Shang Dynasty Facts: History, Origin And Other Curious Details | Kidadl


Shang Dynasty Facts: History, Origin And Other Curious Details

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Shang dynasty, otherwise known as the Yin dynasty, was the second Chinese dynasty of the three, between the Xia dynasty and the Zhou dynasty.

The Shang dynasty ruled along the Yellow River, the cradle of Chinese civilization, and was centered in the North China Plain. This was the first Chinese dynasty that has evidence in written form as well as archeologically.

History And Origin Of Shang Dynasty

With 30 emperors spanning over 500 years of rule during the Bronze Age, the Shang dynasty laid the base for most modern Chinese cultures.

Most of the information about the Shang period is from oracle bones. These bones were used for the prediction of the future. Questions would be written on one side of the bone by religious men and the oracle bones would then be burnt till they cracked. The answers would be interpreted from the cracks, which would then be written on the other side of the bone. Some of the questions carved into these bones asked about victory in an upcoming battle or the number of soldiers required to be committed to the battle. The questions were mostly about war, harvests, or childbirth.

The Shang civilization was developed on the North China Plain, the river valley of the Yellow River. While this area was fertile, it was also prone to flooding. The first king of Shang was involved in building the city of Shang. High walls were constructed to prevent flooding that frequently occurred around the Yellow River. Crops grew well because of the fertile land and warm, wet climate. Also, the irrigation systems were expanded to help farmers benefit from the rich soil around the Yellow River.

The Shang society followed a social class pyramid organization with the king and ruling family at the top and slaves at the bottom. The social classes were classified as royals and aristocrats, military (including the infantry and chariot warriors), artisans and craftsmen (who worked with bronze mainly), and peasants (farmers) and slaves. The huge cities built by the Chinese under the Shang dynasty used this distinct division in the social classes.

Shang emperors organized wars with other clans quite often, and Shang had excellent warriors. Rather than bothering about political matters, Shang kings were primarily involved in fulfilling sacred purposes. The government and administration were handled by advisers selected into a council. There were chieftains to rule the border territories of the Shang regions.

It is evident from the royal tombs used to bury rulers, that the people of Shang believed in the afterlife and ancestor worship. With the belief that the ancestors were actively involved in family affairs even in their afterlife, failure to perform ancestor worship was believed to bring disaster to the family and kingdom. They also believed that gods controlled the world, and the supreme god Shangdi was worshipped widely.

Most of the religious rituals in the Shang religion included sacrifice. A deceased king would be buried with humans and horses intended to accompany the king in his afterlife. Additionally, utensils, weapons, and vessels would also be placed in the tomb. The tomb would also include ornaments like jade, which was believed to prevent decay and grant immortality.

The majority of the inhabitants of Shang were ordinary peasants who made their homes by digging pits into the earth with a simple roof covering. The artisans, on the other hand, were skilled workers and wealthier than the peasants.

Achievements Of The Shang Dynasty

The most important achievement of the Shang civilization was developing the pictographic writing system.

As per Chinese history, Shang was centered in the North China plain. With Shang kings on a land-capturing spree, they occupied many capitals and extended far north towards Shandong and Hebei provinces and Henan province towards the west. Huge cities were built, bronze was monopolized largely, and advanced writing was developed in this dynasty.

Most of the writing was done on oracle bones, intended for fortune telling and to record historical events. These oracles bones were mostly turtle shells or ox shoulder blades. The hieroglyphs of the Shang dynasty provided the earliest proof of character writing in East Asia. Being able to write, Shang had a well-organized government and society. The planting of crops was instructed by the king, and a well-developed calendar system was developed by the Shang society that included a year comprising of 360 days; 12 months with 30 days each. With the advice of skilled astronomers, the king would predict annual harvest dates.

Set in Bronze Age China, Shang developed metallurgy. Several bronze vessels and tools were developed during this time. They developed a style used for Han art craftsmanship. Bronze items were also developed for religious purposes and weaponry.

It was during the Shang rule that silk manufacturing industries came about. The empires that followed profited highly from this. Shang culture also had major preferences for tea and jade, which were adopted by Han cultures.

