Some Shang Antecedents of Later Chinese Ideology and Culture


Although the Shang dynasty sometimes seems archaic and alien from the point of view of later periods, there are important elements of Shang culture that persevered in recognizable forms, even after allowing for adaptation to new historical realities, beyond the Zhou conquest in 1045 B.C. These points of continuity being generally underappreciated, five of the most salient are sketched below, in the hope of spurring renewed interest in China’s first historical dynasty: the ritual use of writing, particularly as a mode of communication with the spirit world; the status of Chinese as the sole written language; the notion that some days are auspicious and others inauspicious; a patrilocal and patrilineal family structure that nevertheless accommodated mothers within its ritual order; and “the Deity’s command”. In keeping with the genre of “brief communication,” the examples adduced are illustrative rather than exhaustive; a full study of these themes would require an entire monograph.

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