Shang dynasty (/ʃɑːŋ/; Chinese: 商朝; pinyin: Shāng
cháo) or Yin dynasty (/jɪn/; 殷代; Yīn dài), according to
traditional historiography, ruled in the
Yellow River valley in the
second millennium BC, succeeding the
Xia dynasty and followed by
the Zhou dynasty. The classic account of the Shang comes from texts
such as the Book of Documents,
Bamboo Annals and Records of the Grand
Historian. According to the traditional chronology based on
calculations made approximately 2,000 years ago by Liu Xin, the Shang
ruled from 1766 to 1122 BC, but according to the chronology based
upon the "current text" of Bamboo Annals, they ruled from 1556 to
1046 BC. The
Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project
Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project dated them
from c. 1600 to 1046 BC.
Shang dynasty is the earliest dynasty of traditional Chinese
history supported by archaeological evidence. Excavation at the Ruins
of Yin (near modern-day Anyang), which has been identified as the last
Shang capital, uncovered eleven major royal tombs and the foundations
of palaces and ritual sites, containing weapons of war and remains
from both animal and human sacrifices. Tens of thousands of bronze,
jade, stone, bone, and ceramic artifacts have been found.
Anyang site has yielded the earliest known body of Chinese
writing, mostly divinations inscribed on oracle bones – turtle
shells, ox scapulae, or other bones. More than 20,000 were discovered
in the initial scientific excavations during the 1920s and 1930s, and
over four times as many have been found since. The inscriptions
provide critical insight into many topics from the politics, economy,
and religious practices to the art and medicine of this early stage of
1 Traditional accounts
1.1 Course of the dynasty
Bronze Age archaeology
Yellow River valley
2.2 Other sites
2.3 Genetic studies
3 Late Shang at Anyang
3.1 Court life
5 Descendants of the Shang royal family
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Many events concerning the
Shang dynasty are mentioned in various
Chinese classics, including the Book of Documents, the
Mencius and the
Zuo Zhuan. Working from all the available documents, the Han dynasty
Sima Qian assembled a sequential account of the Shang
dynasty as part of his Records of the Grand Historian. His history
describes some events in detail, while in other cases only the name of
a king is given. A closely related, but slightly different, account
is given by the Bamboo Annals. The Annals were interred in
296 BC, but the text has a complex history and the authenticity
of the surviving versions is controversial.
The name Yīn (殷) is used by
Sima Qian for the dynasty, and in the
"current text" version of the
Bamboo Annals for both the dynasty and
its final capital. It has been a popular name for the Shang throughout
history. Since the Records of Emperors and Kings by
Huangfu Mi (3rd
century AD), it has often been used specifically to describe the later
half of the Shang dynasty. In Japan and Korea, the Shang are still
referred to almost exclusively as the Yin (In) dynasty. However it
seems to have been a Zhou name for the earlier dynasty. The word does
not appear in the oracle bones, which refer to the state as Shāng
(商), and the capital as Dàyì Shāng (大邑商 "Great Settlement
Shang"). It also does not appear in securely-dated Western Zhou
Course of the dynasty
Sima Qian's Annals of the Yin begins by describing the predynastic
founder of the Shang lineage, Xie (偰) — also appearing as Qi (契)
— as having been miraculously conceived when Jiandi, a wife of
Emperor Ku, swallowed an egg dropped by a black bird. Xie is said to
Yu the Great
Yu the Great to control the Great Flood and for his
service to have been granted a place called Shang as a fief.
Sima Qian relates that the dynasty itself was founded 13 generations
later, when Xie's descendant Tang overthrew the impious and cruel
final Xia ruler in the Battle of Mingtiao. The Records recount events
from the reigns of Tang, Tai Jia, Tai Wu, Pan Geng, Wu Ding, Wu Yi and
the depraved final king Di Xin, but the rest of the Shang rulers are
merely mentioned by name. According to the Records, the Shang moved
their capital five times, with the final move to Yin in the reign of
Pan Geng inaugurating the golden age of the dynasty.
