Advancements Under the Shang

Learning Objective

  • Describe some of the technical advancements made under the Shang Dynasty

Key Points

  • Bronze casting was perhaps the most important technology during the Shang Dynasty. The Shang made many objects out of bronze, including ceremonial tools, swords, and spearheads for the military.
  • The Shang also domesticated horses and developed the chariot, which gave them a massive military advantage over their opponents.
  • With these technologies, the Shang military expanded the kingdom’s borders significantly.



A two-wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle used in ancient warfare and racing.

Oracle bone

Pieces of ox scapula or turtle plastron, used for divination in ancient China.

Shang Bronze Technology

The Shang ruled China during its Bronze Age; perhaps the most important technology at the time was bronze casting. The Shang cast bronze objects by creating molds out of clay, carving a design into the clay, and then pouring molten bronze into the mold. They allowed the bronze to cool and then broke the clay off, revealing a completed bronze object.


Shang Dynasty Bronze. This bronze ding vessel dates to the Shang Dynasty.

The upper classes had the most access to bronze, and they used it for ceremonial objects, and to make offerings to ancestors. Bronze objects were also buried in the tombs of Shang elite. The Shang government used bronze for military weapons, such as swords and spearheads. These weapons gave them a distinct advantage over their enemies.

Shang Military Technology

The chariot was military technology that allowed the Shang to excel at war. Under the Shang, the Chinese domesticated the horse. Horses of that time were still too small to ride, but the Chinese gradually developed the chariot, which harnessed the horse’s power. The chariot was a devastating weapon in battle, and it also allowed Shang soldiers to move vast distances at great speeds. A chariot burial site at Anyang (modern-day Henan) dates to the rule of King Wu Ding of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1200 BCE). Oracle bone inscriptions show that the Shang used chariots as mobile command vehicles and in royal hunts. Members of the royal household were often buried with a chariot, horses and a charioteer.

These military technologies were important, because the Shang were constantly at war. A significant number of Shang oracle bones were concerned with battle. The Shang armies expanded the borders of the kingdom and captured precious resources and prisoners of war, who could be enslaved or used as human sacrifice. The oracle bones also show deep concern over the “barbarians” living outside the empire, who were a constant threat to the safety and stability of the kingdom; the military had to be constantly ready to fight them.


Shang Dynasty Bronze Battle Axe. This bronze axe is an example of Shang bronze work.