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Type 093 Shang-class Nomenclature

Thousands of archaeological finds in the Huang He Valley--the apparent cradle of Chinese civilization--provide evidence about the Shang dynasty, which endured roughly from 1700 to 1027 BC. The Shang dynasty (also called the Yin dynasty in its later stages) is believed to have been founded by a rebel leader who overthrew the last Xia ruler. Its civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. Two important events of the period were the development of a writing system, as revealed in archaic Chinese inscriptions found on tortoise shells and flat cattle bones (commonly called oracle bones), and the use of bronze metallurgy. A number of ceremonial bronze vessels with inscriptions date from the Shang period; the workmanship on the bronzes attests to a high level of civilization.

A line of hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of northern China, and Shang troops fought frequent wars with neighboring settlements and nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. The capitals, one of which was at the site of the modern city of Anyang, were centers of glittering court life. Court rituals to propitiate spirits and to honor sacred ancestors were highly developed. In addition to his secular position, the king was the head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult. Evidence from the royal tombs indicates that royal personages were buried with articles of value, presumably for use in the afterlife. Perhaps for the same reason, hundreds of commoners, who may have been slaves, were buried alive with the royal corpse.

Archaeological evidence about the Shang comes mainly from excavations at Zhengzhou and Anyang, both in Henan province. Zhengzhou (the type site of what is called Erligang culture) is assigned to the period 1500 to 1300 BC and Anyang (ancient Yinxu) to the period of roughly 1200 to 1050 BC. Remains at Zhengzhou include the foundations of city walls, large buildings, bronze foundries, and bone and pottery workshops, as well as a number of burial sites. By 1500 BC, Shang burial traditions were becoming well defined. The deceased lay in a wooden coffin at the bottom of a shaft. Below the coffin chamber was a sacrificial pit (yaokeng) containing the body of a sacrificed man or dog (probably a guard). Surrounding the chamber was a platform (ercengtai) that held grave goods and more human sacrifices. Sacrifices of humans and animals were also placed beneath the foundations of buildings at this time. Bronze vessels included in burials were much larger than those created previously, and more varied in shape.

Archaeology has revealed that important regional centers existed alongside the Shang, including those centered around the site of Dayangzhou, south of the Yangzi River basin in Jiangxi province, and the site of Sanxingdui, just north of the modern city of Chengdu in Sichuan province. Dayangzhou produced a large burial chamber filled with hundreds of ceramics, bronzes (both weapons and vessels), and jades. Some of the bronzes could be related to types found at Erligang, but others, such as the meat-cooking vessels and bronze bells, were unique to Dayangzhou. Dayangzhou was also distinctive for its use of human heads, ram heads, deer, and especially tigers in design.

The last Shang ruler, a despot according to standard Chinese accounts, was overthrown by a chieftain of a frontier tribe called Zhou, which had settled in the Wei Valley in modern Shaanxi Province. The Zhou dynasty had its capital at Hao, near the city of Xi'an, or Chang'an, as it was known in its heyday in the imperial period. Sharing the language and culture of the Shang, the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, gradually sinicized, that is, extended Shang culture through much of China Proper north of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River).

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Page last modified: 30-04-2019 17:50:03 ZULU