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Shang Dynasty

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Shang Dynasty (Chinese: 商朝) or Yin Dynasty (殷代) (1600 BC - 1046 BC) followed the legendary Xia Dynasty and preceded Zhou Dynasty in China. Information about the Shang Dynasty comes from bronze artifacts and oracle bones, which are turtle shells on which were written the first recorded Chinese characters, found in the Huang He valley. These bones typically had three sections: a question for the oracle, the oracle's answer, and whether the oracle later proved to be correct.

The Yin 殷 (latter half of Shang) left written historic records containing information on the politics, economy, culture, religion, geography, astronomy, calendar, art and medicine of the period, and as such provides critical insight toward the early stages of the Chinese civilization. The site of the Yin capital, later historically called the Ruins of Yin 殷墟, is near modern day Anyang 安阳. Archaeological work there uncovered 11 major Yin royal tombs and the foundations of palace and ritual sites, all of them containing weapons of war. Tens of thousands of bronze, jade, stone, bone and ceramic artifacts have been obtained; the workmanship on the bronzes attests to a high level of civilization. In terms of inscribed oracle bones alone, more than 20,000 were discovered. Many Chinese characters found in the inscriptions at the Ruins of Yin are still in use today.

The Shang dynasty is believed to have been founded by a rebel leader who overthrew the last (still legendary) Xia ruler. Its civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. The Records of the Grand Historian states that the Shang Dynasty moved its capital six times. The final and most important move to Yin in 1350 BC led to the golden age of the dynasty. The term Yin Dynasty has been synonymous with the Shang dynasty in history, although lately it has been used specifically in reference to the latter half of the Shang.

A line of hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of northern China, and Shang troops fought frequent wars with neighboring settlements and nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. The capitals, particularly in Yin, were centers of glittering court life. Court rituals to propitiate spirits and to honor sacred ancestors were highly developed. In addition to his secular position, the king was the head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult. Evidence from the royal tombs indicates that royal personages were buried with articles of value, presumably for use in the afterlife. Perhaps for the same reason, hundreds of commoners, who may have been slaves, were buried alive with the royal corpse.

Shang Zhou, the last Yin king, committed suicide after his army was defeated by the Zhou people. Legends say that his army betrayed him by joining the Zhou rebels in a decisive battle. A classical novel Fengshen Yanyi is about the war between that of Yin and Zhou, in which each was supported by one group of gods.

After the Yin's collapse, the surviving Yin ruling family collectively changed their surname from their royal 子 (pinyin: zi; Wade-Giles: tzu) to the name of their fallen dynasty, Yin 殷. The family remained aristocratic and often provided needed administrative services to the succeeding Zhou Dynasty. (Source: Records of the Grand Historian).

Both Korean and Chinese legends state that a disgruntled Yin prince named 箕子 Jizi (Kija), who refused to cede power to the Zhou, left China with his garrison and founded Choson near modern day Pyongyang to what would become the first Korean state.

Sovereigns of Shang Dynasty

Posthumous names
Convention: posthumous name or King + posthumous name
Note: 1) all dates are approximate up to 841 BC. Refer to Zhou dynasty for more info. 2) Personal names of most of the Shang sovereigns were unknown. The following names were most likely posthumous owing to frequent appearances of the Heavenly Stems.

Order Reign* Chinese
Pinyin Notes
01 29 Tāng overthrew tyrant 桀 of 夏 / a Sage king
02 02 外丙 Wi Bǐng
03 04 仲壬 Zhng Rn
04 33 太甲 Ti Jiǎ
05 29 沃丁 W Dǐng
06 25 太庚 Ti Gēng
07 36 小甲 Xiǎo Jiǎ
08 12 雍己 Yōng Jǐ
09 75 太戊 Ti W
10 11 仲丁 Zhng Dīng
11 15 外壬 Wi Rn
12 09 河亶甲 H Dǎn Jiǎ
13 19 祖乙 Zǔ Yǐ
14 16 祖辛 Zǔ Xīn
15 20 沃甲 W Jiǎ
16 32 祖丁 Zǔ Dīng
17 29 南庚 Nn Gēng
18 07 陽甲 Yng Jiǎ
19 28 盤庚 Pn Gēng Shang finally settled down at Yin (殷 yin1). The period starting from Pan Geng is also called the Yin Dynasty, beginning the golden age of the Shang dynasty.
20 21 小辛 Xiǎo Xīn
21 21 小乙 Xiǎo Yǐ
22 59 武丁 Wǔ Dīng
23 07 祖庚 Zǔ Gēng
24 33 祖甲 Zǔ Jiǎ
25 06 廩辛 Lǐn Xīn
26 06 庚丁 Gēng Dīng or Kang Ding (康丁 Kāng Dīng)
27 04 武乙 Wǔ Yǐ
28 03 太丁 Ti Dīng or Wen Ding (文丁 Wn Dīng)
29 37 帝乙 D Yǐ
30 33 帝辛 D Xīn or 紂 (Zhu) or Zhou Xin (紂辛 Zhu Xīn) or Zhou Wang (紂王Zhu Wng). King Zhou could also referred to as adding Shang (商 Shāng) in front of any of his names.
  • possible length of reign, in years

See also

Last updated: 11-05-2004 12:24:55