The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( Continiu )

THE ART MOTIF OF CHINA IMPERIAL CERAMIC FOUND IN INDONESIA

PART THREE

PART III. STUDIES RESULTS

 

By

Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

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THIS THE SAMPLE OF Dr Iwan Limited E-Book In CD-Rom with unedited non complete info illustration, the complete CD-Rom exist but only for premium member please subscribe via comment with your email address and private information same as  your ID-Card

 

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Nice Handmade Chinese Qing Dynasty Imperial Officer Broadsword Rare

Old Chinese Sword

A Rare Jewelled and Canton-Enamelled Gilt-Decorated Sword and Basse-Taille Scabbard with Gold Foils, Qing Dynasty, Jiaqing Period, Circa 1800<br /><br />
Sotheby’s, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, Oct 5th

A Rare Jewelled and Canton-Enamelled Gilt-Decorated Sword and Basse-Taille Scabbard with Gold Foils, Qing Dynasty, Jiaqing Period, Circa 1800

 Chinese Sword Dadao 1933

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compare with the japanese and Korean sword

 There are seems tobe a lot of misunderstanding of what is Korean sword lookalike.
Well, tobe honest, both Japanese sword and Korean sword look very similar, many untrained eyes won’t tell them apart however, Korean sword always have shorter handle & slightly shorter than Japanese ones.

This is Japanese sword from 17th century
Posted Image

Modern Katana
Posted Image

This is what Korean sword from Joseon Dynasty
Posted Image

Posted Image

Posted Image

Korean sword is called Hwando (환도), and it’s one handed sword and about 60cm long where as Japanese Katana can be long as 80cm and heavier due to more steel was used to forged the sword.

There are Katana like Korean sword, which is called Yedo, which is often used in ceremonial event and carried by commander and can be 90cm long in length, the Hwando also have shorter handle as well, this is due to it can handled with one arm and other hand is to carry bow.

Joseon Hwando is more like these Turkish or Mughal sword
Posted Image

Here is what Korean fortress guard would carried, both bow & hwando.
Notice there are two sword types – longer one is Yedo, mostly carried by commander/cavalry, short one is Hwando, standard sword for Joseon army.
Posted Image
Illustration of Early Joseon middle army 14~15th century

 

 Tai Chi

 

What is Tai Chi?

Meditation in Motion

Today in the Western world the term “tai chi” has become recognised first and foremost as an exercise to promote health and longevity, usually practiced early in the morning by individuals or groups of middle-aged and elderly people. It is categorised by slow movements grouped into a set of martial forms, performed in what seems to be a meditative state. This is, in fact, a simplistic view of what is really a very complex art, steeped in Chinese history and tradition and encompassing several aspects such as martial arts, medical concepts, Chinese philosophy including Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and applicable not only to individual health and as a method of self-defence, but also to social and moral conduct, business management and marketing, and, importantly, to family cohesion.

The Meaning of Tai Chi

Attempts at translating the words Tai Chi, or Tai Ji (太極), are unlikely to convey the true meaning, and the term has already become commonly used in the Western world. However, an explanation of its history and concepts can perhaps enlighten those who are unfamiliar with the term.

As mentioned, for most Western people, Tai Chi is usually understood as a set of exercises or forms practiced in slow motion to enhance health and maintain youthfulness. It is often written as Tai Chi Chuan, or Tai Ji Quan (太極拳), the last character, chuan, often translated as “fist” and leading to the assumption that Tai Chi Chuan is some form of Chinese Boxing. A more precise understanding would be to take chuan to be a suffix that adds the notion of physical activity.

Tai Chi itself is a term found originally in ancient Chinese philosophy that eventually became associated with an evolving system of principles and exercises aimed at extending the length and quality of life through the study and practice of Nature and its relevance to human life. Later, this was applied to military strategy and martial arts.

tai chi symbol

The Emperor Sage Fu Hsi, or Fu Xi (伏羲), who lived around 2,400BC, is attributed as the creator of the Tai Chi symbol (see picture) and the Ba Gua (八卦) “eight trigrams” symbols. Fu Hsi studied the cyclical changes of Nature and attempted to arrange knowledge of these cycles into an organised system. The Tai Chi symbol is, as it were, a statement about the reality of Nature, a reality as a continuous flow of cyclic change and blending. The circle represents the fullness of reality, within the circle are the principles of Yin (陰), represented by the dark area, and Yang (陽),the light area. These two areas complement each other in shape yet are opposite in shade. Each contains some of the other, as seen in the two small circles. The shape of each area also conveys the notion that each flows into the other.

