Shang dynasty

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Shang Dynasty territory
Shang Dynasty locations

The Shang Dynasty ( Chinese  商朝 , Pinyin Shāngcháo ) is traditionally regarded as the second dynasty in Chinese history . She ruled China between the 18th century BC. Until about the 11th century BC. It followed the Xia dynasty , which was controversial in its existence, and was replaced by the Zhou dynasty . The Shang Dynasty is the first Chinese dynasty to leave contemporary written documents. The later period of the Shang dynasty, the Yin period ( ), has now been very well researched. In total, names of 30 kings from 17 generations have been passed down. All these names were found on the oracle bones from Yinxu , so that most historians assume that these kings actually lived.


The Shang Dynasty was founded by a tribal leader who had successfully rebelled against the last Xia ruler. Its capital was called Háo and was believed to be in what is now Shandong Province . Later documents suggest that the Shang rulers moved their capital six times. The last time from King Pan Geng ( 盤庚 , Pán Gēng ) to Yin ( ). Since no remains of the other five capitals apart from Yin have been found so far, some historians still consider the story of Pán Gēng to be unsecured.

Oracle inscription on turtle shell

The Yin period is considered to be the peak of the Shang Dynasty, so this is sometimes also called the Yin Dynasty.

The last king of the Shang dynasty Dì Xīn ( 帝辛 , also known by the name Zhòu,  /  ) was considered particularly wasteful and sadistic. He took his own life when his army defected to the rebels in a decisive battle. The name Zhòu is still a synonym for tyranny and tyranny in China.

After the fall of the Shang dynasty, the members of the royal family swore allegiance to the new Zhou kings and took the family name Yin, which was the result. They became vassals of the Zhou kings and also served them as ministers in high offices. According to later reports, both of Chinese and Korean origin, a Yin prince and his retinue settled near what is now Pyongyang and founded the first Korean state there. The Kong family originated from an offshoot of the Yin clan, from which the Chinese philosopher and wisdom teacher Confucius descended and which is still in its 75th generation today.

The remains of the city of Yin

Yinxu , the remains of the capital of the later Shang Dynasty, were discovered near Anyang City in Henan Province in the early 20th century . In addition to the foundations of palaces and temples, eleven royal tombs were found there. Over ten thousand objects made of bronze, jade, stone, bone and ceramics have been excavated so far. In addition, there are more than 20,000 oracle bones that provide insights into politics, economics, culture, religion, geography, astronomy, calendar, art and medicine of that time. The remains of the city of Yin are the most important archaeological discovery related to the Shang research.


The territory of the Shang stretched from the coast of the East China Sea to the western border of today's Shaanxi Province, to the south to the Yangtze River and to the north to today's Liaoning Province . It included the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and parts of the Yangtze River.


The kings of the Shang Dynasty were regarded as representatives of God on earth and thus enjoyed not only the highest worldly power, but also the highest spiritual authority. The excavated royal tombs are rich in additions for the dead, so it can be assumed that the Shang people believed in life after death . Hundreds of slaves were buried with the kings; these should probably continue to serve the dead kings after their lives.

The civil service was divided into secular administrators and clergy officials. For example, clergy officials were responsible for offerings and oracles . There is also evidence that shamanistic Wuism was very widespread and belonged to the Shang religion . The first written Chinese documents were oracle bones , which were primarily used to consult a divine judge. Spirits as well as ancestors were worshiped .

Women apparently enjoyed a high position in society. So many oracle bones came from high-ranking noblewomen. One of these noble women was General Fu Hao , wife of King Wu Ding .

It is noticeable that the remains of weapons have been found at all the excavation sites in Yin. The oracle bones report clashes with the nomads from the north and west.

Crimes were punished with imprisonment or with cruel physical punishment.


Houmuwu Ding , made in the Shang Dynasty, is the heaviest piece of bronze work found in China to date
Bronze wine vessel from the Shang Dynasty

Agriculture was the most important branch of the economy. It was operated on a large scale and organized. There is evidence of the brewing of alcoholic beverages with grain . The use of silk can also be proven .

Intensive trade was made with neighboring peoples and tribes. A good road network favored traffic and the formation of the first Chinese cities.


The first preforms of the Chinese script have come down to us from the Shang period. Many of the characters found on the oracle bones have survived to this day (albeit in a modified spelling). In addition to yin, oracle bones have been found in other areas along the Yellow River. The brush, with which Chinese characters are written, was also invented during this period.

Unearthed figures depict musicians and dancers. However, it can no longer be verified whether music and dancing were performed as a religious ceremony or for pleasure.

The Shang Dynasty was a state structure in what is now China, which interned prisoners of war for the purposes of "excessive human sacrifice" and for forced labor. The mass human sacrifice was "a central part of the political self-expression in China of the Bronze Age (..) Nobles and vassals asked the king for permission for human sacrifices, which he granted if an oracle promised favorable conditions. Sometimes 30 people were asked for the one deity, times ten sacrificed for someone else. If the king died, several hundred people were even killed ".

Thousands of sacrificed people were buried in the capital of the Shang Dynasty, called Yinxu . A total of over 13,000 human casualties are estimated, the remains of which are in the royal cemeteries of the Shang period and which have been excavated since the 1930s. Christina Cheung from the Canadian Simon Fraser University used isotope measurements on excavated bones to show that they were prisoners of war who had been interned for a long time and were held for occasions when there was a need for human sacrifice.

science and technology

The earliest Chinese iron tools were found in yin. Very ingenious bronze containers and tools have already been made. Vessels made of white ceramic were also excavated.

