History of Shang Dynasty 1766–1121 BC

China has a recorded history of over four thousand years, beginning with or before the Shang Dynasty. Shang Dynasty is the first historic Chinese dynasty and ruled in the northeastern region of China. Materials about the Shang Dynasty comes from bronze artifacts and oracle bones, were turtle shells or cattle scapula on which were written the first recorded Chinese characters, found in the Huang He valley. These bones typically had three sections: a question for the oracle, the oracle's answer, and whether the oracle later proved to be correct. (Map of Shang Dynasty)

The Chinese culture was advanced during the Shang Dynasty. There was a written language as seen in the engravings on turtle shells. Some historians define history narrowly to include only what has been recorded, but even by this narrow definition the events recorded on turtle shells qualify Shang as a historical period. People told fortunes by first writing on the shells and then seeing where the cracks appeared after they burned the shells. This oracle language was in the form of symbols. It later evolved into characters used in the Chinese written language. The symbols or characters representing the sun, the moon, people and other objects simple to draw are obvious and understandable to anyone. The present-day characters for smile and crying are still distinguishable even by people not knowing the language. Bronze vessels from the Shang Dynasty exhibited in museums show how advanced technology and art were at the time.

The Shang Dynasty civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. The Records of the Grand Historian states that the Shang Dynasty moved its capital six times. A line of hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of northern part of China, and Shang troops fought frequent wars with neighboring settlements and nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. The capitals, were centers of glittering court life. Court rituals to propitiate spirits and to honor sacred ancestors were highly developed. In addition to his secular position, the king was the head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult. Evidence from the royal tombs indicates that royal personages were buried with articles of value, presumably for use in the afterlife. Perhaps for the same reason, hundreds of commoners, who may have been slaves, were buried alive with the royal corpse.

Learn more about Chinese history, please visit History of China

Learn more about Chinese people and languages, please visit Why Study Abroad in China

Central Academy of Fine Arts