Guest Author - Heather J. Hasan
The Shang Dynasty is the second officially-documented dynasty in Records of the Historian by Sima Qian. According to tradition, the dynasty was established between 1600 and 1400 B.C. when Jie, the corrupt final ruler of the Xia dynasty, was overthrown by Tang, the King of the Shang nation. This dynasty brought with it new and innovative concepts to China that would change the course of Chinese history. The dynasty became famous for the bronze artifacts found in the tombs of the kings and elite, the techniques used for creating bronze art, the first with an organized royal court system in the history of Chinese dynasties, the invention of chopsticks, and it would play an important role in the history of Chinese writing because of the discovery of an advanced writing system during the Shang period.
The Shang Dynasty consisted of 30 rulers with full royal courts that governed most of Northern China. During the dynasty's reign, the capital was relocated several times. The specifics of each capital are unknown, but during an excavation of a modern-day Anyang area called Yinxu in the 1920ís, archeologists discovered what is believed to be the final established capital of the Shang Dynasty. Within this enclave, a massive complex was discovered containing numerous houses, halls, draining systems, rooms, and a sacrificial alter. Probably the most important discovery during the dig was the eleven large graves and over one thousand small graves. These graves were the confirmed to be the final resting place for eleven Shang kings. Buried with the kings were many pieces of bronze art and other pieces of art unique to the Shang era as well as the remains of human sacrifices which were performed for ritual and spiritual purposes.
Also found in the tombs were items called oracle bones. Oracle bones are animal bones or turtle shells with symbols carved into them. The objects were used by kings and the court as divination tools throughout the era. These items were the first discovery in the history of China to contain symbols called pictographs and scripts documented as the first advanced Chinese writing system. Many of these artifacts remain and are on display in museums throughout China.
The Shang Dynasty came to an end in approximately 1000 B.C. when the Zhou nation defeated the Shang in a major battle. The final king of the Shang Dynasty, King Di Xin, was so upset by this defeat that he set fire to his palace, thus killing himself and his court.
Yinxu, the final capital of the Shang dynasty, is now a popular tourist spot in Anyang, Henan, China. The site was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in 2006. This organization is working to preserve historical sites around the world.