Shang Dynasty

This website will tell you all about the Shang Dynasty

The Shang Religion

Shang religion centered on ancestor worship. They also believed that dead ancestors had the power to help or harm the living. Kings used oracle bones to seek their ancestors’ advice on important matters such as when to hunt, where to build cities, and whether to go to war. The oracle bones were made from turtle shells or the shoulder blade of a cow. To ask a question, a holy man would make a statement such as this: “Tomorrow is a good day for the hunt.” Then he would press a hot needle against the back of the bone. The heat would make the bone crack. The pattern of the crack was believed to be a message.

Shang Government and Military

A powerful king led the Shang government. To extend his power, a king set up smaller kingdoms led by his younger brothers and nephews. When a king died, his power was often passed on to a younger brother or to a son.  Shang kings depended on strong armies to maintain their rule and to defend and expand their kingdoms. The kings took part in almost constant warfare with their enemies and fought to keep other clans under control.  The king’s armies were especially powerful because Shang nobles had weapons made of bronze. Archaeologists have found huge cities with walls, royal palaces, and royal tombs from the time of the Shang. One of these cities was Anyang (AHN•YAHNG) in northern China. Anyang was China’s first capital.

End of the Shang Dynasty

The Shang excelled in war.  Constant warfare eventually weakened the military power of the Shang.  The Shang king and his nobles spent extravagant amounts of money on their palaces, furnishings, clothing, and even their tombs. Over time, this lavish spending may have weakened the economy. One of the last Shang kings was especially corrupt.  Rather than look after his people, he spent all his time on recreational activities like hunting. But no one knows whether this report was true.  Around 1045 B.C.E., a clan called Zhou (joh) rose up against and conquered the dynasty. One story says that, as Zhou rebels stormed his capital city, the last Shang king ran from the battlefield, put on all his jewelry, and threw himself into the flames of a fire.

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