Di Xin, the last Shang king, is said to have committed suicide after
his army was defeated by Wu of Zhou. Legends say that his army and his
equipped slaves betrayed him by joining the Zhou rebels in the
decisive Battle of Muye. According to the
Yi Zhou Shu and
battle was very bloody. The classic, Ming-era novel Fengshen Yanyi
retells the story of the war between Shang and Zhou as a conflict
where rival factions of gods supported different sides in the war.
After the Shang were defeated, King Wu allowed Di Xin's son
Wu Geng to
rule the Shang as a vassal kingdom. However, Zhou Wu sent three of his
brothers and an army to ensure that
Wu Geng would not
rebel. After Zhou Wu's death, the Shang joined the
Rebellion of the Three Guards
Rebellion of the Three Guards against the Duke of Zhou, but the
rebellion collapsed after three years, leaving Zhou in control of
Bronze Age archaeology
Main article: Shang archaeology
Further information: History of Chinese archaeology
Major archaeological sites of the second millennium BC in north
and central China
Before the 20th century, the
Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC) was the
earliest Chinese dynasty that could be verified from its own records.
However, during the
Song dynasty (960–1279 AD), antiquarians
collected bronze ritual vessels attributed to the Shang era, some of
which bore inscriptions.
Yellow River valley
In 1899, several scholars noticed that Chinese pharmacists were
selling "dragon bones" marked with curious and archaic characters.
These were finally traced back in 1928 to a site (now called Yinxu)
near Anyang, north of the
Yellow River in modern
Henan province, where
Academia Sinica undertook archeological excavation until the
Japanese invasion in 1937.
Archaeologists focused on the
Yellow River valley in
Henan as the most
likely site of the states described in the traditional histories.
After 1950, the remnants of the earlier walled settlement of Shang
City were discovered near Zhengzhou. It has been determined that
the earth walls at Zhengzhou, erected in the 15th century BC,
would have been 20 m (66 ft) wide at the base, rising to a
height of 8 m (26 ft), and formed a roughly rectangular wall
7 km (4 mi) around the ancient city. The rammed
earth construction of these walls was an inherited tradition, since
much older fortifications of this type have been found at Chinese
Neolithic sites of the
Longshan culture (c. 3000–2000 BC).
In 1959, the site of the
Erlitou culture was found in Yanshi, south of
Yellow River near Luoyang.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that
Erlitou culture flourished ca. 2100 BC to 1800 BC. They
built large palaces, suggesting the existence of an organized
state. In 1983,
Yanshi Shang City was discovered 6 kilometres
(3.7 mi) north-east of the Erlitou site in Yanshi's Shixianggou
Township. This was a large walled city dating from 1600 BC. It
had an area of nearly 200 hectares (490 acres) and featured pottery
characteristic of the Erligang culture.
The remains of a walled city of about 470 hectares (1,200 acres) were
discovered in 1999 across the
Huan River from the well explored Yinxu
site. The city, now known as Huanbei, was apparently occupied for less
than a century and destroyed shortly before the construction of the
Chinese historians were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty
succeeding another, and readily identified the Erligang and Erlitou
sites with the early Shang and
Xia dynasty of traditional histories.
The actual political situation in early
China may have been more
complicated, with the Xia and Shang being political entities that
existed concurrently, just as the early Zhou, who established the
successor state of the Shang, are known to have existed at the same
time as the Shang. It has also been suggested the Xia legend
originated as a Shang myth of an earlier people who were their
Erligang culture centred on the
Zhengzhou site is found across a
wide area of China, even as far northeast as the area of modern
Beijing, where at least one burial in this region during this period
contained both Erligang-style bronzes and local-style gold
jewelry. The discovery of a Chenggu-style ge dagger-axe at
Xiaohenan demonstrates that even at this early stage of Chinese
history, there were some ties between the distant areas of north
Panlongcheng site in the middle
Yangtze valley was an
important regional center of the Erligang culture.
