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China in the Early Bronze Age

Shang Civilization

By Robert L. Thorp

Publication Year: 2013

One of the great breakthroughs in Chinese studies in the early twentieth century was the archaeological identification of the earliest, fully historical dynasty of kings, the Shang (ca. 1300-1050 B.C.E.). The last fifty years have seen major advances in all areas of Chinese archaeology, but recent studies of the Shang, their ancestors, and their contemporaries have been especially rich. Since the last English-language overview of Shang civilization appeared in 1980, the pace of discovery has quickened. China in the Early Bronze Age: Shang Civilization is the first work in twenty-five years to synthesize current knowledge of the Shang for everyone interested in the origins of Chinese civilization.

China in the Early Bronze Age traces the development of early Bronze Age cultures in North and Northwestern China from about 2000 B.C.E., including the Erlitou culture (often identified with the Xia) and the Erligang culture. Robert L. Thorp introduces major sites, their architectural remains, burials, and material culture, with special attention to jades and bronze. He reviews the many discoveries near Anyang, site of two capitals of the Shang kings. In addition to the topography of these sites, Thorp discusses elite crafts and devotes a chapter to the Shang cult, its divination practices, and its rituals. The volume concludes with a survey of the late Shang world, cultures contemporary with Anyang during the late second millennium B.C.E. Fully documented with references to Chinese archaeological sources and illustrated with more than one hundred line drawings, China in the Early Bronze Age also includes informative sidebars on related topics and suggested readings.

Students of the history and archaeology of early civilizations will find China in the Early Bronze Age the most up-to-date and wide-ranging introduction to its topic now in print. Scholars in Chinese studies will use this work as a handbook and research guide. This volume makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the formative stages of Chinese culture.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Encounters with Asia


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 4-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xvi

A Note on Documentation

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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. xix-xxviii

For anyone interested in ancient China, the last three decades have been a proverbial golden age. This era began in 1972, even before the chaos of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (wenhua da geming) had subsided. Two actions taken by the government introduced the world to contemporary Chinese archaeology. ...

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pp. 1-20

Early Bronze Age societies grew from deep roots in several regions of modern-day China. Before embarking on our survey of those developments, we should review both the physical setting and cultural developments at the beginning of this new age. ...

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1. Dawn of the Bronze Age: The Erlitou Culture

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pp. 21-61

In Chinese archaeology today, discussions of the origins of civilization and of the Bronze Age generally begin with Erlitou. Erlitou is a village south of the Luo River in Yanshi County that resembles many others in this part of North China. In archaeology, Erlitou is both a site, specifically a type site, and the name for an archaeological culture ...

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2. Foundations of the Bronze Age: The Erligang Culture

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pp. 62-116

If Erlitou witnessed the dawn of the Bronze Age in North China, then the far more extensive Erligang Culture represents its broad foundations. The material evidence documented at sites of this archaeological culture (Map 5) underlies the civilization with which Chinese history properly begins, and also constitutes the baseline for developments outside the central plains. ...

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3. The Shang Kings at Anyang

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pp. 117-171

Our discussions of the Erlitou and Erligang Cultures established the pedigree of the archaeological culture known from the large complex of sites near Anyang, in northern Henan province (Map 6). Work here began at about the same time the discovery of the Longshan type site took place. ...

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4. Shang Cult: Divination and Sacrifice

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pp. 172-213

The development of oracle-bone studies has made our view of the Late Shang (or Yinxu) period categorically different from all earlier eras. History begins at Anyang, and so too does the study of those ideas and practices that characterized Shang society. The emphasis on cult in this chapter matches this evidence, both inscriptional and archaeological. ...

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5. The Late Shang World

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pp. 214-263

In rediscovering the Shang kings and their civilization, archaeologists and historians have created an "Anyang-centered" view of the late second millennium B.C.E. Contemporary cultures have generally been judged against the archaeological record at Anyang. They are classified as more or less advanced, even civilized, by the degree to which they manifest the traits of Yinxu: ...

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Afterword: The Invention of Chinese Civilization

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pp. 264-266

Throughout this book I have been at pains to qualify what I write. My efforts are more than an abundance of scholarly caution or a nod to contemporary academic fashion. As a non-Chinese researcher writing about the early Bronze Age, I am acutely aware that my assumptions are not the same as those of my Chinese peers. ...

Suggested Reading

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pp. 267-274


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pp. 275-282


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pp. 283-290

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pp. 291-292

I have been fascinated by the Shang since a day in 1971 when I first walked into a gallery at the National Palace Museum, Taibei, and there came face-to-face with a marble owl excavated in the 1930s from the royal tombs at Anyang (see Figure 3.18). Nearby, reverently displayed in velvet-lined boxes, were whole plastrons and scapulas with oracle-bone inscriptions ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203615
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812239102

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Encounters with Asia