- Compare the Shang Dynasty with the earlier Xia Dynasty
- The Shang Dynasty (also called the Yin Dynasty) succeeded the Xia Dynasty, and was followed by the Zhou Dynasty. It was located in the Yellow River valley, during the second millennium BCE.
- The Shang Dynasty is the first period of prehistoric China that has been conclusively proven to have existed by archaeological evidence, such as excavated graves and oracle bones, the oldest substantial evidence of Chinese writing.
- Writing during the Shang Dynasty was already in an advanced form, suggesting that the written language had already existed for a long time.
- Under the Shang Dynasty, the Chinese built huge cities with strong social class divisions, expanded irrigation systems, and monopolized the use of bronze.
- The Shang Dynasty was overthrown in 1046 BCE by the Zhou, who established their own dynasty.
Inscriptions of divination records on the bones or shells of animals, dating to the Shang Dynasty of ancient China.
A city from the Shang Dynasty, the excavation of which yielded large numbers of oracle bones. This helped prove the existence of the Shang Dynasty.
The modern-day area where the new capital of Shang was established during the Shang Dynasty.
The first dynasty in traditional Chinese history.
Jie, the last king of the Xia Dynasty (the first Chinese dynasty), was overthrown c. 1760 BCE by Cheng Tang. It is estimated the Shang ruled from either 1766-1122 or 1556-1046 BCE. While scholars still debate whether the Xia Dynasty actually existed, there is little doubt that the Shang Dynasty existed. The Shang Dynasty is, therefore, generally considered China’s first historical dynasty.
Under the Shang Dynasty, a unified sense of Chinese culture emerged. This culture would continue to thrive and evolve, and many modern Chinese still see the Shang culture as China’s dominant culture. Under the Shang Dynasty, the Chinese built huge cities with strong social class divisions, expanded irrigation systems, monopolized the use of bronze, and developed a system of writing. Shang kings were believed to fulfill sacred, not political, purposes. Instead, a council of chosen advisers administered various aspects of the government. The border territories of Shang rule were led by chieftains, who gained the right to govern through connections with royalty.
The Shang Dynasty was overthrown in 1046 BCE by the Zhou, a subject people living in the western part of the kingdom.
The Shang Dynasty is the oldest Chinese dynasty supported by archaeological finds. These have included 11 major Yin royal tombs and building sites of palaces and rituals, as well as weapons and remains of human and animal sacrifices, and artifacts, including bronze, jade, stone, bone, and ceramic.
The oldest surviving form of Chinese writing is inscriptions of divination records on the bones or shells of animals—so-called oracle bones. However, the writing on the oracle bones shows evidence of complex development, indicating that written language had existed for a long time. In fact, modern scholars are able to read it because the language was very similar to the modern Chinese writing system.
Archaeologists have also found ancient cities that correspond with the Shang Dynasty. When Cheng Tang overthrew the last king of the Xia Dynasty, he supposedly founded a new capital for his dynasty at a town called Shang, near modern-day Zhengzhou. Archaeological remains of this town may have been found—it seems to have functioned as a sacred capital, where the most sacred temples and religious objects were housed. This city also had palaces, workshops, and city walls.
Anyang, in modern-day Henan, is another important (but slightly later) Shang city that has been excavated. This site yielded large numbers of oracle bones that describe the travels of eleven named kings. The names and timeframes of these kings match traditional lists of Shang kings. Anyang was a huge city, with an extensive cemetery of thousands of graves and 11 large tombs—evidence of the city’s labor force, which may have belonged to the 11 Shang kings.