The Shang dynasty was once considered a myth, until pharmacists in China discovered evidence of the Shang in oracle bones they were selling as dragon bones. The bones were first noticed in 1899 and by the 1920's were traced to an early Shang capital.
Further archaeological digs were not made until the 1950?s after China?s war with Japan in 1937. At this time, what is present day Zhengzhou, was discovered. It is believed by some historians that this was the last capital city of the Shang dynasty.
The Shang dynasty, existing in eastern and northeastern China from 1523 to 1027 B.C, had 30 kings and seven capital cities. The dynasty consisted of a series of towns built around the rectangular residences of the king and his nobility in the center of the city.
The buildings in the city were constructed of mud with wood beams, except for the subterranean pithouses and cellars that housed a few peasants and servants. Outside the city walls, the common people lived a fairly primitive life in villages.
The village peasants were allotted nine squares of land where they farmed millet, wheat, barley, and rice. Village farmers had no ploughs to till their land, only rudely carved wood or stone hoes, sickles, and other tools.
Products from eight squares of land were used by the peasants, with crops from the ninth square given as payment for use of the land to the king. The land was passed on from the eldest brother to the youngest.
Bronze was used to a great extent by the Shang dynasty in weapons, chariots and harnesses, and in vessels for worship and other rituals. However, bronze was rare in China and an unglazed porcelain type of earthenware was often used in its place.
The walled cities around the capital, palace-cities, served as military and religious centers for the nobility. The nobility spent their time in hunting and warfare, raids primarily against the barbarians and rebel cities.
Precious metals, food, livestock, and people were taken by the nobility, the army of the dynasty, in their frequent warfare. Captives were sacrificed to the gods or used as slaves to the members of the nobility.
The Shang worshipped Shang Ti, the supreme god who ruled the sun, moon, star, rain, wind, and all other natural events. Ancestor worship with elaborate rituals and sacrifices were a major part of the Shang religion.
Temples were built to the ancestors and tombs were filled with bronze and the skeletons of hundreds of servants and prisoners who were sent to accompany the dead to heaven. Royal events, such as new temples and palaces, were proclaimed to the ancestors.
The Shang dynasty invented writing in China, the first written record of this group of people. Writing is in evidence on bones of animals, usually turtle bones, found in oracles, as well as on bronze, stone, bamboo strips, and silk.
Questions, by seers or prophets, were written on bones that were heated until they eventually cracked. The answers to the questions were interpreted from reading the cracks and later the date of the prediction?s occurrence was inscribed.
The Shang king had a great deal of power over his subjects, requiring large numbers of people to build extensive walls and other public works. An earthen wall, 4 miles long and 27 feet high surrounded the capital at Zhengzhou.
The Shang dynasty eventually declined, possibly due to moral degeneration. Another dynasty took over the reign of China, keeping much of the Shang civilization within their own.