Ancient China (Shang and Zhou
Theme: The importance of rivers and the
advantage of technology
Lsn 4
• Book of Songs, dynasty, bronze
production monopolization in Shang and
Zhou China, mandate of heaven, Shang
Dynasty, tian, veneration of ancestors,
Yellow River, Zhou Dynasty
Importance of Rivers
Population Growth
• Settlements began to crop up along the
Yellow and Yangzi Rivers
– Created a need for recognized authorities
who could maintain order, resolve disputes,
and organize public works projects
– Village-level organizations could only act
• Small dynasties followed that extended
their control over progressively larger
• “A sequence of powerful leaders in the
same family”
– Shang Dynasty 1766 to 1122 B.C.
– Zhou Dynasty 1122 to 256 B.C.
– Tang Dynasty 618 to 907 A.D.
– Song Dynasty 960 to 1279 A.D.
Shang Dynasty
Characteristics of a Civilization
Intensive agricultural techniques
Specialization of labor
A social hierarchy (We’ll discuss mandate of heaven in
more detail in Lsn 16)
Organized religion and education (We’ll cover
Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism in Lsn 16)
Development of complex forms of economic exchange
Development of new technologies
Advanced development of the arts. (This can include
Yellow River
• Takes its name from the vast
quantities of loess soil it
picks up along its route
– Loess is an extremely fine and
powder-like soil that gradually
builds up in the river bed,
raising the river bed and
forcing the water out of its
established path
– Yellow River periodically
unleashes terrible floods,
earning it the nickname
“China’s Sorrow”
• Loess soil is
extremely fertile
and easy to work
– Even before the
introduction of
metal tools,
cultivators with
instruments could
generate large
• Initially, millet was the main
crop (especially in the north)
• Sometime thereafter, the
Chinese began cultivating rice
(especially in the south where
the Yangzi River is less prone
than the Yellow River to
devastating floods)
– Extensive rice production
would require developing a
complex irrigation system
(made possible by the
centralizing authority of the
Shang and Zhou Dynasties)
Ruins of Banpo Village near modern Xian
Cities: Shang
• Vast network of walled
towns whose local
rulers recognized
authority of the Shang
• Shang rulers moved
their capital six times
– Capital at Yin (near
modern Anyang)
contained a complex of
royal palaces and
eleven large and lavish
royal tombs
Royal tomb at Anyang
Social Hierarchy
King Wen of Zhou China
Social Hierarchy: Shang and early
• Royal family and allied noble families
– Resided in large, palatial compounds and lived on the
agricultural surplus and taxes delivered by their
– Power tied to bronze
• Privileged class of hereditary aristocrats
– Rose from the military allies of the rulers
– Possessed extensive land holdings and performed
military and administrative tasks
– Some access to education for those who lived in
– Detailed rules of etiquette during Zhou era
Social Hierarchy: Ancient Shang
and early Zhou
• Small class of free artisans and craftsmen
– Lived in cities
– Those who worked almost extensively for the privileged classes
lived reasonably comfortably
• Peasants
– Semi-servile class that lived in the countryside and did not own
– Provided agricultural, military, and labor services for lords in
exchange for plots to cultivate, security, and a portion of the
• Slaves
– Most were captured enemy warriors
– Performed hard labor that required a large work force such as
clearing fields or building city walls
– During the Shang Dynasty many were victims of human sacrifice
during funerals and other religious and ritual observances
Bronze storage jar from Zhou Dynasty
Silk making
Jade workers
Manufacturers of silk
– Silkworms are fed
mulberry leaves, they molt
and spin cocoons, then
workers boil the cocoons
to produce the raw silk.
Silkworm cocoon
Religion and Education
Bronze wine vessel used for rituals to
honor ancestors during Shang Dynasty
• Ancient China did not have an organized
religion or official priesthood
• Did not recognize a personal supreme
deity who intervened in human affairs or
took a special interest in human behavior
• Did speak of an impersonal heavenly
power– tian (“heaven”)– that was
responsible for bestowing and removing
the mandate of heaven on rulers
• Instead, the patriarchal head
of the family presided over
rites and ceremonies
venerating ancestors’ spirits
– Believed that the spirits of
ancestors passed into another
realm of existence from which
they had the power to support
and protect their surviving
families if the families
demonstrated the proper
respect and ministered to the
spirit’s needs
Burning paper gifts for the
departed is one traditional
form of ancestor worship
Economic Exchange
Cowrie shells used as money
Economic Exchange
• Somewhat limited by the mountain ranges and
deserts that stood between China and India
and southwest Asia
– Shipbuilding emerged during Zhou era and
facilitated trade
• Evidence of
Cowrie shells from Burma and the Maldives
Military technology from Mesopotamia
Jade from central Asia
Tin from Malay
New Technologies
Silk making
New Technologies: Silk
• During the Zhou era, the
Chinese discovered how
to make silk from the
cocoons of silkworms.
– Silk would become
China’s most valuable
export, eventually linking
them with most of the
world through trade.
– We’ll talk more about this
in Lesson 23 on the Silk
New Technologies: Bookbinding
• Chinese
artisans learned
how to bind
together long, thin
strips of wood or
bamboo to make
New Technologies: Shang and
Military Success
• Shang ruling elites were
able to monopolize
production of bronze in
the Yellow River Valley by
controlling access to
copper and tin ores
• Allowed Shang forces to
defeat Xia forces who
were equipped with only
stone, wood, and bone
• Shang nobles used
bronze to make fittings for
horse-drawn chariots
New Technologies: Shang and
Military Success
• Shang were also able to
exert military might over
the Xia through bows
Shang pictograph
of composite bow
New Technologies: Zhou and
Military Failure
• Zhou kings were not able to monopolize bronze
production as the Shang had
• Moreover, iron technology was spreading rapidly
throughout China
– Iron ores were cheaper and more abundant than
copper and tin so Zhou could not monopolize iron
• Subordinates were able to outfit their forces with iron
which enabled them to resist the central government
• When nomads invaded the Zhou capital at Hao in 771
B.C., the subordinates refused to support the king
New Technologies
• The Great Wall of
China originated as a
defensive barrier
against tribal
• Construction started
in the seventh
century B. C. and
spanned over 20
states and dynasties
– Two sections were
built during the Zhou
– As China unified, the
various sections were
Art and Writing
Writing on
bamboo strips
Bronze from
Sang Dynasty
• The earliest form of Chinese writing was the
• Pictographs were combined into ideographes to
represent complex or abstract notions
– The combination of “mother” and “child” renders
• Unlike most other languages, written Chinese
did not include an alphabetic or phonetic
Writing: Oracle Bones
• Principal instrument used
by fortune tellers in Ancient
• Diviners inscribed a
question on a broad bone
such as a tortoise shell and
placed it in a fire
– The fortune teller used
the cracks that
developed to divine the
question’s answer
Book of Songs
• Collection of 331
poems from the Zhou
• Represent a variety of
Political themes
Ritualistic hymns
Love and friendship
Work and play
Burning of Books
• Many works were lost
when Qin came to
power in 221 B.C.
and ordered all books
on poetry, history, and
philosophy burned for
fear they would
inspire doubts about
his government or
encourage an
independence of mind
• Resurgent (Tang and Song) China

Ancient China (Shang and Zhou Dynasties) Theme: The