Accidental finds elsewhere in
China have revealed advanced
civilizations contemporaneous with but culturally unlike the
settlement at Anyang, such as the walled city of
Sichuan. Western scholars are hesitant to designate such settlements
as belonging to the Shang dynasty. Also unlike the Shang, there is
no known evidence that the
Sanxingdui culture had a system of writing.
The late Shang state at
Anyang is thus generally considered the first
verifiable civilization in Chinese history.
In contrast, the earliest layers of the Wucheng site, pre-dating
Anyang, have yielded pottery fragments containing short sequences of
symbols, suggesting that they may be a form of writing quite different
in form from oracle bone characters, but the sample is too small for
A study of mitochondrial DNA (inherited in the maternal line) from
Yinxu graves showed similarity with modern northern Han Chinese, but
significant differences from southern Han Chinese.
Late Shang at Anyang
Oracle bones pit at Yin
The oldest extant direct records date from around 1200 BC at
Anyang, covering the reigns of the last nine Shang kings. The Shang
had a fully developed system of writing, preserved on bronze
inscriptions and a small number of other writings on pottery, jade and
other stones, horn, etc., but most prolifically on oracle bones.
The complexity and sophistication of this writing system indicates an
earlier period of development, but direct evidence of that development
is still lacking. Other advances included the invention of many
musical instruments and observations of
Mars and various comets by
Their civilization was based on agriculture and augmented by hunting
and animal husbandry. In addition to war, the Shang also practiced
human sacrifice. Crania of sacrificial victims have been found to
be similar to modern Chinese ones (based on comparisons with remains
Hainan and Taiwan).
Cowry shells were also excavated at
Anyang, suggesting trade with coast-dwellers, but there was very
limited sea trade in ancient
China was isolated from other
large civilizations during the Shang period. Trade relations and
diplomatic ties with other formidable powers via the
Silk Road and
Chinese voyages to the Indian Ocean did not exist until the reign of
Emperor Wu during the
Han dynasty (206 BC–221 AD).
Oracle shell with inscriptions.
Bronzewares from the excavated tomb of Fu Hao
At the excavated royal palace of Yinxu, large stone pillar bases were
found along with rammed earth foundations and platforms, which
according to Fairbank, were "as hard as cement". These foundations
in turn originally supported 53 buildings of wooden post-and-beam
construction. In close proximity to the main palatial complex,
there were underground pits used for storage, servants' quarters, and
Many Shang royal tombs had been tunneled into and ravaged by grave
robbers in ancient times, but in the spring of 1976, the discovery
of Tomb 5 at
Yinxu revealed a tomb that was not only undisturbed, but
one of the most richly furnished Shang tombs that archaeologists had
yet come across. With over 200 bronze ritual vessels and 109
inscriptions of Lady Fu Hao's name,
Zheng Zhenxiang and other
archaeologists realized they had stumbled across the tomb of King Wu
Ding's most famous consort, Fu Hao, who is mentioned in 170 to 180
Shang oracle bone inscriptions, and who was also renowned as a
military general. Along with bronze vessels, stoneware and pottery
vessels, bronze weapons, jade figures and hair combs, and bone
hairpins were found. Historian Robert L. Thorp states that
the large assortment of weapons and ritual vessels in her tomb
correlate with the oracle bone accounts of her military career and
involvement in Wu Ding's ritual ancestral sacrifices.
The capital was the center of court life. Over time, court rituals to
appease spirits developed, and in addition to his secular duties, the
king would serve as the head of the ancestor worship cult. Often, the
king would even perform oracle bone divinations himself, especially
near the end of the dynasty. Evidence from excavations of the royal
tombs indicates that royalty 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.
