Selena Lai and Waka Takahashi BrownNovember 2006available in PDF style ( 180.78 KB

)Excerpt from Chinese Dynasties part One: The Shang empire Through the flavor Dynasty, 1600 BCE to 907 CEThe Shang Dynasty significant the center of China’s bronze Age and also was a dynasty that made great contributions come Chinese civilization. Scholars execute not fully agree on the dates and details the the faster Chinese dynasties, yet most accept that the Shang dynasty is the first one to have left behind created records and also solid historical evidence of its existence. The Shang is the 2nd dynasty of the Three dynasties Period. Legends speak of the earlier Xia dynasty, however no written documents from the time have actually been discovered to confirm this. Even though messages written later on than the Shang Dynasty cite the Xia Dynasty, western scholars argue the they room not enough to prove it important existed. Therefore, most Western scholar regard the legend Xia as very early civilization that existed in between the Neolithic and also Shang cultures. However many Chinese scholars firmly think that the Xia did indeed exist even if composed records have never to be found.

You are watching: What was the most important contribution of the shang dynasty

Because the 3 Dynasties’ world occupied the Yellow flow valley, this geographic area is often dubbed the birthplace or cradle that Chinese civilization. If this is true in some regard, one have to keep in mind that the Shang was however one of several modern-day civilizations in China.1 it may have actually been the only one with written records, but that go not mean it was the just one in existence. Much more recently discovered archaeological sites far away native the Yellow flow valley reveal distinctly different societies from the Shang, and also scholars are now trying come determine how much these societies influenced each other.

Oracle Bones

Before the discovery of the Shang oracle bones and the interpretation of their inscriptions and also bronze inscriptions, scholars had no for sure proof the the Shang dynasty existed. Approximately that point, Shang history had been based heavily on historical accounts written long after the Shang period ended. Shang bronze engravings were usually really short. With so small information, scholars doubted whether the dynasty even existed. The information and also details inscribed ~ above oracle bones suitable what was videotaped in texts written centuries later, thereby providing the proof scholars needed. The oracle bone inscriptions and the bronze engravings mark the beginning of written Chinese history.

The king or experienced diviners hired by the king provided oracle bones to make predictions around the future or to answer concerns such as, “Will the king have actually a son?”, “Will the rain tomorrow?”, “If we send 3,000 men right into battle, will we succeed?”, or also “Is the long drought caused by ancestor X?”2 The scribe sculpted the question onto a bone (most often the shoulder skeletal of water buffalo or other cattle) or a tortoise plastron.3 on the other side that the bone or plastron he would carve a number of small pits. That then placed a hot metal rod right into these pits till the bone cracked; and also the king or diviner taken the cracks. Then, ~ above the various other side of the bone, the scribe carved the answer and also the ultimate outcome.

By analyzing oracle bone inscriptions, other artifacts, and also archaeological sites such as tombs and old cities, scholars have been able to piece together countless details the Shang civilization. Castle have shown the name of the kings, its style of government, its army history, its religious beliefs and also rituals, and also its society.

The Kingdom

According to legend, the Shang dynasty was established sometime roughly 1600 BCE by a virtuous man named Cheng Tang, who overthrew the evil king that the legend Xia. The Shang empire was a monarchy administer by a collection of kings, 29 or 30 in total, end the food of practically 600 years.4 The king was served by officials that held dedicated positions that authority and also function; and the officials belonged come a hereditary class of aristocrats, usually related to the king himself.5

While the king lived in and also ruled indigenous a resources city, that wasn’t constantly the very same city. Although historic records point out many various Shang capitals, just a couple of have actually been confirmed with archaeological evidence. Nobody knows specifically why a king would move the capital but some scholars think it had to carry out with internal power struggles within the royal family.

Cheng flavor is claimed to have established the dynasty’s first capital at a town called Shang (near modern-day Zhengzhou), yet later majesties moved the capital many an ext times, the last being a place dubbed Yin (near modern Anyang). Archaeological evidence argues that the city of Shang was the genealogical capital that the empire that remained in a fixed location throughout the dynasty. It was where the Shang queens kept their many sacred ancestral temples, tablets, and regalia. The political capital was where the queens lived and ruled from. If the political resources moved numerous times throughout the dynasty, the ancestral capital never ever moved.6

The main point of the dynasty was situated in the northern part of contemporary Henan province, in a triangular area in between the urban of Anyang, Luoyang, and Zhengzhou, the latter two the which room on the Yellow River. In addition to uncovering the continues to be of several Shang cities, archaeologists have found substantial tombs of countless Shang kings and also their families. Even though the dynasty was centered in this area, its culture reached areas much aside from that away.

As the oracle bones and other artifacts and also records revealed, the Shang emperors were constantly in ~ war v outsiders near and far. Countless of the oracle skeletal bore inquiries related come battles, such as the outcome of a future fight or how numerous men come send into battle. The king sent out armies of as countless as 13,000 men to fight battles on behalf of the kingdom. Victorious militaries brought earlier prisoners that war—as numerous as 30,000 in ~ a time—who either ended up being laborers or ritual sacrifices.7 The armies additionally helped gain brand-new territories and also bring back precious sources for the kingdom.


The Shang worshipped the “Shang Di,” that was the supreme god that ruled over the lesser god of the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, and other natural forces and places.8 They likewise worship8ped your ancestors due to the fact that they believed that although their ancestors resided in heaven after your death, they to be still actively involved in the affairs of family and descendants. The kings communicated with your ancestors making use of oracle bones and made regular sacrifices come them. As in numerous other societies, lock sacrificed pets to imperial ancestors and to assorted nature gods,9 making use of sacrifices to ask the ancestors or god for help and to feed the ancestors or god to keep them strong.10 They thought that if lock failed to correctly worship their ancestors, their family and the kingdom would experience plenty of disasters.

