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The Rise And Fall Of The Shang Dynasty

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The Cities of ancient times are a wonder to us. How did they flourish? What did they do to survive? What technology did they learn and use? It is all these things that we search for when we try to uncover how the past led to the people of the present. Here we’ll learn what the Shang Dynasty of China was, what they accomplished, what problems occurred, and finally what became of them.

The Shang Dynasty, or Yin Dynasty, was the first real historic Chinese Dynasty. It existed from around 1766 BC to 1122 BC. Long thought to be only a “Legendary Dynasty”, it ruled in the northeastern region of area known as “China Proper”, which refers to the lands of China where the Han Chinese were the Majority Ethnic Group. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, the Shang dynasty moved its capital 6 times before it finally settled in Yin, in 1350 BC, and had its Golden Age. Historians believe that the Shang dynasty was founded by a rebel, now known as King Tang, who in 1766 BC overthrew the leader of the Xia Dynasty, Jie.

Learning from the ways of the former Xia leader, King Tang used a series of creative measures to help the people. He is known for his abolition of the persecution and oppression of the people that Jie had brought. During Tangs reign, people lead happy lives, a lot of the conflict died and the country prospered. In all areas of life, great achievements were made.

This continued on for the next eight Emperors. But during the reign of the tenth Emperor, the conditions of the Cities and peoples lives began to deteriorate. Things became so bad that the Emperors own family tried to overthrow him and take command. Socials problems started emerging and the Emperors power gradually declines. During the Final period of the Dynasty, the country was in a crisis and the Vassals, or people granted the use of land in return for homage, fealty and usually military service to his lord, began to rebel. Despite the crisis and trouble, Emperor Zhou (the last Emperor of the Shang) lived a luxurious life and tortured his ministers and his people. These actions resulted in intensifying the conflict across the kingdom until the Shang people were finally overthrown by Wen, chief of Zhou tribe, ending the long reign of the Shang Dynasty in Chinese history. However, the Shang People did manage to accomplish a great deal before that happened.

The People of the Shang Dynasty were largely agricultural, but they also had some cities that grew to be the Administrative and Religious centers for their society. The Shang Kings used a few people, who were allied to the throne through marriages, to act as governors in times of peace and as generals in times of war. Because the basis of the Shang dynasty was agriculture, the vast majority of the population was involved in farming all the land the king controlled. The people were often called upon by the king himself to do things such as fight wars or help construct large scale project such as city walls. They were even called upon to be human sacrifices if the need should arise.

As early as 1500 BC, the Shang people started to become known for their large-scale production of bronze vessels and weapons. Because of the need for bronze by the Royal Courts and Aristocrats for ceremonial purposes, a large force was needed to mine, refine, and transport the copper, tin and lead ores. These events required official managers that could provide oversight and employment of hard-laborers and skilled artisans and craftsmen. For the people of the Shang, these things were a way to earn an honest living. With all the bronze that was being produced, the Shang army could be better equipped with an assortment of bronze weaponry and new bronze spoke-wheeled chariots that became widely used by 1200 BC.

From the Bronze vessels and burial offerings found, we get an idea as to how the ancestors were remembered and worshipped. The tombs in Anyang and Other Shang period sites do not only have the tomb owner in his decorated coffin, but many other offerings. But sadly, as time went on, most of those offering have deteriorated and have been ruined. The only things that have survived were some pottery, jade objects, and ritual bronze vessels. We have also found that the Kings whole entourage was sacrificed and buried along side him. These people would have been his Ministers, servants, slaves and concubines.

The Shang people had a complicated belief system. They used a technique called pyromancy which required the use of a turtle shell or a bone. After drilling a hole into the bone or shell they would write there questions on it along with the name of an ancestor, usually former kings. They would then expose the shell/bone to fire, from which it would obtain cracks. They had professional diviners, or sometimes the King himself, Interpret those cracks to get answers to those questions. Only the king was allowed to write the questions on the bones/shells because he was believed to be the only one noble and holy enough to be heard by the gods when he asked a question. The most important part of Shang religion was there ancestral Worship that later became known as Confucianism and “Chinese Thinking”. This concept of the Shangs’ lived on even after the Dynasty was attacked and conquered.

The Shang Dynasty ended with an attack from the neighboring Zhou Kingdom, in 1122 BC. After his Army was defeated by the Zhou, Shang Zhou, the last king, committed suicide. The legends say that his army betrayed him by joining with the Zhou after a decisive battle. The Zhou did not dismantle the society of the Shang but rather just took over; ruling it the same was it was for the earlier years, with some help from the former Shang officials. The Zhou, as well as many later societies, benefited greatly from the advances that the Shang had made before the take-over. After the Shang Collapse, the surviving members of the Ruling family collectively changed their Surname to Yin, out of respect to their fallen Dynasty. The Family



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