States period, although this was slowly phased out by massive infantry, and then large cavalry-based forces by the 3rd century BC. However, even after the Shang integrated the chariot into their military forces, the nobility were still largely amassed in infantry form, as the chariot was mostly associated with transportation, ceremonies, and large-scale royal hunting expeditions.Chariots in the Shang period generally carried three men, the driver placed at the center, an archer on the left, and a warrior armed with a dagger-axe on the right.It had a rectangular frame, with two large spoked wheels, and was driven by two horses,although some of the chariots had teams of four horses.

Sovereigns of the Shang Dynasty

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