Shang Dynasty

Bronze kuei (food vessel), Shang dynasty
Bronze kuei (food vessel) from the Shang Dynasty.

  DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

The Shang dynasty is thought to have lasted from c. 1600 to c.1100 BCE. It is also called the Yin Dynasty (or Shang-Yin). Tang the Great founded the dynasty. King Zhou was its final ruler.

The Shang kings were linked to the rulers of the areas around who paid tribute and provided soldiers for military operations. The Shang kings had some bureaucracy with the highest offices presumed filled by close friends and family of the king. Records of major events were kept.

Shang Population

The Shang probably had about 13.5 million people, according to Duan Chang-Qun et al. It was centered on the North China Plain northward to modern Shangdong and Hebei provinces and westward through the modern Henan province. Population pressures led to multiple migrations and the capitals moved, too, until settling in Yin (Anyang, Henan) in the 14th century.

  • "Relocation of Civilization Centers in Ancient China: Environmental Factors," by Duan Chang-Qun, Gan Xue-Chun, Jeanny Wang and Paul K. Chien. Ambio, Vol. 27, No. 7 (Nov., 1998), pp. 572-575.
  • Shang dynasty. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 25, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  • China Knowledge
  • "The Shang of Ancient China," by L. M. Young. Current Anthropology, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jun., 1982), pp. 311-314.

Start of the Shang Dynasty

Tang the Great defeated the last, evil king of the Xia Dynasty, sending him into exile. The Shang changed their capital numerous times because of environmental problems, hostile neighbors, or because they were a semi-nomadic people used to moving.

Shang Dynasty Kings

  1. Da Yi (Tang the Great)
  2. Tai Ding
  3. Wai Bing
  4. Zhong Ren
  5. Tai Jia
  6. Wo Ding
  7. Tai Geng
  8. Xiao Jia
  9. Yong Ji
  10. Tai Wu
  11. Lü Ji
  12. Zhong Ding
  13. Wai Ren
  14. Hedan Jia
  15. Zu Yi
  16. Zu Xin
  17. Wo Jia
  18. Zu Ding
  19. Nan Geng
  20. Yang Jia
  21. Pan Geng
  22. Xiao Xin
  23. Xiao Yi
  24. Wu Ding
  25. Zu Ji
  26. Zu Geng
  27. Zu Jia
  28. Lin Xin
  29. Geng Ding
  30. Wu Yi
  31. Wen Ding
  32. Di Yi
  33. Di Xin (Zhou)

Shang Accomplishments

Earliest glazed pottery, evidence of a potter's wheel, industrialized bronze casting used for rituals, wine, and food, as well as weapons and tools, advanced jade carving, determined the year was 365 1/4 days, made reports on diseases, first appearance of Chinese script, oracle bones, Steppe-like war chariots. Remains have been found of palace foundations, burials, and rammed earth fortifications.

Fall of the Shang Dynasty

The cycle of the founding of a dynasty by a great king and ending a dynasty with the ousting of an evil king continued with the Shang Dynasty. The final, tyrannical king of the Shang is commonly called King Zhou. He killed his own son, tortured and murdered his ministers and was overly influenced by his concubine.

The Zhou army defeated the last king of the Shang, whom they called the Yin, at the Battle of Muye. The Yin King immolated himself.


  • "The Shang-Yin Dynasty and the An-Yang Finds" W. Perceval Yetts The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland No. 3 (Jul., 1933), pp. 657-685
  • "Urbanism and the King in Ancient China" K. C. Chang World Archaeology Vol. 6, No. 1, Political Systems (Jun., 1974), pp. 1-14
  • China. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 25, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  • "Shang Divination and Metaphysics," by David N. Keightley. Philosophy East and West, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Oct., 1988), pp. 367-397.
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Gill, N.S. "Shang Dynasty." ThoughtCo, Jan. 26, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, January 26). Shang Dynasty. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Shang Dynasty." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).