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Ancient China

Shang Dynasty

History >> Ancient China

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

For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:

Timeline of Ancient China
Geography of Ancient China
Silk Road
The Great Wall
Forbidden City
Terracotta Army
The Grand Canal
Battle of Red Cliffs
Opium Wars
Inventions of Ancient China
Glossary and Terms

Major Dynasties
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Han Dynasty
Period of Disunion
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dyanasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Daily Life in Ancient China
Numbers and Colors
Legend of Silk
Chinese Calendar
Civil Service
Chinese Art
Entertainment and Games

Kangxi Emperor
Genghis Khan
Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Emperor Qin
Emperor Taizong
Sun Tzu
Empress Wu
Zheng He
Emperors of China

Works Cited

History >> Ancient China

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