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The Shang Dynasty was the first Chinese dynasty with written records. The Shang ruled from around 1600 BC to 1046 BC. Some historians consider the Shang to be the first Chinese Dynasty. Other historians consider it to be the second dynasty, coming after the legendary Xia Dynasty
The Shang tribe grew into power around 1600 BC. Legend has it that the Shang were united under the leadership of Cheng Tang. Cheng Tang defeated the evil King Jie of the Xia to begin the Shang Dynasty.
The Shang ruled an area around the Yellow River Valley for around 500 years. They had many rulers and capital cities during that time. The government became corrupt under the rule of King Di Xin. He was overthrown by Wu of Zhou and the Zhou Dynasty was founded.
How do we know about the Shang?
Much of what we know about the Shang comes from oracle bones. These were bones that the Shang used to try and determine the future. Religious men would write a question on one side of the bone and then burn the bone until it cracked. They would then interpret the cracks for the answers and write the answers on the other side of the bone. Historians are able to decipher much of the history of the Shang through these questions and answers. Thousands of oracle bones have been found by archeologists.
Other information about the Shang comes from Ancient Chinese historians such as Sima Quian from the Han Dynasty. Some short inscriptions are also found on bronze religious items of the Shang.
The Shang were the first Chinese Dynasty to invent writing and have a recorded history. This ancient writing is fairly similar to modern Chinese script. Writing enabled the Shang to have a fairly organized society and government.
The government of the Shang was fairly advanced. They had many levels of leaders starting with the king. Most of the high level officials were closely related to the king. Warlords often ruled areas of land, but owed allegiance to the king and would provide soldiers during times of war. The government collected taxes from the people and tributes from surrounding allies.
The Shang also developed bronze technology. They did not make normal tools out of bronze, but used bronze for religious items and weapons. Bronze weapons such as spears gave the Shang an advantage in war against their enemies. The Shang also used horse-drawn chariots in battle, giving them a further advantage.
Interesting Facts about the Shang Dynasty
- It is sometimes referred to as the Yin Dynasty.
- One of the most famous kings of the Shang was Wu Ding who ruled for 58 years.
- The last capital of the Shang was the city of Yin Xu. Archeologists have discovered many oracle bones at Yin Xu.
- Most of the oracle bones discovered have been the shoulder blades of oxen or turtle shells.
- Questions on oracle bones included things like "Will we win the war?", "Should we go hunting tomorrow?", and "Will the baby be a son?"
- The Shang worshiped their dead ancestors as well as a supreme being called Shangdi.
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