The Shang dynasty (also called the Yin () dynasty in its later stages) is believed to have been founded by a rebel leader who overthrew the last Xia ruler. Its civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. Two important events of the period were the development of a writing system, as revealed in archaic Chinese inscriptions found on tortoise shells and flat cattle bones (commonly called oracle bones or(), and the use of bronze metallurgy.
The Shang held their royal ancestors in high regard. Bronze was found in royal tombs as well as the skeletons of about three hundred servants who were to accompany the king to the heavenly world. Funerary tablets were kept in the front of temples and all rituals were carried out in their presence. These tablets were thought to contain the souls of the ancestors. Every royal event was announced aloud in the temples to inform the ancestors. In addition, the diviners often consulted the ancestors by offering sacrifices and reading the cracks of burnt bones.
(details of a bronze vessel from Shang)
A line of hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of northern China, and Shang troops fought frequent wars with neighboring settlements and nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. The capitals, one of which was at the site of the modern city of Anyang, were centers of glittering court life. Court rituals to propitiate spirits and to honor sacred ancestors were highly developed. In addition to his secular position, the king was the head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult.
The cities around the capital were called palace-cities. Each city was surrounded by a wall. Within the walls were the military and religious centers as well as the nobility residences. Every palace-city was a copy of the capital city. The buildings were identical and arranged in the same format. The capital of the Shang moved seven times before finally settling in Yin which became the permanent capital.