THE SHANG DYNASTY (_c_. 1600-1028 B.C.) 1 _Period, origin, material culture_ About 1600 B.C. we come at last into the realm of history. Of the Shang dynasty, which now followed, we have knowledge both from later texts and from excavations and the documents they have brought to light. The Shang civilization, an evident off-shoot of the Lung-shan culture (Tai, Yao, and Tunguses), but also with elements of the Hsia culture (with Tibetan and Mongol and/or Turkish elements), was beyond doubt a high civilization. Of the origin of the Shang _State_ we have no details, nor do we know how the Hsia culture passed into the Shang culture. The central territory of the Shang realm lay in north-western Honan, alongside the Shansi mountains and extending into the plains. It was a peasant civilization with towns. One of these towns has been excavated. It adjoined the site of the present town of Anyang, in the province of Honan. The town, the Shang capital from _c_. 1300 to 1028 B.C., was probably surrounded by a mud wall, as were the settlements of the Lung-shan people. In the centre was what evidently was the ruler's palace. Round this were houses probably inhabited by artisans; for the artisans formed a sort of intermediate class, as dependents of the ruling class. From inscriptions we know that the Shang had, in addition to their capital, at least two other large cities and many smaller town-like settlements and villages. The rectangular houses were built in a style still found in Chinese houses, except that their front did not always face south as is now the general rule. The Shang buried their kings in large, subterranean, cross-shaped tombs outside the city, and many implements, animals and human sacrifices were buried together with them. The custom of large burial mounds, which later became typical of the Chou dynasty, did not yet exist. The Shang had sculptures in stone, an art which later more or less completely disappeared and which was resuscitated only in post-Christian times under the influence of Indian Buddhism. Yet, Shang culture cannot well be called a "megalithic" culture. Bronze implements and especially bronze vessels were cast in the town. We even know the trade marks of some famous bronze founders. The bronze weapons are still similar to those from Siberia, and are often ornamented in the so-called "animal style", which was used among all the nomad peoples between the Ordos region and Siberia until the beginning of the Christian era. On the other hand, the famous bronze vessels are more of southern type, and reveal an advanced technique that has scarcely been excelled since. There can be no doubt that the bronze vessels were used for religious service and not for everyday life. For everyday use there were earthenware vessels. Even in the middle of the first millennium B.C., bronze was exceedingly dear, as we know from the records of prices. China has always suffered from scarcity of metal. For that reason metal was accumulated as capital, entailing a further rise in prices; when prices had reached a sufficient height, the stocks were thrown on the market and prices fell again. Later, when there was a metal coinage, this cycle of inflation and deflation became still clearer. The metal coinage was of its full nominal value, so that it was possible to coin money by melting down bronze implements. As the money in circulation was increased in this way, the value of the currency fell. Then it paid to turn coin into metal implements. This once more reduced the money in circulation and increased the value of the remaining coinage. Thus through the whole course of Chinese history the scarcity of metal and insufficiency of production of metal continually produced extensive fluctuations of the stocks and the value of metal, amounting virtually to an economic law in China. Consequently metal implements were never universally in use, and vessels were always of earthenware, with the further result of the early invention of porcelain. Porcelain vessels have many of the qualities of metal ones, but are cheaper. The earthenware vessels used in this period are in many cases already very near to porcelain: there was a pottery of a brilliant white, lacking only the glaze which would have made it into porcelain. Patterns were stamped on the surface, often resembling the patterns on bronze articles. This ware was used only for formal, ceremonial purposes. For daily use there was also a perfectly simple grey pottery. Silk was already in use at this time. The invention of sericulture must therefore have dated from very ancient times in China. It undoubtedly originated in the south of China, and at first not only the threads spun by the silkworm but those made by other caterpillars were also used. The remains of silk fabrics that have been found show already an advanced weaving technique. In addition to silk, various plant fibres, such as hemp, were in use. Woollen fabrics do not seem to have been yet used. The Shang were agriculturists, but their implements were still rather primitive. There was no real plough yet; hoes and hoe-like implements were used, and the grain, mainly different kinds of millet and some wheat, was harvested with sickles. The materials, from which these implements were made, were mainly wood and stone; bronze was still too expensive to be utilized by the ordinary farmer. As a great number of vessels for wine in many different forms have been excavated, we can assume that wine, made from special kinds of millet, was a popular drink. The Shang state had its centre in northern Honan, north of the Yellow river. At various times, different towns were made into the capital city; Yin-ch'ue, their last capital and the only one which has been excavated, was their sixth capital. We do not know why the capitals were removed to new locations; it is possible that floods were one of the main reasons. The area under more or less organized Shang control comprised towards the end of the dynasty the present provinces of Honan, western Shantung, southern Hopei, central and south Shansi, east Shensi, parts of Kiangsu and Anhui. We can only roughly estimate the size of the population of the Shang state. Late texts say that at the time of the annihilation of the dynasty, some 3.1 million free men and 1.1 million serfs were captured by the conquerors; this would indicate a population of at least some 4-5 millions. This seems a possible number, if we consider that an inscription of the tenth century B.C. which reports about an ordinary war against a small and unimportant western neighbour, speaks of 13,081 free men and 4,812 serfs taken as prisoners. Inscriptions mention many neighbours of the Shang with whom they were in more or less continuous state of war. Many of these neighbours can now be identified. We know that Shansi at that time was inhabited by Ch'iang tribes, belonging to the Tibetan culture, as well as by Ti tribes, belonging to the northern culture, and by Hsien-yuen and other tribes, belonging to the north-western culture; the centre of the Ch'iang tribes was more in the south-west of Shansi and in Shensi. Some of these tribes definitely once formed a part of the earlier Hsia state. The identification of the eastern neighbours of the Shang presents more difficulties. We might regard them as representatives of the Tai and Yao cultures. 