A line of hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of northern China,
and Shang troops fought frequent wars with neighboring settlements and
nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. The Shang king, in his
oracular divinations, repeatedly shows concern about the fang groups,
the barbarians living outside of the civilized tu regions, which made
up the center of Shang territory.[clarification needed] In particular,
the tufang group of the Yanshan region were regularly mentioned as
hostile to the Shang.
Apart from their role as the head military commanders, Shang kings
also asserted their social supremacy by acting as the high priests of
society and leading the divination ceremonies. As the oracle bone
texts reveal, the Shang kings were viewed as the best qualified
members of society to offer sacrifices to their royal ancestors and to
the high god Di, who in their beliefs was responsible for the rain,
wind, and thunder.
Shang dynasty bronze face masks, 16th–14th century BC
Shang religious rituals featured divination and sacrifice. The degree
to which shamanism was a central aspect of Shang religion is a subject
There were six main recipients of sacrifice: (1) Di, the High God, (2)
nature powers like the sun and mountain powers, (3) former lords,
deceased humans who had been added to the dynastic pantheon, (4)
predynastic ancestors, (5) dynastic ancestors, and (6) dynastic
ancestresses such as the concubines of a past emperor.
The Shang believed that their ancestors held power over them and
performed divination rituals to secure their approval for planned
Divination involved cracking a turtle carapace or ox
scapula to answer a question, and to then record the response to that
question on the bone itself. It is unknown what criteria the
diviners used to determine the response, but it is believed to be the
sound or pattern of the cracks on the bone.
The Shang also seem to have believed in an afterlife, as evidenced by
the elaborate burial tombs built for deceased rulers. Often
"carriages, utensils, sacrificial vessels, [and] weapons" would be
included in the tomb. A king's burial involved the burial of up to
several hundred humans and horses as well to accompany the king into
the afterlife, in some cases even numbering four hundred. Finally,
tombs included ornaments such as jade, which the Shang may have
believed to protect against decay or confer immortality.
The Shang religion was highly bureaucratic and meticulously ordered.
Oracle bones contained descriptions of the date, ritual, person,
ancestor, and questions associated with the divination. Tombs
displayed highly ordered arrangements of bones, with groups of
skeletons laid out facing the same direction.
Main article: Chinese ritual bronzes
Chinese bronze casting and pottery advanced during the Shang dynasty,
with bronze typically being used for ritually significant, rather than
primarily utilitarian, items. As far back as c. 1500 BC, the
Shang dynasty engaged in large-scale production of bronze-ware
vessels and weapons. This production required a large labor force
that could handle the mining, refining, and transportation of the
necessary copper, tin, and lead ores. This in turn created a need for
official managers that could oversee both hard-laborers and skilled
artisans and craftsmen. The Shang royal court and aristocrats
required a vast number of different bronze vessels for various
ceremonial purposes and events of religious divination. Ceremonial
rules even decreed how many bronze containers of each type a nobleman
or noblewoman of a certain rank could own. With the increased amount
of bronze available, the army could also better equip itself with an
assortment of bronze weaponry.
Bronze was also used for the fittings
of spoke-wheeled chariots, which appeared in
Shang dynasty bronze ding vessel
Houmuwu Ding is the heaviest piece of bronze work
China so far.
Shang dynasty bronze ding vessel with taotie motif
Bronze gū ritual wine vessel
A bronze axe of the Shang dynasty
Bronze weapons were an integral part of Shang society. Shang
infantry were armed with a variety of stone and bronze weaponry,
including máo (矛) spears, yuè (鉞) pole-axes, gē (戈)
pole-based dagger-axes, composite bows, and bronze or leather
The chariot first appeared in
China around 1200 BC, during the reign
of Wu Ding. There is little doubt that the chariot entered China
through the Central Asia and the Northern Steppe, possibly indicating
some form of contact with the Indo-Europeans. Recent
archaeological finds have shown that the late Shang used horses,
chariots, bows and practiced horse burials that are similar to the
steppe peoples to the west. These influences led Christopher I.
