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Shang Dynasty

Shang Dynasty (17th-11th century BC) is the second slave dynasty in Chinese history. The first capital was established in Bo and the Shang Dynasty moved its center of activities several times. Finally, the king of Pan Geng settled its capital in Yin where is in today’s Xiaotun in Anyang County, Henan Province. As a result, the Shang Dynasty is also called the Yin Dynasty.

Zhengzhou in Henan Province, in where the royal family and the aristocracy lived, was a political and religious center of Shang Dynasty. Villages across the country were bounded together in a large network of constant deliveries of goods and services.

map of shang dynasty

How did Shang emerge and develop?

In 1766 BC, Tang, the leader of the Shang tribe, overthrew the sovereign of the Xia Dynasty, and established the Shang Dynasty. Tang made Bo (today’s Shangqiu City, Hennan Province) the new capital.
Drawing lessons from the tyrant Jie, the last emperor of the Xia Dynasty, King Tang became well-known as an emperor who governed his people with benevolence and compassion. Tang was diligent in state politics, kind to the common people, and paid attention to developing agricultural production. He conducted punitive expeditions against all sides, and expanded his territory into the Di and Qiang minorities' territories in the west. Under Tang's rule, the country became more and more prosperous.
From the rule of King Tang to King Taiwu, the ninth emperor, the Shang Dynasty went through a consolidating and developing period. Even though there were fatuous kings and struggles within the royal family, the Shang Dynasty maintained its rule with the help of some wise and loyal ministers.

How did Shang fall and end?
From the tenth emperor – Zhongding, chaos prevailed in the royal family. During the rule of the following nine kings after that, many struggles took place for the crown between brothers or uncles and nephews. The Shang Dynasty was also surrounded by enemies. Social problems began to emerge and thus the whole empire began to break down.

Si mu wu ding

In order to overcome the crisis, Pangeng, the twentieth emperor, moved the capital to Yin (Xiaotun Village in Anyang City, Henan Province today). He then practiced King Tang's policies, and carried out a series of reforms. He got rid of the vice of extravagance, and took care of the lives of the common people. All these actions helped to stabilize the situation. After a short while, the society, politics, economy and culture started to recover and develop. This event is called “Pangeng moved the capital to Yin” historically.
Emperor Wuding, the 22nd king of the Shang Dynasty grew up in the countryside. He thus knew the hardships and sufferings of the common people. After ascending to the throne, he appointed people on their merits, was cautious and attentive with state affairs, and pacified the invasions of the nomadic peoples. By doing so, he enlarged the territory and consolidated his rein. During Wuding's rule, the Shang Dynasty reached its peak. At that time, its territory extended to Liaoning Province in the north, covered Hubei Province in the south, got to Shaanxi Province in the west, and was on the sea in the east.


Si yang fangzu

However, the grand occasion Wuding inaugurated did not last long after his death. Since Zujia, the 24th emperor, social contradictions increased, and Shang Dynasty gradually collapsed. To the rule of Zhou, the last emperor of the Shang Dynasty struggles between the royal family and the nobles developed to the zenith. Facing the serious situation, King Zhou neither thought of the solutions nor took the good advice of the loyal ministers. Nevertheless, he just pursued an extravagant and dissipated life all day long. He assembled forces to crusade against the eastern tributaries. What he did embittered the people, made the nation's coffers empty, and intensified the discontent within the country.

Seizing the opportunity, the Zhou State, a Vassal State in the West, staged an uprising to overthrow King Zhou's tyrannical sovereignty. Emperor Zhou did not prepare to fight the battle until King Wu of the Zhou State's army reached Muye, the suburban area of the Shang Dynasty's capital. Eventually, King Zhou burned himself to death in despair and Shang Dynasty ended.

Who was the highest ruler of Shang Dynasty?

The royal members of Shang considered themselves as descendants of a mysterious god according to oracle-texts and ancient legends. During the Shang-reign, the king (王wang) gained the greatest display of power. He had the ability to cross the border towards the supernatural, and thus people worshipped him as the link between the heaven and human beings. This position of power gave the king a huge authority to put through a political and religious dictatorial rule across the country.
There were 30 kings through 17 generations in Shang Dynasty. It is said that it was the deceased king's younger brother or his oldest son who usually inherited the throne.