The Ba Gua symbol (below) consists of eight arrangements of three solid or broken lines, often arranged around the Tai Chi symbol. Each symbol represents the major phases of cycles of Nature: heaven, earth, wind, water, mountain, thunder, fire and lake. These were further expanded, such as the heavenly cycle consisting of sun, moon, star, day, night, morning, evening, wind, thunder, rain and cloud phases; and the earthly cycle consisting of mountain, river, lake, swamp, fire, water, tree, flower and grass phases. These are symbolised by various combinations of the eight trigrams into pairs to form 64 hexagrams. The I Ching, or Yi Jing (易經), known also as The Book of Changes, is a collection of principles used to interpret Nature through the trigrams and hexagrams.

bagua symbol

Tai Chi and Taoism

Taoism (pronounced. Daoism) is an inherently Chinese philosophy primarily characterised in the ancient works of Lao Zi (老子) and Zhuang Zi (莊子). ( It should not be confused with Taoism the religion which was a later development of practices and strange rituals loosely based on Taoist philosophy.) The Taoist understanding of Tai Chi is derived from the I Ching (pronounced ee jing). Sometimes translated as ‘the grand ultimate’, it means the never changing, the one, the all. Nothing lies outside of it and nothing contains all of it. Often represented by a dot “.”, Tai Chi generates the two forces of Yin and Yang. The word Tao, or Dao (道), is usually translated as the ‘Way’ or ‘Path’. All Nature is created from the Tao and when the Yin and Yang forces are balanced and in harmony together, this also represents Tao. Everything in existence possesses the complementary elements of Yin and Yang, positive and negative, active and passive, etc. Tai Chi itself is created when Wu Chi (無極), a state of ‘nothingness’, moves. This is really an ancient Chinese perception of the creation of the universe. From nothingness, or non-being, movement begets the beginning of creation, the development of the dual forces of Yin and Yang, that constantly cycle, providing an unending process of creation.

The way of the Tao lies in stillness, Nature responds spontaneously and harmoniously, not deliberately. In application, the natural way of Tai Chi is only to defend oneself with a force much smaller than that used by an opponent. Tai Chi is not intended to injure or cause pain. Only from being relaxed can a Tai Chi practitioner achieve this. The Taoist concept of action without action (無為,無不為) or from a state of nothingness, one can react, epitomises the importance of Taoist philosophy in the application of Tai Chi. This is also expressed by how the Tai Chi practitioner can obtain good health through relaxation, balance, proper breathing and good posture.

 

 The Great Yu the emperor of Hsia

  

ANCIENT CHINESE HISTORY


Yellow Emperor The Chinese believe that their history goes back 4,700 years. Archeological verification of the legendary Age of Five Rulers (2700-2200 B.C.) has not been found but there is some for the legendary Xia Dynasty (2200-1700 B.C.).

Chinese civilization, as described in mythology, begins with Pangu, the creator of the universe, and a succession of legendary sage-emperors and culture heroes who taught the ancient Chinese to communicate and to find sustenance, clothing, and shelter. The first recognized dynasty—the Xia—lasted from about 2200 to 1750 B.C. and marked the transition from the late neolithic age to the Bronze Age. Until scientific excavations were made at early bronze-age sites at Anyang, Henan Province, in 1928, it was difficult to separate myth from reality in regard to the Xia. But since then, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the existence of Xia civilization in the same locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts. At minimum, the Xia period marked an evolutionary stage between the late neolithic cultures and the typical Chinese urban civilization of the Shang dynasty. [Source: The Library of Congress]

The Xia was the beginning of a long period of cultural development and dynastic succession that led the way to the more urbanized civilization of the Shang Dynasty (1750–1040 B.C.). Hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of North China, and Shang armies fought frequent wars against neighboring settlements and nomadic herders from the north. The Shang capitals were centers of sophisticated court life for the king, who was the shamanistic head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult. Intellectual life developed in significant ways during the Shang period and flourished in the next dynasty—the Zhou (1040–256 B.C.). China’s great schools of intellectual thought—Confucianism, Legalism, Daoism, Mohism, and others—all developed during the Zhou Dynasty. [Ibid]

The intersection of migration, amalgamation, and development has characterized China’s history from its earliest origins and resulted in a distinctive system of writing, philosophy, art, and social and political organization and civilization that was continuous over the past 4,000 years. Since the beginning of recorded history (at least since the Shang Dynasty), the people of China have developed a strong sense of their origins, both mythological and real, and kept voluminous records concerning both. As a result of these records, augmented by numerous archaeological discoveries in the second half of the twentieth century, information concerning the ancient past, not only of China but also of much of East, Central, and Inner Asia, has survived. [Ibid]

Important Xia, Shang and Zhou archaeological sites include the newly-discovered Shang city ruins at Yanshi and Huanbei; the excavations of the Erlitou, Yinxu and Fenghao sites; new breakthrough discoveries at the cemeteries at the Liulihe site in Beijing, Qianzhangda in Tengzhou and Dadianzi in Inner Mongolia. Excavations at Shang and Zhou imperial cities such as the Yinxu ruins in Anyang, the Changan and Fenghao ruins in modern-day Xian, and the Eastern Zhou capital Wangcheng in Luoyang, which have helped archaeologists establish a chronology for the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties.

