The Shang Dynasty was the second dynasty of China. It ran from approximately 1600 BC to 1046 BC and succeeded the Xia Dynasty.
Because historians believed that the Xia Dynasty was just a legend for such a long time – and some still think it is today! – the Shang Dynasty was the original “first dynasty” of China.
Because of this, many important aspects of Chinese culture can be traced back to this dynasty.
The Shang Dynasty was much more stable than the Xia Dynasty. There were fewer tyrant rulers and political unrest as a whole, and because of this, culture and industry developed rapidly during this time.
For example, it was during the Shang Dynasty that bronze was first produced industrially (a very important metal for weapons, armor, building, and crafts) as well as when the Chinese calendar and first writing systems were established.
The first Emperor of the Shang Dynasty, Tang, ruled the country after the final Xia Emperor, Jie, had been defeated. In comparison to Jie, Tang was a much kinder emperor.
He got rid of many of Jie’s cruel policies and set up a new government which would work for the people instead of against them.
Although Tang kept an army of around 1,000 troops ready at all times, he lowered the rate of conscription for young men and reduced the amount of time one had to serve.
He also began social programs to help the poor. During Jie’s rule, some Chinese people were forced to sell their children into slavery in order to survive a famine.
Tang’s government issued special gold coins to these families so that they could buy their children back.
The Shang Dynasty was very prosperous – meaning that people had plenty of money to spend, and famine was very rare.
The Shang used the fertile land around the Yellow River much more effectively than the Xia had, and had much more food available as a result.
This increased amount of food (and therefore money) allowed the Shang to build many cities in Ancient China.
The Shang used a technique called “hangtu” (which meant “stamped-earth”) while building cities, which meant that they would press soil together using logs to make a hard base.
This soil base would be used as the foundation for the rest of the building. Historians discovered this method of building when they found the lost city of Erligang in 1952.
The remains of the city of Erligang were discovered near the modern city of Zhengzhou. The city had walls which were 32 feet high and 65 feet thick, a very impressive feat for the time.
It is estimated that it would have taken 10,000 men 12 years to construct the city as a whole – it is by far the biggest city from the Shang Dynasty which has been uncovered.
The people of the Shang Era were highly skilled craftsmen. Their work with silk was of very high quality, as has been discovered from the pieces of clothing found in Shang Dynasty tombs.
Bronze weapons and statues were also discovered in the ruins of Erligang, which indicate to us that bronze was very useful (and valuable) material in the time of the Shang Dynasty.
It was used for both military and artistic purposes. But besides being experts with bronze, the craftsmen of the Shang Dynasty were also able to make statues and jewelry with a special type of green stone called “jade.”
Jade items have been found in many grave sites from the Shang Era, which probably means that they were important to their religious practice.
Religious practice developed greatly during the Shang Dynasty. During the Xia Dynasty, the people worshipped one god – Shangti – but this changed during the Shang Dynasty.
The worship of ancestors began during this time. It was believed that when someone died, they attained divine powers and could be called upon for help in a time of need.
This was the most important religious development of the Shang Dynasty, as burial practices became increasingly complex and reverential to appease the spirits of the dead.
It is also believed that the modern religion of Taoism had its beginnings in this era.