Beckwith to speculate that Indo-Europeans "may even have been
responsible for the foundation of the Shang Dynasty", though he admits
there is no direct evidence.
Oracle bone inscriptions suggest that
the Shang used chariots in royal hunts and in battle only as mobile
command vehicles. In contrast, the western enemies of the Shang,
such as the Zhou, began to use limited numbers of chariots in battle
towards the end of the Shang period.
Although the Shang depended upon the military skills of their
nobility, Shang rulers could mobilize the masses of town-dwelling and
rural commoners as conscript laborers and soldiers for both campaigns
of defense and conquest. Aristocrats and other state rulers were
obligated to furnish their local garrisons with all necessary
equipment, armor, and armaments. The Shang king maintained a force of
about a thousand troops at his capital and would personally lead this
force into battle. A rudimentary military bureaucracy was also
needed in order to muster forces ranging from three to five thousand
troops for border campaigns to thirteen thousand troops for
suppressing rebellions against the Shang dynasty.
See also: List of monarchs and The family tree of the Shang kings
The earliest records are the oracle bones inscribed during the reigns
of the Shang kings from Wu Ding. The oracle bones do not contain
king lists, but they do record the sacrifices to previous kings and
the ancestors of the current king, which follow a standard schedule
that scholars have reconstructed. From this evidence, scholars have
assembled the implied king list and genealogy, finding that it is in
substantial agreement with the later accounts, especially for later
The Shang kings were referred to in the oracle bones by posthumous
names. The last character of each name is one of the 10 celestial
stems, which also denoted the day of the 10-day Shang week on which
sacrifices would be offered to that ancestor within the ritual
schedule. There were more kings than stems, so the names have
distinguishing prefixes such as 大 Dà (greater), 中 Zhōng
(middle), 小 Xiǎo (lesser), 卜 Bǔ (outer), 祖 Zǔ (ancestor) and
a few more obscure names.
The kings, in the order of succession derived from the oracle bones,
are here grouped by generation. Later reigns were assigned to oracle
bone diviner groups by Dong Zuobin:
Main line of descent
大乙 Dà Yǐ[i]
大丁 Dà Dīng[iii]
大甲 Dà Jiǎ
卜丙 Bǔ Bǐng[iv]
大庚 Dà Gēng
小甲 Xiǎo Jiǎ[vi]
大戊 Dà Wù
呂己 Lǚ Jǐ[vii]
中丁 Zhōng Dīng[viii]
卜壬 Bǔ Rén
戔甲 Jiān Jiǎ
祖乙 Zǔ Yǐ
祖辛 Zǔ Xīn
羌甲 Qiāng Jiǎ[ix]
祖丁 Zǔ Dīng
南庚 Nán Gēng[x]
象甲 Xiàng Jiǎ
盤庚 Pán Gēng
小辛 Xiǎo Xīn
小乙 Xiǎo Yǐ
武丁 Wǔ Dīng
祖庚 Zǔ Gēng
祖甲 Zǔ Jiǎ
廩辛 Lǐn Xīn[xii]
康丁 Gēng Dīng
武乙 Wǔ Yǐ
文武丁 Wén Wǔ Dīng
帝乙 Dì Yǐ[xiii]
帝辛 Dì Xīn[xiv]
^ The first king is known as Tang in the Historical Records. The
oracle bones also identify six pre-dynastic ancestors: 上甲 Shàng
Jiǎ, 報乙 Bào Yǐ, 報丙 Bào Bǐng, 報丁 Bào Dīng, 示壬
Shì Rén and 示癸 Shì Guǐ.
^ There is no firm evidence of oracle bone inscriptions before the
reign of Wu Ding.
^ According to the Historical Records and the Mencius,
Da Ding (there
called Tai Ding) died before he could ascend to the throne. However in
the oracle bones he receives rituals like any other king.