Links in this Website: IMPERIAL CHINA factsanddetails.com ; CHINESE ART FROM THE GREAT DYNASTIES factsanddetails.com/china ; CHINESE DYNASTIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; PREHISTORIC MAN IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA’S EARLIEST CULTURES Factsanddetails.com/China ; ZHOU (CHOU) DYNASTY (1100-221 B.C.) Factsanddetails.com/China ; EMPEROR QIN AND THE QIN DYNASTY (221-206 B.C.) Factsanddetails.com/China ; HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) Factsanddetails.com/China ;

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 2) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; 3) Oriental Style ourorient.com ; 4) Chinese Text Project chinese.dsturgeon.net ; 5) Minnesota State University site mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory ; 6) ChinaVoc.com ChinaVoc.com ; 7) Early Medieval China Journal languages.ufl.edu/EMC ; 8) History of China history-of-china.com ; 9) U.S.C. Education usc.edu/libraries/archives Books: Cambridge History of Ancient China edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996)

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) Brooklyn College site academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge chinaknowledge.de ; 5) China History Forum chinahistoryforum.com ; 6) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; 7 ) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia

Age of Five Rulers (2700-2200 B.C.)

According to legend, the ancient Chinese were savages until a sage taught them how to build shelters. Later other sages taught them, in succession, about fire, music and the cultivation of crops. The last of these sages was the Yellow Emperor.

The legendary Xia dynasty was preceded by three sovereigns (two male rulers and the wife of one ruler) and three emperors. The first sovereign, Fuxi, married his dragon-tailed sister the goddess Nügua, who is credited with creating the institution of marriage and molding the first human beings from clay. Fuxi bestowed the gifts of hunting, fishing and animal husbandry on humanity. His successor, the ox-headed Shennong, gave humanity agriculture and knowledge of medicinal plants.

The three emperors also bestowed gifts in humanity. The first emperor, Huangdi (Huang Di) is said to have given humanity agricultural calendars, boats, armor and pottery. He invented mathematics, medicine, the civil service, and the use of fire in cooking, and used his knowledge to unite the Chinese tribes. His wife, Lei Zu is credited with discovering how to weave silk from silk worm cocoons (See Silk, Economics). A tomb in Huang Lin, a small town Shaanxi province, about 200 kilometers north of Xian, is said to contain Huang di’s remains. “Huang Lin” literally means “Huang’s Tomb.”

The period is called the Age of the Rulers because Fuxi’s wife Nugua didn’t count. Szu, the second emperor and forth ruler, dammed 233,559 streams and built mountains in the four corners of the kingdom to halt flooding; and Emperor Shun, the last of the five, was the hero of the Great Flood and father of writing.

Xia Dynasty (2200-1700 B.C.) and the Legendary Yellow Emperor of China


Emperor Shun The Xia (Hsia) dynasty began when Shun abdicated in favor of Emperor Yu,the legendary Yellow Emperor of China, from whom all other Chinese are believed to have descended. Venerated as the first emperor of China, Yu had thousands of concubines because he believed the more sex partners he had the longer he would live. He reputedly became immortal after he made love to a thousand young virgins. Yao, another mythical emperor who followed Yu, was famous for his benevolent rule and lifestyle of a simple farmer.

The oldest bronze vessels date back to the Xia dynasty. According to legend bronze was first cast 5,000 years ago by the Yellow Emperor, who cast nine bronze tripods to symbolize the nine provinces in his empire. Bronze metallurgy in China dates back to 2000 B.C., significantly later than in southeastern Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where it developed around 3600 B.C. to 3000 B.C.

Chinese astronomers in the Xia era were among the first to chart constellations and record supernovas. In 2296 B.C., Chinese astronomers observed a comet. They also developed a system of observation based on the equator and the poles that was not adopted by Europe until 4000 years later.

For a long time it was thought the Xia dynasty was legendary but in the last couple of decades evidence has surfaced that it really existed. A site near Erlitou in Henan Province dated to 2200 to 1700 B.C. is believed to have been a Xia capital. Archaeologists working there have found tombs filled with pottery, ornamental jade, clay irrigation pipes, and the world’s oldest ritual bronze vessels.

Xia Dynasty Archaeological Sites


Described by some as a Xia dynasty Tomb
but actually from a
A.D. 10th century Xia dynasty The Erlitou site near Yanshi city in Henan Province is thought by some historians and archeologists to have been the capital of the Xia dynasty. Excavations there have revealed palace building and tombs containing musical instruments and bronzes.

One of the most important finds from Erlitou is the Bronze Ornamental Plaque , a cast bronze and turquoise inlay that was unearthed in a tomb dated to 17th or 16th century B.C. Now housed in the Luoyang Museum, it features a foxlike animals that is thought to be a representation of a deity. Some speculate may have been worn as a breast plate and a symbol of divine authority.

