General Introduction to Shang Dynasty

Shang Dynasty Cooking tool The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was, according to traditional sources, the second Chinese dynasty, after the Xia Dynasty. They ruled in the northeastern regions of the area known as "China proper", in the Yellow River valley. According to the chronology based upon calculations by Liu Xin, the Shang ruled between 1766 BC and 1122 BC, however according to the chronology based upon the Bamboo Annals, it is between 1556 BC and 1046 BC.


The results of the Xia Shang Zhou Chronology Project places them between 1600 BC and 1046 BC. According to historical tradition the Shang Dynasty followed the (possibly mythical) Xia Dynasty and preceded the Zhou Dynasty. Direct information about the Shang Dynasty comes from Shang inscriptions on bronze artifacts, but mainly from oracle bones—turtle shells, cattle scapulae or bones on which were written the first significant corpus of recorded Chinese characters. Other sources on the Shang come from historical records of the later Zhou Dynasty and the Han Dynasty Shiji by Sima Qian.


The inscriptions on the oracle bones are divinations, which 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 Ruins of Yin, is near modern day Anyang. Archaeological work there uncovered 11 major Yin royal tombs and the foundations of palaces and ritual sites, containing weapons of war and remains of animal and human 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 as many have since been found.


Rise of Shang Dynasty

According to Chinese tradition, the Shang dynasty was founded by a rebel king who overthrew the last Xia ruler in the Battle of Mingtiao. According to the Shiji, the Shang had a long history, and there are different theories about their origin. A study of their bones illustrated a Huaxia people origin. Its civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting, animal husbandry, war, and human sacrifice. The Records of the Grand Historian state that the Shang moved its capital six times. The final and most important move to Yin 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 later half of the Shang. The Japanese and Koreans still refer to the Shang dynasty exclusively as the Yin (In) dynasty.


Shang Dynasty Economy

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. Ceremonial rules decreed how many bronze containers of each type a member of nobility of a certain rank could own.

Shang Dynasty 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 composite bow, and bronze or leather helmets (Wang Hongyuan 1993). 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. They reportedly amassed over a thousand chariots to overthrow the Xia Dynasty. 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.

Kings of Shang dynasty

There were 31 kings in Shang Dynasty. They were Tāng, Tài Dīng, Wài Bǐng, Zhòng Rén, Tài Jiǎ, Wò Dǐng, Tài Gēng, Xiǎo Jiǎ, Yōng Jǐ, Tài Wù, Zhòng Dīng, Wai Ren, Hé Dǎn Jiǎ, Zǔ Yǐ, Zǔ Xīn, Wò Jiǎ, Zǔ Dīng, Nán Gēng, Yáng Jiǎ, Pán Gēng, Xiǎo Xīn, Xiǎo Yǐ, Wǔ Dīng, Zǔ Gēng, Zǔ Jiǎ, Lǐn Xīn, Gēng Dīng, Wǔ Yǐ, Wén Dīng, Dì Yǐ, Dì Xīn.


The Fall of Shang dynasty

Shang Zhou, the last Shang king, committed suicide after his army was defeated by the Zhou people. Legends say that his army betrayed him by joining the Zhou rebels in a decisive battle that took place. The 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 Yin's collapse, the surviving Yin ruling family collectively changed their surname from their royal Zi (pinyin: zi; Wade-Giles: tzu) 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 Duke Dan of Zhou, enfeoffed the former Shang King Zhou's brother Ziqi as the ruler of Wei , in the former Shang capital at Shang , with the territory becoming the state of Song later in history. The State of Song and the royal Shang descendants maintained rites to the dead Shang kings which lasted until 286 BC. (Source: Records of the Grand Historian.)