^ According to the Historical Records,
Bu Bing (there called Wai Bing)
Zhong Ren (not mentioned in the oracle bones) were younger
brothers of Dai Ting and preceded Da Jia (also known as Dai Jia).
However the Mencius, the
Commentary of Zuo
Commentary of Zuo and the Book of History
state that he reigned after Da Jia, as also implied by the oracle
^ The Historical Records include a king
Wo Ding not mentioned in the
^ The Historical Records have
Xiao Jia as the son of
Da Geng (known as
Tai Geng) in the "Annals of Yin", but as a younger brother (as implied
by the oracle bones) in the "Genealogical Table of the Three Ages".
^ According to the Historical Records, Lü Ji (there called Yong Ji)
Da Wu (there called Tai Wu).
^ The kings from
Zhong Ding to
Nan Geng are placed in the same order
by the Historical Records and the oracle bones, but there are some
differences in genealogy, as described in the articles on individual
^ The status of
Qiang Jia varies over the history of the oracle bones.
During the reigns of Wu Ding,
Di Yi and Di Xin, he was not included in
the main line of descent, a position also held by the Historical
Records, but in the intervening reigns he was included as a direct
^ According to the Historical Records,
Nan Geng was the son of Qiang
Jia (there called Wo Jia).
^ The oracle bones and the Historical Records include an older brother
祖己 Zǔ Jǐ who did not reign.
Lin Xin is named as a king in the Historical Records and oracle
bones of succeeding reigns, but not those of the last two kings.
^ There are no ancestral sacrifices to the last two kings on the
oracles bones, due to the fall of Shang. Their names, including the
character 帝 Dì "emperor", come from the much later Bamboo Annals
and Historical Records.
^ also referred to as Zhòu (紂), Zhòu Xīn (紂辛) or Zhòu Wáng
(紂王) or by adding "Shāng" (商) in front of any of these names.
Descendants of the Shang royal family
After Shang's collapse, Zhou's rulers forcibly relocated "Yin
diehards" (殷頑) and scattered them throughout Zhou territory.
Some surviving members of the Shang royal family collectively changed
their surname from the ancestral name Zi (子) to the name of their
fallen dynasty, Yin. The family retained an aristocratic standing and
often provided needed administrative services to the succeeding Zhou
Records of the Grand Historian
Records of the Grand Historian states that King Cheng of
Zhou, with the support of his regent and uncle, the Duke of Zhou,
enfeoffed Weiziqi (微子啟), a brother of Di Xin, as the Duke of
Song, with its capital at Shangqiu. This practice was referred to[by
whom?] as 二王三恪. The Dukes of Song would maintain rites
honoring the Shang kings until Qi conquered Song in 286 BC.
Confucius was a descendant of the Shang Kings through the Dukes of
Song.[need quotation to verify]
Han dynasty bestowed the title of Duke of Song and "Duke
Who Continues and Honours the Yin" (殷紹嘉公) upon Kong An (孔安
(東漢)) because he was part of the Shang dynasty's legacy.
This branch of the
Confucius family is a separate branch from the line
that held the title of Marquis of Fengsheng village and later Duke
Another remnant of the Shang established the vassal state of Guzhu
(located in present-day Tangshan), which Duke Huan of Qi
destroyed. Many Shang clans that migrated northeast after
the dynasty's collapse were integrated into Yan culture during the
Western Zhou period. These clans maintained an élite status and
continued practicing the sacrificial and burial traditions of the
Both Korean and Chinese legends, including reports in the Book of
Documents and the Bamboo Annals, state that a disgruntled Shang prince
named Jizi, who had refused to cede power to the Zhou, left
a small army. According to these legends, he founded a state known as
Gija Joseon in northwest Korea during the
Gojoseon period of ancient
Korean history. However, scholars debate the historical accuracy of
Historical capitals of China
Women in ancient and imperial China
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