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Unformatted text preview: metimes succeeded by younger brothers and
sometimes by sons. The rulers of other city-states acknowledged their authority.
The military aristocracy went to war in chariots, supported by levies of foot soldiers. Their weapons were spears
and powerful compound bows. Accounts tell of armies of
3,000 or 4,000 troops and of a battle involving 13,000. The
Shang fought against barbarian tribes and, occasionally,
against other city-states in rebellion against Shang rule.
Captured prisoners were enslaved.
The three most notable features of Shang China were
writing, bronzes, and the appearance of social classes. (See
“Chinese Writing.”) Scribes at the Shang court kept records
on strips of bamboo, but these have not survived. What have
survived are inscriptions on bronze artifacts and the oracle
bones. Some bones contain the question put to the oracle,
the answer, and the outcome of the matter. Representative
questions were: Which ancestor is causing the king’s earache? If the king goes hunting at Qi, will there be a disaster? Will the king’s child be a son? If the king sends his army
to attack an enemy, will the deity help him? Was a sacrifice
acceptable to ancestral deities?
What we know of Shang religion is based on the bones.
The Shang believed in a supreme “Deity Above,” who had
authority over the human world. Also serving at the court of
the Deity Above were lesser natural deities—the sun, moon,
earth, rain, wind, and the six clouds. Even the Shang king
sacrificed not to the Deity Above but to his ancestors, who
interceded with the Deity Above on the king’s behalf. Kings,
while alive at least, were not considered divine but were the
high priests of the state.
In Shang times, as later, religion in China was closely
associated with cosmology. The Shang people observed the
movements of the planets and stars and reported eclipses.
Celestial happenings were seen as omens from the gods.
The chief cosmologists also recorded events at the court.
The Shang calendar had a month of 30 days and a year of
360 days. Adjustments were made periodically by adding an
extra month. The king used the calendar to tell his people
when to sow and when to reap.
Bronze appeared in China about 2000 B.C.E., 1,000 years
later than in Mesopotamia and 500 years later than in India.
Because Shang casting methods were more advanced than
those of Mesopotamia and because the designs on Shang
bronzes continued those of the preceding black pottery culture, in all likelihood the Shang developed its bronze technology independently. The metal was used for weapons, armor,
and chariot fittings, as well as for a variety of ceremonial vessels of amazing fineness and beauty. CRAIMC01_001-039hr.qxp 32 8/12/10 3:57 PM Page 32 Part 1 Human Origins and Early Civilizations to 500 B.C.E. Among the Shang, as with other early
river valley civilizations, the increasing control of nature through agriculture and metallurgy was accompanied by the emergence
of a rigidly stratified society in which the
many were compelled to serve the...
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This document was uploaded on 04/03/2014.
- Spring '14