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Chinese History
Shang Dynasty

Although the culture of the Shang kingdom differed form the cultures in the wet and semitropical area of the Yangtse River valley and Sichuan (Sanxingdui culture) and the steppe nomad cultures in the north, economic activities and exchanges of goods lead to the spread of common features of all cultures of Shang period China, like the casting of ritual bronze vessels. Yin as a political dominant center obtained tributes from many states of the Yellow River plain. The Shang kingdom was thus not a sovereign dynasty that dominated a large part of ancient China but rather one state among hundreds of small city states with a count as their leader - although apparently the strongest one for a long time. Especially under King Wuding the Shang showed their military superiority over their neighbors and even over states that were thousand miles away from the capital. Apart from tributes, the Shang kings were able to require taxes in grain and loyalty during military campaigns.

Established the Shang

The Shang Dynasty was the second monarchical state in Chinese history. From the time of Tai Yi (King Tang) to Di Xin (King Zhou), it lasted almost 600 years with 31 kings over 17 generations.



Shang was a tributary of the Xia Kingdom and it used to be an old tribe lived in the lower reach of the Yellow River. At the end of the Xia, the last ruler Jie was a tyrant who kept abusing his power and oppressing the people. The chief of the Shang tribe, Tang, took the opportunity to revolt, "under the Mandate of Heaven", and overthrew the Xia Dynasty (The 21st to the 17th century BC). Tang then established the Shang Dynasty and made Bo (present Caoxian County in Shandong Province) his capital city. top

Political History


Shang Tang

Tang, the founder of Shang, learned from the destruction of the previous dynasty, adopted more humane policies during his reign, treated his people benevolently and employed many able and virtuous ministers. The prosperity and steady politics of the King Tang reign were made possible by two capable ministers, Yi Yin and Zhong Hui. They both made great contribution to state affairs and economic development. The Shang made great progresses in its economy during the reign of Tang.



Shang state moved its capital five times, due to the political strife within the royal family and continuous wars with frontier tribes. The most notable move was during the reign of King Pangeng, the seventeenth king of the Shang. After Pangeng moved the capital to Yin, the conflict within the royal family eased and the economy began to develop. The new capital contributed a lot to the stable government of the Shang Dynasty afterwards. Pangeng was therefore named the "Restoration King".



The restoration laid the foundation for the coming golden age of Wu Ding. The Shang Dynasty is often called "the Yin" or "the Yin-Shang Dynasty".




Wu Ding, another renowned Shang ruler, was the nephew of Pangeng. He was an aspirant and benevolent king and his reign was marked by political stability and economic prosperity. He laid a solid foundation for further economic development of following dynasties. King Wu Ding's prime minister was Fu Yue. With Fu Yue's help, the king's army defeated the nomad warriors of the Guifang in modern northern Shaanxi. The western tribes of the Di and Qiang declared their loyalty to Shang. King Wu Ding is seen as an extremely virtuous ruler who was venerated posthumously as Gaozong "High Ancestor". Wu Ding is also the first Shang king who is historically documented.

The Golden Age of Wu Ding did not continue after his death. In the reigns following Zu Geng and Zu Jia, especially Di Yi and Di Xin, internal social conflict became more acute and neighbouring states began to rebel.

Toward the end, internal conflicts intensified and ducal states rebelled. The last Shang ruler Di Xin, King Zhou, was a despot, he lived an extravagant lifestyle, spent excessive resources on the army and imposed increasingly heavy burdens on the people.