Records of comets have been found on the oracle bones . Movements of the planet Mars have also been identified.

Notes on diseases were also found.

Ruler of the Shang Dynasty

The ruler of the Shang dynasty was appointed king during his reign and emperor only after his death.

sequence Term of office * Period of government (traditional) * Government period ( XSZ-CP ) * Throne name from Shiji and oracle bone First name ** Throne name in Pinyin annotation
1 29 1778-1742 ~ 1600 Tāng (汤) and Táng (唐), Dà Yǐ (大 乙) Lǚ (履) Tāng (汤) Shi Gui's son successfully rebelled against the last Xia king, Jie
2 1741 太 丁 / 大 丁 Yǐ Diē (以 跌) Dà Dīng and Tài Dīng Son of Da Yi (i.e. Tāng )
3 2 1741-1734 卜 丙 or 外 丙 Bǔ Bǐng or Wài Bǐng Thing's younger brother there
4th 4th 1734-1730 仲 壬 Zhong Rén Bu Bing's younger brother
5 33 1753-1720 大甲 or 太甲 Dà Jiǎ There thing's son
6th 29 1720-1691 沃丁 Wò Dīng Da Jia's son
7th 25th 1691-1666 大 庚 or 太 庚 Dà Gēng Where thing's younger brother
8th 36 1666-1649 小 甲 Xiǎo Jiǎ Da Geng's son
9 75 1637-1562 大 戊 or 太戊 Dà Wù Xiao Jia's younger brother
10 12 1649-1637 雍 己 Yōng Jǐ Da Wu's younger brother
11 11 1562-1549 中 丁 Zhōng Dīng Da Wu's younger brother
12 15th 1549-1534 卜 壬 Bǔ Rén Zhong Ding's son
13 9 1534-1526 河 亶 甲 or 戔 甲 Hé Dǎn Jiǎ Zhong Ding's son
14th 19th 1526-1507 且 乙 or 祖乙 Qiě Yǐ He Dan Jia's younger brother
15th 16 1507-1491 且 辛 or 祖辛 Qiě Xīn Qie Yi's son
16 20th 1491-1466 羌 甲 or 沃 甲 Qiāng Jiǎ Qie Xin's younger brother
17th 32 1466-1434 且 丁 or 祖丁 Qiě Dīng Qie Xin's son
18th 29 1434-1409 南 庚 Nán Gēng Qiang Jia's son
19th 7th 1409-1402 象 甲 or 阳 甲 Xiàng Jiǎ Qie thing's son
20th 28 1402-1374 ~ 1300 盘庚 Pán Gēng Xiang Jia's younger brother. Pán Gēng founded the capital Yin. For some historians, the history of the Shang dynasty is now considered certain.
21st 21st 1374-1353 小辛 Xiǎo Xīn Pan Geng's younger brother
22nd 21st 1353-1325 小 乙 Xiǎo Yǐ Xiao Xin's younger brother
23 59 1325-1266 1250-1191 武丁 Wǔ Dīng Xiao Xin's son. Wu Ding is the first king to be narrated on oracle bones. According to the Xia-Shang-Zhou chronological project , the history of the Shang dynasty should be considered as certain from here on.
24 59 1266-1259 - 且 己 Qiě Jǐ Wu Ding's son
25th 7th 1259-1226 1191-1147 且 庚 or 祖 庚 Qiě Gēng Qie Ji's younger brother
26th 33 1226 且 甲 or 祖 甲 Qiě Jiǎ Qie Geng's younger brother
27 6th 1226-1220 廩 辛 Lǐn Xīn Qie Jia's son
28 6th 1220-1199 康丁 Kāng Dīng Qie Xin's younger brother
29 4th 1199-1195 1147-1112 武 乙 Wǔ Yǐ Kang Ding's son
30th 3 1195-1192 1112-1101 文 丁 or 太 丁 Wén Dīng or Tài Dīng Wu Yi's son
31 37 1192-1155 1101-1075 帝乙 Dì Yǐ Wen thing's son
32 33 1155-1122 1075-1046 帝辛 Dì Xīn Di Yi's son, also called 纣 in Chinese  , Pinyin Zhòu ( Chinese 商 纣王  - " Zhòu king of the Shang dynasty")  

* All dates come from documents that were created much later; therefore they are not historically secured and are often given differently, if at all. The absolute chronological classification is given here on the one hand based on the historical tradition according to Liu Xin and in an incomplete column on the basis of the information determined by the Chronological Project Xia-Shang-Zhou
** These names may not be the actual names of the kings. They seem to be a kind of posthumously given honorific name.


  • David N. Keightley: Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. University of California Press, Berkeley 1985, ISBN 0-520-05455-5 .
  • David N. Keightley: The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China (ca. 1200-1045 BC) (China Research Monograph 53, Institute of East Asian Studies). University of California Press, Berkeley 2000, ISBN 1-55729-070-9
  • Michael Loewe , Edward L. Shaughnessy (Eds.): The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999.
  • Robert L. Thorp: China in the Early Bronze Age: Shang Civilization (Encounters with Asia). University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 2005, ISBN 0-8122-3910-5

Web links

Commons : Shang Dynasty  - Album containing pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Jan Dönges: Shang dynasty: human sacrifices in stock., June 19, 2017, accessed June 20, 2017 .