The Shang dynasty is one of the earliest recorded ruling dynasties of China.

Emperors Of The Shang Dynasty

With the Shang dynasty rule lasting from 1600-1046 BC, there were many emperors who ruled during this time.

The first ruler of the Shang dynasty was Cheng Tang, a military leader. Tang Shang witnessed Jie, the last ruler of the Xia dynasty, losing strength and momentum. King Tang, with wise men by his side, tactfully attacked the Xia Empire, supported by several people of Shang. This led to the conquering of Shang in 1600 BC.

King Tang effectively reduced taxes and strengthened his army, while expanding territory to the south, up to the sea in the east. The first Shang King had 30 Shang rulers succeeding him through the Shang period. The Shang capital was moved five times during the Shang dynasty and Yin was the last Shang capital.

Among the several emperors who ruled the Shang dynasty, Lady Fu Hao was one among them. This queen and military leader commanded an army of 10,000 men. Her tomb was one of the most richly furnished Shang tombs that were discovered. It contained over 200 bronze ritual vessels and her name was inscribed 109 times. The longest reigning king was Wu Ding, under whom the dynasty prospered tremendously. King Wu reportedly ruled for about 75 years.

The kings were head military commanders, as well as high priests of the society and headed the divination ceremonies. They would offer sacrifices to please royal ancestors and the gods.

King Di Xin was the last Shang king. Just as King Jie of the Xia dynasty was defeated, the last king of the Shang dynasty was defeated by rulers of a neighboring tribe, Zhou, with his own subjects and troops rebelling against him. Many people disliked him for his cruel and torturous reputation. The new ruler of the succeeding Zhou dynasty was King Wu of Zhou.

Economy Of The Shang Dynasty

With the Shang civilization developed along the Yellow River valley, a lot of developments occurred from an economical aspect.

They developed forests around the valley area and used the wood to construct homes and other buildings. The craftsmanship and artistry of this dynasty in ancient China are evident from the recovered artifacts, including woven silk, carved gems, and glazed porcelain. Existing during the Bronze Age, massive bronze vessels and weapons were produced. To aid this, considerable labor was employed for mining, refining, and transporting the ores.

While wheeled carts were used as transport in peaceful times, chariots were used for hunting and warfare. Canoes were used for local trade and roads provided for inter-state communication.

With the fertile soil along the yellow river, people of Shang society were involved in agriculture, in addition to fishing and animal husbandry.


What did the Shang dynasty invent?

The Shang dynasty invented the pictographic writing system, with most of the writing being discovered on oracle bones and bronze vessels. The character writing comprised mostly of pictographs, ideograms, and phonograms.

How was China governed during the Shang dynasty?

The Shang government was quite advanced and well-organized. With the king leading, there were multiple levels of leaders, with the officials at the highest level being close allies to the king. Taxes were collected from people by the government and tributes from nearby allies.

What have archaeologists discovered about Shang cities?

Archaeologists have unearthed several artifacts from ruins of Shang cities that indicate much about the ancient civilization. The city had a palace, temple, royal tombs, and houses. Also, workshops where artisans worked on bronze and pottery, as well as stone and jade were discovered.

Who destroyed the Shang dynasty?

Wuwang, the founder of the Zhou dynasty that succeeded the Shang dynasty, was responsible for its destruction.

What weapons did the Shang dynasty use?

The main weapons used were bronze and stone weapons. The army was equipped with spears, pole-axes, dagger-axes, bows, and helmets made of bronze or leather.

What did the Shang dynasty eat?

In times of the Shang dynasty, rice and wheat were a staple food and were either boiled or steamed. Animals like chicken, pigs, and horses were sources of meat. These delicacies were mostly for the upper class, while the common people had fish.

Did the Shang Dynasty use horses?

Horses domesticated in China in the times of Shang were quite small to ride. With the development of chariots, the horsepower was utilized better. Horses were used along with chariots in warfare.

Written By
Lydia Samson

<p>A diligent and driven mass communications graduate from Caleb University, Lydia has experience in media and a passion for digital marketing and communications. She is an effective communicator and team-builder with strong analytical, management, and organizational skills. She is a self-starter with a positive, can-do attitude.</p>

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