Da Ji

Di Xin once fought north and south on many fronts, especially he captured all the kingdoms in the southeast, thus enlarged the territory of the Shang Dynasty and established the basic outline for a great and unified country in ancient China. But when he was crowned with success, he relaxed his vigilance and, moreover, he extorted excessive taxes and levies, he was wallowing in luxury and pleasure and indiscriminate cruel tortures. He at last lost the support of the people and resulted that in the front his soldiers turned back their spearheads during Muye Campaign. Di Xin enticed by his consort Da Ji, daughter of the noble Yousu, should be the end of the long line of Shang kings. He imprisoned the Count of the West (Xibo), chieftain of the Zhou, and only relieved him six years later. Ji Chang (later King Zhou Wenwang), founder-father of the Zhou Dynasty, assembled other counts and marquises with him and won Lu Shang (known as Jiang Ziya) as his highest general. The armies of Zhou crossed the ford at Mengjin and began to attack King Zhou of Shang after he had incarcerated Prince Jizi, killed his son Bi Gan (Bigan); Prince Weizi had escaped. At the battle of Muye the Zhou armies defeated the last of the Shang, king Zhou of Shang committed suicide by fire on Lutai Terrace finally. The rulers of Zhou had taken over the control over the Central Plain.The Shang Dynasty thus came to an end.

Prince Weizi was enfeoffed as ruler of the fiefdom of Song. Prince Wugeng still rebelled against the new king, Ji Fa, King Wuwang of Zhou. In their self-understanding, the counts (later kings) of Zhou received the Heavenly mandate and the duty to occupy the place of the "Son of Heaven". King Zhou of Shang instead was seen as a brutal tyrant who killed his own son, murdered his loyal ministers by cruel punishments (burning pillar) and followd the wishes of his beloved concubine Da Ji. Thus the Shang Dynasty is defined by Chinese historians as one period within a cycle of dynastic succession. The first ruler, Tang the Perfect, was a human and virtuous ruler. This "royal way" declined and was finally lost by a last ruler who had to be replaced by a new dynasty. This cycle was projected back to the mythical Xia Dynasty. Together with the Zhou Dynasty, Xia and Shang are part of the Three Ages. top

Economy and Society

The productivity of the Shang Dynasty reached a relatively high level even during the former period. Due to the agriculture was concerned, farm implements had been improved. Stone ploughs, spades and sickles were widely used. The primary crops included millet and wheat. More important, the Shang Dynasty thrived in the manufacture of bronze vessels.

Bronze objects affected not only people' daily life but the arms of the state. Its wide use enabled unprecedented accomplishments of the Shang Dynasty in politics, economy, culture and art. In the reign of King Wuding, the landmark was the appearance of an alloy of copper, lead and tin. Bronzewares were under mass production. They fell mainly into two classifications: cooking vessels and alcohol containers.


At the same time, other industries had great development as well. In handicraft, the operation went under much subtler division of labor. It was recorded that a hundred lines emerged in handicraft at that time. Shang craftsmen acquired the skill of inlaying and carving and had their jade wares, stone wares and ivory wares brilliantly decorated. Textile workers invented the simple jacquard loom, which could produce high-quality silk fabric with a hidden pattern. Additionally, the Shang people also made significant progress in medicine, transportation and astronomy.


Bone Script

The invention of writing was one of the most important technological developments of the Shang. During this period, important events and fortune-telling were recorded on tortoise shell and animal bone using Oracle Script, which is the oldest known Chinese form of written communication. The form of writing, was a complex system of picture writing using forms called ideograms, pictograms, and phonograms.


Shang Oraclesm

The most common place these writings are found is on oracle bones used for divination. The bones used for this purpose originally came from a number of animals, but were eventually done exclusively on turtle shells. A question was written on the bone, which was then fired and a T shaped crack was produced which was interpreted, and the interpretation was then written on the bone. After the predicted event occurred, the date of the occurrence was also written on the bone. Writing is also found on bronze and stone, but the majority of the records have decayed as they were recorded on bamboo strips. The Shang may also have written on silk. top





Architecture



The center of the Shang capitals had the ruler's palace. Surrounding this were houses of artisans. These houses were rectangular, using a post and beam construction and were built on stamped earth platforms. Subterranean pithouses were located near the capital, which may have been used for storage and service quarters. top