Important Xia, Shang and Zhou archaeological sites include the newly-discovered Shang city ruins at Yanshi and Huanbei; the excavations of the Erlitou, Yinxu and Fenghao sites; new breakthrough discoveries at the cemeteries at the Liulihe site in Beijing, Qianzhangda in Tengzhou and Dadianzi in Inner Mongolia. Excavations at Shang and Zhou imperial cities such as the Yinxu ruins in Anyang, the Changan and Fenghao ruins in modern-day Xian, and the Eastern Zhou capital Wangcheng in Luoyang, which have helped archaeologists establish a chronology for the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties.

SHANG DYNASTY (1700-1100 B.C.)

The Shang dynasty, China’s first true dynasty, ruled over the Yellow River Plain in the present-day provinces of Shandong, Henan, Shanxi and Hebei in northeastern China from 1554 to 1045 B.C. or from 1700 to 1100 B.C., depending on the source. China’s recorded history, begins with the Shang, who came into existence as a political and military force when Shang tribes overpowered tribes living on the Yellow River Plain. [Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, July 2003]

The Shang were a Bronze Age culture that appear to have taken over a pre-existing culture in northern China rather than create a culture of their own. There is some debate as to their origin. Some say they arrived from western Asia on chariots. Others say they developed from people that had been living for centuries along the Yellow River. The Shang were ancestor worshipers who read the future from oracle bones and produced wonderful bronze vessels with finely detailed linear designs. Inscriptions indicate they hunted from chariots, killing game as big as tigers and wild oxen with composite bows, and practiced human sacrifice. Anyang in Henan Province is regarded as the capital the Shang dynasty.

Thousands of archaeological finds in the Huang He Valley–the apparent cradle of Chinese civilization—provide evidence about the Shang dynasty. The Shang dynasty (also called the Yin dynasty in its later stages) is believed to have been founded by a rebel leader who overthrew the last Xia ruler. Its civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. Two important events of the period were the development of a writing system, as revealed in archaic Chinese inscriptions found on tortoise shells and flat cattle bones (commonly called oracle bones), and the use of bronze metallurgy. A number of ceremonial bronze vessels with inscriptions date from the Shang period; the workmanship on the bronzes attests to a high level of civilization. [Source: The Library of Congress]

Book: Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler (HarperCollins, 2004)

Shang Dynasty Rule


Shang tomb guard 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, one of which was at the site of the modern city of Anyang, 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. [Source: The Library of Congress]

The Shang are credited by some scholars with creating the world’s first state. They were governed by a caste of high priests, who called themselves Sons of Heaven and presided over human and animal sacrifices that honored ancestors and natural spirits. Under their leadership, urban craftsmen created fine ceramic and jade products. After 1500 B.C., bronze casting in China was the most advanced in the world. Shang kings ruled with absolute authority. The first Shang king, Tang, is said to have told his soldiers before battle: “If you do not obey…I will put your children to death with you”

The geographical extent of Shang rule has been debated. Objects with Shang markings have been found over a large area but is not clear whether the Shang ruled these areas or merely influenced their culture or traded there. Some scholars believe that the area controlled by the Shang was relatively small and the term dynasty should not even be used for them.

Shang Dynasty Military

Shang dynasty armies used chariots around 1700 B.C., around the same time that Semitic tribes and mountain people on chariots invaded the Nile Valley and infiltrated Mesopotamia. Some 200 years later Aryan charioteers from the steppes of northern Iran conquered India .

Dagger axes, battle-axes and spears have been found in Shang burials. The tomb of one Shang soldier contained the remains of 15 people, 15 dogs, numerous jade objects and a bronze hand, suggesting that soldiers enjoyed high status.

The Shang used compound bows as did as did other steppe horsemen. Early versions of these weapons were made of slender strips of wood with elastic animal tendons glued to the outside and compressible animal horn glued on the inside. Tendons are strongest when they are stretched, and bone and horn are strongest when compressed. Early glues were made from boiled cattle tendons and fish skin and were applied in a very precise and controlled manner, sometimes requiring a year to dry properly.

There was no evidence of slavery in China until the Shang period. It was customary for charioteers to sell captives and prisoners at fairs, which some scholars have suggested were the first slave markets.

First Horse-Pulled Chariots


Shang chariot Chariots preceded mounted riders by at least 1,000 years. This was so in part because early domesticated horses were small and not strong enough to support men on their backs. The first chariots were probably used by shepherds to help them hunt wolves, leopards and bears that threatened their flocks and were later adapted for warfare.

Chariots are thought to have evolved from ox carts. Because oxen were better suited for pulling plows and heavy loads, horses were attached to lighter vehicles that evolved into chariots. Lightweight chariots, employing technology similar to that used to make racing bicycles light, could move quite fast. Ancient Egyptian chariots, pulled by a pair of horses and weighing only 17 pounds, could easily reach speeds of 20 miles per hour. A cart pulled by oxen, by contrast, rarely exceeded two miles per hour.

