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History 11A

The First Chinese State:

Shang (ca. 1550-1045 BCE)

Core Area of Shang Civilization

Shang Capitals
(1500-1300 BCE?)
Anyang (ca.
1200-1045 BCE)

Shang Monarchy
Oracle bone records begin in late 13 th century BCE
By that time, the ruling lineage had fractured into
several competing rival branches
King Wuding (ca. 1250-1200 BCE) reestablished
a strong monarchy & founded capital at Anyang
Anyang kings maintained stable rule and royal
succession for over a century
After 1100 BCE, increasingly confronted with both
internal and external threats

The Shang
State System
Shaded area:
direct subjects
of the Shang
Circles: Shang
allies recorded
in oracle bone
Shang enemies

Four-Class Society of Shang

Royal Clan (wangzu ), divided into ten
Nobility, Clans of Descendants (zizu
Multitude : retainers, artisans, farmers
Slaves : captured in war; used for menial
labor & human sacrifice

Shang Capital at Zhengzhou ,

ca. 1500-1300 BCE
Despite impressive
city walls, no royal
tombs have yet
been discovered at
But walls provide
evidence of Shang
rulers ability to
mobilize labor on a
massive scale

Anyang , Last Capital of Shang China

Urban Network
of Shang Capital
at Anyang
Palace complex (at
center) surrounded
by scattered
settlements, artisan
workshops, and

Claim to a special relationship with the
divine world
Through powers not shared by ordinary
mortals, kings could bring good fortune to
themselves & their subjects

Shang Conception of the Divine

Shangdi , the High God: amoral,
indifferent to fate of humanity, but allpowerful
Ancestor Gods (di ): intercede with High
God on behalf of their living descendants
All persons of noble/royal birth believed to
become gods in the afterlife

Shang Royal Tomb

with Human
Some Shang royal tombs
included more than 200
human sacrifices (slaves
captured as war booty)
The more sumptuous the
tomb and its contents, the
more powerful the dead
king became in the world
of the ancestors

Artists Reconstruction
of Human Sacrifices
Being Led into a Shang
Royal Tomb
Museum of Chinese
History, Beijing

Shang Chariot Burial

Ivory Chalice
The chalice is carved from
ivory and inlaid with
This artifact comes from
the tomb of Lady Hao
(ca. 1200 BCE)
The tomb of Lady Hao
(only Shang royal tomb
discovered intact)
contained more than 200
bronze ritual vessels

Shang Ritual Bronze in the

Shape of an Owl

From tomb of
Lady Hao
Owl symbolized
safe passage to the
spirits resting place
in the afterlife
possibly indicate
mask worn by
shaman who
communicated with
the dead

Late Shang Ritual

Bronze Vessel
(He Wine Decanter)
Complex patterns of
fantastic creatures
cover entire vessel
Masterpiece of Shang
craftsmanship (stands
over one meter high)
One of a set of three,
each with different
animal motifs

Evolution of He
Ritual Vessel
Left: He vessel from
ca. 1300 BCE (simple
taotie frieze)
Right: He vessel from
ca. 1050 BCE
(surface of vessel
fully covered with
fantastic zoomorphic

Oracle Bone from

Reign of King Wuding
(ca. 1200 BCE)
This oracle bone contains
several inscriptions
recording (1) a divination
inquiring about the fortunes
of the Shang; (2) a prediction
of calamity; and (3) later
reports of Shang military
defeats at the hands of
several enemies