Yu gong

Shang Dynasty was also influenced by superstition similar to other Chinese empires. The king often went to the oracle to seek answers to different kinds of things, everything from sacrifices to outcomes of military campaigns. Every time the king faced the oracle, he always had the trusty fortune teller by his side. Once the royal question was made, the fortune teller took either a tortoise shell or a flat piece of bone out and touched it with a hot iron-stick. When this material was exposed to incredible heat, a lot of cracks appeared on the back of this shell. The fortune teller then interpreted these signs as the answers to the king's questions and wishes. The answer from the oracle was either yes or no, which means the king was told if an effort was worthy or not.

How was the country ruled?

The Shang Kingdom was divided into several large regions. Each region was put under rule of nobles. The royal administration was based on mutual loyalty. It was the royal clan Zi who was in charge of the great kingdom, and only members of this clan were appointed regional administrators. These noblemen were responsible for the defense against foreign attackers, recruiting soldiers to the royal army and collecting tributes. Although these noblemen were working for the king, they still looked upon themselves as independent chieftains.

The Shang-capital was moved to Anyang, in the northern part of Henan between 1400 B.C and 1350 B.C. This period was later known as the golden age of The Shang Dynasty. Archeological findings showed that there was no city wall surrounding Anyang, and this was a sign of a strong display of power. Anyang was a great city, containing the trace of large Chinese rectangular buildings. Some of them could be up to sixty meters long. Archeologists had also found eleven royal shrines nearby, all of which contained war-machines, gold and remainders of human sacrifices.

jade phoenix

The Shang-dynasty was build upon a patriarchal system. Archeological findings have proved that the people worshipped their male ancestors (Zu). During the reign of Shang people worshipped both spirits of nature and the souls of their ancestors. Shangdi had the highest rank among all spirits, it was the symbol of The Highest Ruler, a supernatural force which ruled the human world. Alike with the king, Shangdi had a lot of subjects, both heavenly and earthly spirits.

What were the achievements of Shang Dynasty?
jia gu wen

Chinese Character
The characters were various, including hieroglyphics, semasiographies phonograms, phonetic loan characters, and self-explanatory characters. These characters were carved on animal bones or tortoise shells hence named Jia Gu Wen (Inscriptions on Oracle Bones), which was one of the most ancient written languages in the world. The characters inscribed on bones and shells were in square shapes because the carving materials were hard; while the inscriptions on bronze objects which were cast were round in shape.


Agriculture was the main production department of Shang Dynasty. The main crops included millet, wheat, rice, mulberry, and hemp. Animal husbandry also developed rapidly.


Handicraft industry of Shang Dynasty run by the feudal official was also flourishing. Bronze making was the symbol of the Shang civilization. Large-scale workshops produced all kinds of handicrafts containing high-level techniques. The famous Simuwu Rectangle Ding and Four Goats Quadripod were both fine bronze objects of the Shang Dynasty.
Besides, people of the Shang Dynasty invented the primitive porcelain, and improved the techniques of making pottery and jade objects. In spinning, people had mastered the skill of jacquard weaving, producing tabby gauze and leno. Merchants engaging in all kinds of businesses appeared in the cities during the last period of the Shang Dynasty.


In Shang Dynasty, folk music and palace music both made marked progress. Along with the rise of the bronze smelting technique, a large number of fine musical instruments were made. People engaging in music were divided into three categories – “Wu”, music slavery, and “Gu”.


In astronomy, the Shang Dynasty produced the calendar on the cycle of the moon. The calendar of the Shang Dynasty was differentiated into big and small months, and it regulated that 366 days formed a cycle. Besides, in the “inscriptions on oracle bones” of the Shang Dynasty, there are many records about solar eclipse, lunar eclipse and nova.

Da yao

In mathematics, there are big numbers up to thirty thousand and specific conceptions about decimal system, odd numbers, even numbers and multiple numbers, according to the “inscriptions on oracle bones”. It indicates that people of that time had preliminary capability of calculating.
What is more, optics knowledge was also applied in that time. The excavated convex mirror of the Shang Dynasty can mirror the whole face of a person completely.

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