2 _Writing and Religion_ Not only the material but also the intellectual level attained in the Shang period was very high. We meet for the first time with writing--much later than in the Middle East and in India. Chinese scholars have succeeded in deciphering some of the documents discovered, so that we are able to learn a great deal from them. The writing is a rudimentary form of the present-day Chinese script, and like it a pictorial writing, but also makes use, as today, of many phonetic signs. There were, however, a good many characters that no longer exist, and many now used are absent. There were already more than 3,000 characters in use of which some 1,000 can now be read. (Today newspapers use some 3,000 characters; scholars have command of up to 8,000; the whole of Chinese literature, ancient and modern, comprises some 50,000 characters.) With these 3,000 characters the Chinese of the Shang period were able to express themselves well. The still existing fragments of writing of this period are found almost exclusively on tortoiseshells or on other bony surfaces, and they represent oracles. As early as in the Lung-shan culture there was divination by means of "oracle bones", at first without written characters. In the earliest period any bones of animals (especially shoulder-bones) were used; later only tortoiseshell. For the purpose of the oracle a depression was burnt in the shell so that cracks were formed on the other side, and the future was foretold from their direction. Subsequently particular questions were scratched on the shells, and the answers to them; these are the documents that have come down to us. In Anyang tens of thousands of these oracle bones with inscriptions have been found. The custom of asking the oracle and of writing the answers on the bones spread over the borders of the Shang state and continued in some areas after the end of the dynasty. The bronze vessels of later times often bear long inscriptions, but those of the Shang period have only very brief texts. On the other hand, they are ornamented with pictures, as yet largely unintelligible, of countless deities, especially in the shape of animals or birds--pictures that demand interpretation. The principal form on these bronzes is that of the so-called T'ao-t'ieh, a hybrid with the head of a water-buffalo and tiger's teeth. The Shang period had a religion with many nature deities, especially deities of fertility. There was no systematized pantheon, different deities being revered in each locality, often under the most varied names. These various deities were, however, similar in character, and later it occurred often that many of them were combined by the priests into a single god. The composite deities thus formed were officially worshipped. Their primeval forms lived on, however, especially in the villages, many centuries longer than the Shang dynasty. The sacrifices associated with them became popular festivals, and so these gods or their successors were saved from oblivion; some of them have lived on in popular religion to the present day. The supreme god of the official worship was called Shang Ti; he was a god of vegetation who guided all growth and birth and was later conceived as a forefather of the races of mankind. The earth was represented as a mother goddess, who bore the plants and animals procreated by Shang Ti. In some parts of the Shang realm the two were conceived as a married couple who later were parted by one of their children. The husband went to heaven, and the rain is the male seed that creates life on earth. In other regions it was supposed that in the beginning of the world there was a world-egg, out of which a primeval god came, whose body was represented by the earth: his hair formed the plants, and his limbs the mountains and valleys. Every considerable mountain was also itself a god and, similarly, the river god, the thunder god, cloud, lightning, and wind gods, and many others were worshipped. In order to promote the fertility of the earth, it was believed that sacrifices must be offered to the gods. Consequently, in the Shang realm and the regions surrounding it there were many sorts of human sacrifices; often the victims were prisoners of war. One gains the impression that many wars were conducted not as wars of conquest but only for the purpose of capturing prisoners, although the area under Shang control gradually increased towards the west and the south-east, a fact demonstrating the interest in conquest. In some regions men lurked in the spring for people from other villages; they slew them, sacrificed them to the earth, and distributed portions of the flesh of the sacrifice to the various owners of fields, who buried them. At a later time all human sacrifices were prohibited, but we have reports down to the eleventh century A.D., and even later, that such sacrifices were offered secretly in certain regions of central China. In other regions a great boat festival was held in the spring, to which many crews came crowded in long narrow boats. At least one of the boats had to capsize; the people who were thus drowned were a sacrifice to the deities of fertility. This festival has maintained its fundamental character to this day, in spite of various changes. The same is true of other festivals, customs, and conceptions, vestiges of which are contained at least in folklore. In addition to the nature deities which were implored to give fertility, to send rain, or to prevent floods and storms, the Shang also worshipped deceased rulers and even dead ministers as a kind of intermediaries between man and the highest deity, Shang Ti. This practice may be regarded as the forerunner of "ancestral worship" which became so typical of later China.