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The Shang Dynasty - An Intro for KS2

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Tang - the first ruler of the Shang Dynasty

What was the Shang Dynasty?

The Shang Dynasty was one of the earliest dynasties of rulers in Ancient China. What’s a Dynasty, I hear you ask? It’s a line of rulers that all come from the same family and rule one after another for a long time. In the case of the Shang Dynasty, a long line of thirty emperors, all from the Shang family, ruled over an area in Eastern China for around six hundred years.

When was the Shang Dynasty?

The Shang Dynasty lasted from around 1600BC to 1046BC. The Dynasty started with a ruler called Tang and ended with King Di Xin (sometimes known as Emperor Zhou). The Shang Dynasty is the first Chinese Dynasty that we have a historical record of.

The location in Eastern China where the Shang Dynasty was based - Courtesy Lamassu Design

Where was the Shang Dynasty?

The Shang Dynasty was based in Eastern China, in the valley of the Yellow River. The river flooded regularly making the land in the area great for farming. Although the flooding meant that there were lots of crops and plenty of food to eat, it also meant that the villages and farms had to be protected with big mud barriers to stop people’s homes from ending up underwater.

A Bronze Ding from the Shang Dynasty - courtesy of sailko

What is the Shang Dynasty best known for?

The people living in the Shang Dynasty were well known for their spectacular craftsmanship. They would craft all sorts of tools and weapons out of bronze (no iron or steel for these guys!), such as bowls, knives, spears, and even parts of chariots! They also had specialist sculptors make beautiful items out of precious stones called jade. Jade items included miniature figurines and sculptures, jewellery, accessories, and ceremonial weapons. Jade items were often intricately carved like miniature pieces of art.

A Jade Pendant from the Shang Dynasty

What was life like in the Shang Dynasty?

Life in the Shang Dynasty was very different depending on how rich you were. The wealthiest people, such as the kings and nobles, could live a life of luxury. Below the royal family were the priests and warriors who weren’t as wealthy but could still afford lives of relative comfort. Then came the lower classes of craftsmen, traders and farmers. The majority of people in the Shang Dynasty worked on farms, which was back-breaking work. Finally, the most difficult lives were reserved for the slaves, who had no rights, no money and very little to eat.

An Oracle Stone from the Shang Dynasty - courtesy of BabelStone

What did people of the Shang Dynasty believe in?

People of the Shang Dynasty worshipped many different gods. These gods were often related to the elements, such as gods of the wind, rain, sun, and moon. There was a supreme god, called Shang Di, who had ultimate power. He was said to control all of the important things for the Shang people, such as victory in battle, the weather for crops to grow, and the harvest of plants for food.

People of the Shang Dynasty also worshipped their ancestors. They believed that the spirits of their dead family members would watch over them. These spirits could go back for hundreds of years through your family tree. If the ancestor spirits were pleased, they could help you. But if they were offended by you, they could harm you or bring you bad luck.

People in the Shang Dynasty also believed that their priests could predict the future by using Oracle Bones. You can find out more information about Oracle Bones here.

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