Monday, October 01, 2007

Becoming an Expert: Part 3

I was looking for night reading--something exciting, perhaps, fiction, most definitely--in my mom's bedroom, when, scanning the shelves line by line, stumbled upon a brobdingnagian tome titled Ancient Civilizations. The six hundred and eighty-eight page book wasn't exactly night reading, I decided. It did, however, have plenty of information on China, so today we'll learn about the Shang Dynasty.

According to Ancient Civilizations, the Shang (also known as the Yin) dynasty, was China's "first truly historical dynasty," lasting from around 1550 to 1045 BCE. The Shang dynasty’s Cheng Tang wrested power out of the hands of his predecessor, King Jie of the Xia Dynasty (citing The Records of the Historian by Sima Qian). The Shang state was centered in what is now called the Huabei Pingyuan (North China Plain), an expansive lowland area extending across north central China. Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2008. © 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Many artifacts dated from the Shang Dynasty, such as bronze vessels, turtle-shells, ox-bones, and sculptures, have been found. The quote below about the Shang Dynasty from Microsoft Encarta ® 2008 illustrates the extent of Shang texts:

“Shang texts exist primarily in the form of carvings in the Shang
script on animal bones and shells.
These inscriptions recorded the king’s
divinations (ritual acts designed to forecast the future). More than 200,000
fragments of the so-called oracle-bone inscriptions have been found. They
provide an account of the daily concerns of the last nine Shang kings, from the
21st king, Wu Ding, to the 29th king, Di Xin.”

According to Civilizations, the Shang features of life were changed visibly when King Wu Ding extended Shang power, which made the Shang dynasty exposed to the innovations of the west, such as the introduction of the chariot.

The last days of the Shang Dynasty were not very impressive. Divinations continued regularly; bronze styles did not progress; military and political power was “limited,” from Ancient Civilizations. Even the tombs of the last Shang kings were looted. However, we get some view of what these tombs would have been like from the intact tomb of King Wu Ding’s consort, Fu Hao. Encarta says about Fu Hao’s tomb:

“It offers a glimpse of how the others would have been furnished with a lavish
assortment of cast bronzes (vessels, bells, mirrors, and weapons), carved jade
ornaments, pottery, and objects made of ivory and marble.”

This ostentatious variety of valuable antiquities sounds like a fitting end to the Shang Dynasty and this article.


Chinese Dynasties
China was ruled by dynasties, a line of rulers from the same family, for thousands of years. The last emperor was forced from power in 1911, bringing dynastic rule in China to an end.

Major events

2205?-1570? bc
agriculture, bronze, first writing
Shang or Yin
1570?-1045? bc
first major dynasty; first Chinese calendar, metallurgy, uniform writing code
1045?-256 bc
developed society using money, iron, written laws; age of Confucius
221-206 bc
unification after period of Warring States, building of Great Wall begun, roads built
206 bc-ad 220
first centralized and effectively administered empire; introduction of Buddhism
Three Kingdoms Period
division into three states, prolonged fighting and eventual victory of the state of Wei over Chu and Wu; Confucianism superseded by Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism)
beginning of Hun invasions in the north
reunification; barbarian invasions stopped; Great Wall refortified
centralized government; empire greatly extended; period of excellence in sculpture, painting, and poetry
Wu Dai(Five Dynasties)
economic depression and loss of territory in northern China, central Asia, and Korea; first use of paper money
period of calm and creativity; printing developed (movable type); central government restored; northern and western frontiers neglected and Mongol incursions begun
beginning of Mongol rule in China, under Kublai Khan; Marco Polo visited China; dynasty brought to an end by widespread revolts, centered in Mongolia
Mongols driven out by native Chinese, Mongolia captured by 2nd Ming emperor; period of architectural development; Beijing flourished as new capital
China once again under non-Chinese rule, the Qing conquered by nomads from Manchuria; trade with the West; culture flourished, but conservatism eventually led to the dynasty's overthrow by nationalistic revolutionaries led by Sun Yatsen
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2008. © 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


"Shang Dynasty." Microsoft Encarta 2008.

“Ancient Civilizations.” General Editor: Professor Greg Woolf.



  1. Anonymous3:49 PM

    Adora, I'm glad to see you utilizing books in your quest for expertise. Nice work on the intro to this post--it really draws the reader in. I think this post is slightly less interesting than your last posts on China, primarily because you do not include your own opinions or thoughts on the subjects you bring to light. You also don't provide much of a critique of your sources. I do think you have chosen some interesting facts to discuss, however, it seems like some key information is missing. I'd like to hear more about how the dynasty fell into decline.
    -your teacher, Beastie

  2. How can I go to the source you give?Please tell me.Thanks
    A Vietnamese girl
    Mai(Polly,English name)