Chinese Dynasties: The Shang Dynasty Had Human Sacrifices and More

The Shang Dynasty (aka Yin Dynasty) was the second dynasty in the dynastic rule of China. It lasted from 1600 BCE to 1046 BCE, and is the first dynasty in Chinese history firmly supported by archeological evidence. The excavation at the Ruins of Yun uncovered eleven major royal tombs and evidence of their palaces and ritual sites, as well as other artifacts made from bronze, jade, bone, and stone.

Contributions to society

The most significant contribution attributed to the Shang dynasty is Chinese writings. The divination inscribed on turtle shells, ox scapulae, and other bones. These were called oracle bones. The initial excavation began in the 1920s-1930s which yielded 20,000 oracle bones, and four times the amount has been found since. These provide insights into the politics, economy, religious practices, and even medicine during that point in Chinese civilization.

The Shang had a fully developed system of writing that indicated an earlier period of development but has yet to be substantiated by any further evidence. Other notable advancements include the invention of many musical instruments and celestial observations of Mars by Shang astronomers.


The civilization also relied on hunting, agriculture, and animal husbandry. There is also evidence of human sacrifice during the war as part of their religion. The Shang religion had six main sacrifice recipients: Di (the High God), nature powers like the sun and moon powers, deceased humans who were added to the dynastic pantheon, pre-dynastic ancestors, dynastic ancestors, and royal wives who were ancestors to the present king. They performed divination rituals to secure their blessings for the planned actions. They also believed in the afterlife, as evidenced by tombs built for deceased rulers.


There were 29-30 kings in the Shang dynasty. The last Shang king was said to have committed suicide after his defeat by Wu of Zhou. It is said that his army and slaves betrayed him by joining the rebels in the battle of Muye. After the collapse of the Shang dynasty, the royal family still retained their aristocratic standing and provided administrative services to the Zhou dynasty.


In case you missed it, you can read about the first Chinese dynasty here, as well as what came before the first dynasty here.

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