Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty was the first Chinese governing dynasty to be formed in recorded history, but numerous dynasties came before it. The Shang reigned from 1600 to 1046 B.C., ushering in China’s Bronze Age. They were well-known for their achievements in mathematics, astronomy, art, and military technology.

The beginning of Shang Dynasty

The first written records in Chinese history date back to the Shang Dynasty, which began in mythology when a tribal chief named Tang destroyed the Xia Dynasty, which was ruled by a tyrant named Jie around 1600 B.C.

This victory is known as the Battle of Mingtiao, which took place amid a downpour. Jie survived the battle but died of disease afterwards. Tang is recognized for maintaining a low number of recruited troops in the army and initiating social initiatives to assist the needy of the kingdom.

Achievements of the Shang Dynasty

Thanks to writings on tortoise shell discovered by archaeologists, people of the Shang Dynasty are thought to have employed calendars and gained understanding of astronomy and algebra.

The Shang calendar was originally lunar-based, but a solar-based calendar was invented by a man named Wan-Nien, who observed a 365-day year and located the two solstices.

Shang Dynasty artists produced complex metal works, pottery, and jade ornaments. Unlike their Bronze Age contemporaries, Shang Dynasty artists utilized piece-mold casting rather than lost-wax casting. This meant that they had to first make a model of the thing they intended to make before covering it with clay. To construct a new, united mold, the clay mold would be split into portions, removed, and re-fired.

Shang troops were armed with horse-drawn chariots by 1200 B.C. There is evidence of bronze-tipped spears, halberds (pointed axes), and bows prior to then.

The Shang Dynasty’s language is an early version of contemporary Chinese. Chinese characters originally appeared etched on cow bone and tortoise shells during the Shang Dynasty. There is evidence of two numerological systems, one based on numbers one through ten and the other on numbers one through twelve.

Cities in Shang Dynasty

There were some significant communities throughout the Shang Dynasty, including Zhengzhou and Anyang, albeit these are not thought to have been as densely urban as Mesopotamian settlements at the same time.

Under King Pan Geng, Anyang became the capital circa 1300 B.C. and was known as Yin at the time. Zhengzhou is famous for its four-mile-long walls that are 32 feet high and 65 feet thick.

Anyang is thought to be the city from which Shang rulers reigned for more than two centuries, with altars, temples, and palaces in the center. Surrounding the governmental center were craftspeople, including stone carvers, bronze makers, potters, and others, as well as tiny house buildings and burial grounds.

Religion in the Shang Dynasty

Much of the Shang Dynasty’s history has been interpreted from oracle bones discovered at Anyang, which depict a dynasty at war with shifting alliances with neighboring kingdoms.

Prisoners of war were either sold as slaves or murdered for sacrifice. Sacrifice was conducted within the faith, sometimes in huge crowds.

In Shang culture, the monarch also served as a priest. Ancestors were thought to interact through the deity Di, and the Shang ruler oversaw the worship of Shangdi, the greatest ancestor, as well as communication with the other ancestors. A group of mystics received the ancestors’ requests, which were subsequently translated by the king.

Burial in Shang Dynasty

Subordinates were buried with their lord in the chambers throughout the first part of Shang reign. The number of dead in each burial had increased towards the end of the dynasty. One cemetery at Anyang from around 1200 B.C. included the cadaver of an unknown monarch, as well as 74 human bodies, horses, and dogs.

Shang kings would even sent hunting groups to the northwest to kidnap individuals of primitive tribes for use as sacrificial corpses at royal burial grounds.

The Anyang burial of Lady Hao, dating from approximately 1250 B.C., contains not only 16 human sacrifices, including children, but also a great number of costly goods, such as bronze and jade jewelry and weaponry, stone sculptures, bone hairpins and arrowheads, and various ivory carvings. There are also 60 bronze wine jars with animal representations in the burial.

Lady Hao is thought to be King Wu Ding’s wife, who ruled for 59 years. Inscriptions on her bones show that she led numerous key military expeditions throughout her lifetime.

The end of Shang Dynasty

Around 1046 B.C., the Shang Dynasty came to an end. The penultimate monarch of the Shang lineage, King Di Xin, was seen as a terrible leader who relished torturing people, prompting calls for his overthrow.

The Zhou army, led by King Wu, marched on the capital city as an outpost to guard the kingdom’s western boundary. Nearly 200,000 slaves were equipped by Di Xin to reinforce the defending army, but many defected to the Zhou forces. During the Battle of Muye, many Shang troops declined to fight the Zhou, with some even joining the other side.

Di Xin committed suicide by torching his palace. Though the Shang Dynasty had left an indelible effect on Chinese history, the upcoming Zhou dynasty would dominate for 800 years.

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