The important parts of a chariot were the wheels, chassis, draught pole and metal fittings. Advancements in metallurgy, woodworking, tanning, leatherworking, and the uses of glues, bone and sinew all made the construction of improved chariots possible. But the most important developments were improvements in the strength and physique of horses that pulled chariots.

Chariots and Early Conquerors

The development of the chariot had a profound impact on history. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Aryrans, Indus Valley people and ancient Chinese all had them. Chariots have been around much longer than many people think. They had been in use for almost 2,000 years when the sport of chariot racing was at its peak in ancient Rome.

According to historian John Keegan “charioteers were the first great aggressors in human history.” “About 1700 B.C.,” he wrote, “Semitic tribes known as the Hykos, invaded the Nile Valley, and mountain people infiltrated Mesopotamia. Both invaders had chariots. The Hykos introduced their technology to the ancient Egyptians. Around 1500 BC, Aryan charioteers from the steppes of northern Iran conquered India and later moved on to Greece. ” [Source: “History of Warfare” by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Fighting chariots often accommodated two people—one rider and one archer. Early charioteers often swept down out of the mountains, encircled their flat-footed and unarmored foes, and picked them off from 100 or 200 yards away with arrows fired from sophisticated bows.

Charioteers ruled the world until teh 4th century B.C. when foot soldiers in Alexander the Great’s army learned to withstand chariot advances by aiming their weapons at the horses first; wearing arrow-proof armor and shields; and organizing themselves into tight chariot-proof ranks.

Shang Burial Practices


Shang altar The Shang were buried with bronze ritual vessels, weapons and jade. Bronze vessels were often filled with food and wine to nourish the dead on their trip to the afterlife. All in all, though, the number of funeral objects found in Shang tombs was considerably less than those found in tombs of other civilizations.

The tomb of Lady Hao, the consort of Wu Ding, a Shang military ruler that once led a force of 13,000 men in battle, is one of the most important Shang discoveries. One of the few undisturbed Shang tomb found, it is is 25 feet deep, 18 feet long and 13 feet wide with various niches and ledges containing 16 sacrificed men, women and children, and six dogs. The tomb is located in Yinxu, near Anyang. It was excavated in 1976. Only a few fragments of the lacquered coffin remained.

Among the 1,900 objects found in the tomb of Lady Hao were 195 bronze ritual vessels, of which over 100 were marked with Lady Hao’s name; 250 bronze bells, knives and weapons and other objects; 755 jade objects; 6,900 cowries shells, stone sculptures and ivory carvings. The bronze objects alone weighed 3,500 pounds.

Shang Human Sacrifices

Peter Hessler wrote in National Geographic,“Many oracle bones refer to human sacrifices meant to appease these spirits. At one complex of tombs in Henan Province, excavations have uncovered more than 1,200 sacrificial pits, most of which contain human victims. An archaeologist once told me that he had counted 60 different ways a person could be killed during a Shang ceremony. But he also reminded me that these were rituals, not murder and mayhem. From the Shang perspective, human sacrifice was simply part of a remarkably well organized system. The Shang kept a strict calendar, with certain sacrificial days devoted to certain ancestors. They were meticulous almost to the point of scientific inquiry. In one instance, a diviner patiently made 70 individual oracle-bone cracks in order to determine which ancestor was responsible for a living king’s toothache.” [Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, January 2010]

The Shang routinely sacrificed humans. Some graves are filled with the bones of human sacrifices. The oracle bones describe burials with hundreds of sacrifices. By one count more than 13,000 people were sacrificed in the last 250 years of the Shang Dynasty alone. The victims were probably slaves but may have been prisoners of war.

At the funerals of great leaders, dogs, horses, men and women were killed and buried with rulers. The more important the ruler generally the more people that were buried with him. According to legend the last Shang emperor died after throwing himself into his burning palace and was buried with much of his court.

Excavations at the Shang site of Xiaotun have revealed nine massive tombs thought to belong to the final Shang kings. All the tombs have been looted. Still, archeologists have found lots of evidence of sacrifices. One tomb contained 74 beheaded skeletons. Another contained 37 horses. In others were monkeys, dogs, cattle and birds. Some of the victims showed signs of struggle which suggests they were buried alive.

One explanation for the slaughter of real people as opposed to the manufacturing of life-size terra-cotta figures like those buried in Xian centuries later, is that the Shang believed only dead people and animals could accompany dead leaders to the afterlife. Sacrificed women thought to be concubines were killed by strangulation and not beheaded presumably so they would remain whole in the afterlife. Another explanation for human sacrifices associated with rulers is that by having their lives bound with their master, wives, bodyguards, and servants were less likely to plot against the ruler and more likely to do what ever they could do to make sure he stayed alive. A third explanation is that the sacrifices were simply offereings to ancestors, deities or spirits.

Some inscribed oracle bones dating to the Shang period (1766-1050 B.C.) mention the rite of ning, which involved dismembering a dog to honor the winds.