Because the Shang believed in the immortality and ancestor worship, lock thought an extremely seriously about burial and what to be to companion the deceased to his or she grave. The huge and elaborate tombs of the Shang royal family members are signs of their strong beliefs. Among the many treasures buried in crucial people’s tombs were the stays of countless other people. Part were nameless people who had actually been recorded during battle and used as person sacrifices at burials. Others were family members or lower-ranking dependents of the deceased. This exercise of burying lower-ranking world reflected the Shang’s belief that those related to a king or lord by blood or company in life were expected to continue that connection in death.11

Shang contribute to Chinese Civilization

The Shang made numerous contributions come Chinese civilization, however four in certain define the dynasty: the invention of writing; the development of a stratified government; the development of bronze technology; and also the use of the chariot and bronze tools in warfare.

The development of WritingThe oracle bone engravings are the earliest known form of Chinese writing. By comparing and equating the engravings to contemporary Chinese characters, scholars have shown that the Shang had currently developed all the principles of the modern-day writing mechanism used today. In fact, Chinese writing has actually undergone relatively couple of changes because it was first developed 3,500 years ago.

Since Shang papers were initially recorded on strips that bamboo and silk that have actually long since decomposed, the oracle bones and bronze inscriptions bear the just written history from the Shang era. Because Shang bronze engravings were very short and also did not say much, most of what is known about the Shang dynasty is indigenous the oracle bones. Towards the finish of the Shang, writing was likewise inscribed on copper objects.

A Stratified Government and also SocietyThe Shang political system was organized into a hierarchy, definition that the had plenty of levels that rank and also many dedicated functions and jobs, every passed down within a noble family. Shang society was likewise hierarchical with plenty of different level of social rank.

The invention of writing had actually a profound result on Shang government and also its capacity to rule. It raised the government’s ability to theorem on a large scale, even if it is it be to oversee a ordered administration; dominance the state’s plenty of territories; theorem the mining of big quantities of ore for bronzework; wage large military campaigns; construct city walls and also palaces; or build elaborate burial places for themselves.

Bronze TechnologyThe Shang dynasty existed throughout China’s bronze age. At the time, bronze represented power, wealth, and also luxury. By looking in ~ the way bronze was offered by the Shang, that is clean that only those with any type of degree of power in the kingdom had accessibility to making use of bronze objects. Shang bronzes fall into 2 categories: weapons or ceremonial vessels for food and wine. By far, most of the pieces room ceremonial vessels and speak the a culture and culture that valued rituals, such as rituals because that burial, celebration, and also worshipping gods and ancestors. Bronze was not provided for common tools, such together hammers or hoes.

Archaeologists have actually dug up thousands of Shang copper pieces, ranging from small objects to huge food and also wine ship weighing as lot as 2,000 pounds. The artistry and also workmanship that the copper pieces expose the Shang’s mastery of copper technology. The Shang perfected a an approach known together piece-mold casting, a complicated process that affiliated creating a mold the end of clay; carving a architecture into it; putting molten bronze into the mold; cracking the mold away; and adding handles together a final step. The actual shape, design, and decoration of routine vessels adjusted over time follow to an altering importance that rituals and also belief systems.

The use of the Chariot and also Bronze weapons in WarfareThe breakthrough of bronze technology and the usage of copper weapons provided the Shang military good advantage end their opponents and fully changed the method they combated wars. They offered newly-developed weapons like the bronze-tipped halberd and spear, the link bow; and most importantly, they used horse-drawn chariots.

The chariot, which had most most likely been introduced from western Asia, completely changed the means battles were fought. Chariots permitted commanders to supervise your troops efficiently and also across good distances. They likewise gave soldiers a significant edge end their adversaries by making them extremely mobile and fast. Because war was main to life throughout the Shang Dynasty, these advances in weapons were an extremely important in enabling the Shang to maintain its army supremacy.

The finish of the Shang

The Shang dynasty ended in about 1050 BCE, once conquerors from the state that Zhou attacked the capital and also successfully toppled the Shang Dynasty. The Zhou conquerors declared to overthrow the Shang dynasty for ethical reasons. They stated that the Shang king to be evil and that heaven no longer wanted him to rule. They blamed the Shang’s downfall ~ above its king’s excessive drinking, indulgent lifestyle, and also immoral behavior. The downfall stayed a cautionary tale to kings and also emperors for years to come.


Michael Loewe and also Edward L. Shaughnessy, editors, The Cambridge background of ancient China: from the origins of human being to 221 B.C. (Cambridge: Cambridge university Press, 1999), 14.Charles O. Hucker, China’s royal Past: An advent to Chinese background and Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford college Press, 1975), 29.David N. Keightley, Sources the Shang History: The Oracle Bone inscriptions of Bronze period China (Berkeley, CA: college of California Press, 1978), 6.Kwang-Chih Chang, Shang Civilization (New Haven CT: Yale university Press, 1980), 6; David N. Keightley, “The Shang: China’s very first Historical Dynasty,” in The Cambridge background of ancient China: from the beginnings of people to 221 B.C.

See more: Ident If Cheese Is $4.40 Per Kilogramme, What Should I Pay For 200 Grammes?

, edited through Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaugnessy, (Cambridge: Cambridge college Press, 1999), 232.Hucker, 30.Chang, 212.Chang, 194.Richard Hooker, “Ancient China: The Shang” (1996), , 1.Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Cambridge portrayed History: China (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge university Press, 1996), 25.Ebrey, 25.Keightley, “The Shang: China’s very first Historical Dynasty,” 286.