Shang Oracle Bones

Shang priests practiced an unusual form of divination that involved placing heated rods in grooves carved into specially-prepared ox scapulae (shoulder bones) and turtle plastrons (the undesides of turtle shells). The ensuing cracks were read by fortunetellers for “auspicious” and “inauspicious signs” and messages from natural spirits and ancestors The predictions, often made by the king rather than the diviner, and answers were engraved on the bones. Over 100,000 “oracle bones” have been found, mostly in storage pits in Xiaotun in Henan.

Oracle bones appear to have held a high place in Shang culture and this would lead one to conclude that superstition held a very high place in the lives of the ancient Chinese. Animism (the worship of natural spirits), fertility rites, cults and ancestor worship were also present in the Shang dynasty. Some of these practices still have enthusiastic followings in China today. Scientists and scholars have devoted a lot of time to the study of Taoism and Confucianism, but Chinese superstition and everyday spiritual life remain little studied.

Inscriptions on the Oracle Bones

Users of oracle bone divinations sought advice and predictions on matters such as raising of crops, the outcome of battles, illness, and childbirth. They also sought advise from the dead, the meaning of dreams, and suggestions on how many people to sacrifice. One inscription proposed sacrificing prisoners to an ancestor. Possibly after a divination was another inscription that recommended five prisoners.

The oracle bones were seen as a medium of communications between diviners and ancestors, with the latter regarded as the sources of the information. David N. Keightley, an expert on oracle bones at the University of California at Berkeley, told National Geographic, “When it cracked, the ancestors were responding to the diviner’s statement. The diviners wanted to capture this moment.”

In an article in the New Yorker Peter Hessler described a rubbing of an oracle bone that Keightley studied on which a Shang king sought out an unhappy ancestor the king though was responsible for a tooth ache he was experiencing, Four names are listed “Father Jia, Father Geng, Father Xin, Father Yi”— the king’s dead uncle and three dead generals. For each ancestor there were multiple divinations. One inscription read: “Offer a dog to Father Geng…I think it was Father Geng who was causing the illness.”

Shang Oracle Bones and Writing

The oracle bones unearthed in Xiaotun also provided some of the earliest evidence of Chinese writing and the first examples of writing in East Asia. They recorded harvests, childbirths and wars, detailed accomplishments of kings, described human sacrifices, plagues, natural disasters, enemy tribes and the ailments of kings. Some 3000 different Chinese characters—most of them pictograms—were used during the Shang dynasty.

Messages recorded on the oracle bones included: “Lady Hao’s childbearing will be good”; “After 31 days” Lady Hao “gave birth, it was not good, it was a girl”; “In the next ten days there will be no disasters;” “If we raise 3,000 men and call on them to attack the Gofang, we will receive abundant assistance.” Some of the messages could even be poetic. One goes: “In the afternoon a rainbow also came out of the north and drank in the Yellow River.” [Source: National Geographic]

Oracle bones were also a means of communicating with the unseen world, including passing messages to ancestors of the royal family. “We ritually report the king’s sick eyes to Grandfather Ding.” “As to the coming of the Shaofang [an enemy], we make ritual-report to Father Ding.” David N. Keightley, a historian at the University of California, Berkeley, told me that he’s particularly struck by how oracle-bone inscriptions convey a sense of hierarchy and order. “The more recently dead deal with the small things; the ones who have been dead for longer deal with the bigger things,” he said. “This is a way to organize the world.”[Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, January 2010]

Shang Dynasty Technology and Art

Bronze technology, the chariot and writing were probably developed with foreign influences by teh Shang, but were given distinctly Chinese elements.

By around 1200 B.C. artisans were able to cast large bronze pieces, technology that wasn’t achieved in the Mediterranean for another thousand years. The Shang added lead to the mixture of tin and copper and developed a sophisticated casting process that allowed them to cast bigger and bigger bronze objects. The largest Shang vessel ever discovered weighed 1,900 pounds.

According the Oxford University scholar Jessica Rawson, “the diversity of decorative motives on the bronzes indicated that influence of or manufacture by neighboring, contemporary societies of some sophistication.”

The Shang monopolized the use of bronze tools and weapons while their farmer subjects used only implements made from stone.

During the Shang dynasty and Zhou dynasties jade objects were important objects in ceremonies and rituals. Shang Dynasty circular jades were generally similar to northwestern circular jades. Late Shang pieces featured raised inner rims and thin outer edges, sets of carved concentric circles and images of curling dragons, fish, tigers and birds. The Shang also made monster-face amulets with turquoise-inlay mosaics of swirls and eyes and part-tiger-part-human marble monsters.

Shang Ritual Bronzes

Some of the oldest works of art from China are bronze vessels. The oldest ones date back to the Xia dynasty (2200 to 1766 B.C), when the legendary Yellow Emperor is said to have cast nine bronze tripods to symbolize the nine provinces in his empire.

Most ritual bronze vessels date back to the Shang Dynasty and the Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 B.C). These bronze vessels included elaborately-decorated caldrons, wine jars and water vessels that were used to offer food and drink to spirits, gods and deceased ancestors in political and spiritual ceremonies and rituals. Shang ritual vessels including ding caldrons, used to ritually prepare food for royal ancestors; Lei, large elaborately decorated vessels used to store wine; and yu basins, which may have been used to boil water or steam food.

Bronze vessels symbolized rank and often contained references to ancient imperial ethos, culture and music. One of the National Palace Museum’s most prized bronze pieces is a yu wine container from the 11th century B.C. Another beautiful bronze piece is an 8th century B.C. water vessel, used for ritual offerings, with animal-shaped handles and legs in the form of human figures. Scholars believe the bronze vessels were likely copies of ceramic vessels. A fine white pottery was made during the Shang Dynasty. Many ceramic vessels were similar in size and shape to bronze vessels made during the same period.

Bronze vessels often bore inscriptions that said “This container has been made to commemorate” so and so and were often given as presents to officials from leaders as rewards. Many ancient bronzes were removed from China, especially in the early 20th century, and few have been given back or carefully studied.

Bronze vessels and figures were generally made using the lost wax casting technique, which worked as follows: 1) A form was made of wax molded around a piece of clay. 2) The form was enclosed in a clay mold with pins used to stabilize the form. 3) The mold was fired in a kiln. The mold hardened into a ceramic and the wax burned and melted leaving behind a cavity in the shape of the original form. 4) Metal was poured into the cavity of the mold. A metal sculpture was created and removed by breaking the clay when it was sufficiently cool.

Shang Bronze Decorations and Figures

Most Shang vessels were decorated with taotie, face-like symbols with “eyes” composed of swirling lines. These designs have been used by archeologists to determine the spread of Shang culture. At the bottom of one yu basin is an arrangement of flower stems encircled by dragon heads with holes from which steam escaped from the vessel.

Three-legged bronze vessels from the 12th century B.C. contain images of bears, wolves and tigers. Soldiers from this period wore bronze chest plates engraved with attacking leopards with huge claws, birds with wolf ears and eagle beaks, hawks grabbing bear cubs, tigers leaping on antelopes, and dragons

Other interesting bronze art from the Shang Dynasty includes bronze masks that look like bizarre Halloween masks and may have been used by shamans; and a slender nine-foot-high-tall figure with stylized shamanist-style head and enormous hands that once held an elephant tusk.

Shang bronzes fetch high prices at international art auctions and are sought after by looters. A 12th century B.C. Shang owl was sold for around $3 million at an auction in 2000.

Life in the Shang Dynasty

Most ordinary Shang lived in thatched roof huts with pounded earth foundations, supported by wooden poles placed in stoned-filled trenches. Excavations of Shang villages show a large number of pits which could have been used for storage or as underground dwellings.


Shang jade ox Cowrie shells were used as currency. They most likely originated in the Indian Ocean. Wheat, millet and rice were cultivated by farmers. Analysis of 3,000-year-old bronze vessels revealed that the Shang drank rice and millet wines flavored with herbs, flowers and tree resins.

Many Chinese scholars have claimed that the Shang practiced slavery but this may be based more on making data fit the Marxist model of evolution than on hard evidence. In the tens of thousands of oracle bones there are no references to slavery or the purchase of people.

Discovery of the Oracle Bones

The first oracle bones were discovered in 1899. According to legend a member of the family of scholar Wang Yirong came down with malaria and was prescribed ground up turtle shells as a treatment. The shells arrived pre-ground. Wang noticed that some of them had scratchings on them that looked like Chinese writing. After that he began collected shells and bones with similar scratchings—oracle bones—and analyzing them and writing about his findings. His research came to a sudden end when he committed suicide by taking poison and jumping down a well during the Boxer Rebellion.

The source of the oracle bones was an area near a small village called Xiaotun near Anyang. Dealers in “dragon bones” kept the site secret to maintain their monopoly. When archeologist finally discovered the site they began doing serious excavations, unearthing more than 100,000 inscribed fragments in the 1920s

When the Oracles bones were discovered scholars were able to decipher some of them immediately. The oracle bones were the first hard archeological evidence of the Shang dynasty’s existence. There were historical documents that referred to the Shang but many Western scholars dismissed them as mythical.

Shang Excavations

A number of excavations were carried out around Anyang in Henan Province in the 1920s and 30s by Li Ji, a Harvard PhD who introduced rigorous scientific method to the study of ancient China. Excavations of the Shang capital, known as Yinxu, near Anyang, began before World War II. Archaeologists explored more than 11 royal tombs and 1,000 other graves and found the foundations of temples, palaces and shrines.

Lady Hao’s tomb was excavated in 1976 under less than ideal conditions. The pit filled in with water as it was being excavated, because archeologists did not have access to pumps, and peasants groped for relics in the muck while they drank shots of grain alcohol to stay warm. After the excavation was completed a study session was held in which Lady Lao was scolded for accumulating wealth by taking advantage of workers.

Huanbei is a Shang site dated to the 14th century B.C. and discovered in 1996. Mapping of the area has revealed an entire city, with walls that enclosed nearly two square miles

It is believed that the Shang took their name from the first capital city they occupied. Archeologists are currently searching for this city. According to historical sources the Shang dynasty rulers were buried and a royal house of worship was erected in their first capital. Chinese-born, retired Harvard archeologist K.C. Lang believes this city is in Shangqiu (literally the “mound of Shang”) in Henan province.


Excavation of the Tomb of Fu Mao

Shang and America Connection?

Chinese Shang scholar Han Ping Chen believes that the founders of the Olmec civilization in Mexico—which emerged suddenly in 1,200 B.C. and influenced the Maya and Aztec civilizations—was influenced by the Shang dynasty. He bases his theory on the fact that Mesoamerican jade blades, called celts, have markings that are almost identical to Shang-era Chinese characters.

After examining six polished celts on a trip to the United States in 1996, Han exclaimed, “I can read this easily. Clearly, these are Chinese characters.” He also asserted that achievements made by early New World civilization was made with help from the same people who introduced the Chinese characters. [Source: U.S. News and World Report]

Other similarities between Chinese and ancient Mesoamerican cultures include the resemblance of the Aztec board game atolli and the Asian game parcheesi; the custom of placing jade beads in the mouthes of the deceased; and the fact that important religious deities were inspired by tigers-jaguars and dragonlike creatures.

It is not impossible for an ancient vessel to have been blown off course across the Pacific to America. Ancient Chinese mariners were highly skilled. Some anthropologist believe they sailed to Indonesia and islands in the Pacific 2,000 years ago. It also quite possible that the ancient Mesoamerican cultures independently developed stuff that was similar to Chinese stuff.

End of Shang Dynasty

Weakened by corruption and decay, the Shang dynasty was overpowered in 1050-25 BC by the Zhou, a Chinese dynasty to the west that also knew how to effectively use horses, chariots and compound bows.

The 29th and final Shang king, Di Xin, was known for his indulgences, appetites and whims. He reportedly hosted orgiastic parties around a palace pool filled with wine and ordered those who displeased him to be taken away and executed. Historians doubt the veracity these tales, namely because they come from Zhou and Han dynasty sources, which likely portrayed dynasties before them as evil to make themselves look good.

Sanxingdui Culture

The Sanxingdui were contemporaries of the Shang that lived in a fertile area watered by Yangtze tributaries in what is now southwestern Sichuan Province. Thus far two main Sanxingdui sites have been found: one near the Sichuan village of Sanxingdui, after which the culture is named, and another about 50 miles away in Jinsha. Sanxingdui is about 70 miles away from the Shang heartland.

The Sanxingdui culture was discovered in 1986, when stunning bronzes–radically different from anything found at the Shang sites and dated to around 1200 B.C.–were unearthed near Sanxingdui. It is unlikely the Sanxingdui and the Shang had much contact because of large mountains that divided them. There is no mention of Sichuan area in the oracle bones but excavations in Sanxingdui have revealed large numbers of cowrie shells like this found in the Shang areas. Jinsha is a suburb of Chengdu. The site was discovered by construction workers. Among the relic that were unearthed were gold headgear, a gold mask, jewelry and elephant tusks.

The Sanxingdui culture had no writing. They buried their dead with valuable objects but didn’t appear to have practiced human sacrifice. Their custom of burying the dead with bronze heads and figures suggested they may have been human substitutes.

The remains of other cultures have been found which have led archaeologists and historians to theorize that perhaps the Shang were not as dominant in their area as once thought and were one of many cultures that existed at that time. Princeton University historian Robert Bagley told National Geographic, “What is certain at the moment is only that early Bronze Age China was a more complicated place than we used to suppose.”

Sanxingdui Art

The Sanxingdui sites have yielded elephant tusks, gold objects, bronze masks, jade pieces, gold pieces, a 13-foot-high bronze tree that looks an upside down candelabra, heads and figures with slender heads, slanted eyes, grim expressions and protruding eyeballs. A totem to a god or king features a bronze head covered by a gilded mask that looks like a space alien. The most famous Sanxingduipiece is an 8½-foot-tall human figure that also has an otherworldly alien look.

At one site hundreds of jade, bronze gold and stone artifacts, collectively weighing more than a ton, were found burned or broken and then buried in two pits. The first pit was mostly filled with pig, sheep, cattle and buffalo bones. Most of the objects of value were found in the second pit, which was topped by 67 elephant tusks. Scholars have speculated that the objects were either offerings or valuables destroyed to keep them out of the hands of an approaching enemy.

The pits were part of tomb of Emperor Wen, the Tuskman of Sanxingdui. It was built in 1200 B.C., more than a thousand years before the terra cotta army of Emperor Qin.

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