More notes at http://tanguay.info/learntracker
C O U R S E 
Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science
Edward Slingerland, University of British Columbia
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Shang Dynasty (1554-1045 BC)
Notes taken on November 20, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
Shang Dynasty (1554-1045 BC)
first clearly archeologically attested dynasty
with Shang Dynasty the historical record matching up with the archeological evidence
alternate name is the Yin Dynasty
the first source of significant written records
oracle bones
inscriptions in bronze vessels
once you have writing, you can match it up with the historical record in a rigorous way
the nature of Chinese writing
symbol of East looks like a sun coming up behind a tree
the issue that Chinese symbol writing looks like pictures is a contentious issue in Chinese scholarship
one argument is that Western alphabets are based on logocentrisms while Chinese alphabets are based on pictures
the argument goes: this is why Europeans tend to be more logical and analytical
Chinese have pictures and so tend to think more holistically
taken to an extreme, this is a ridiculous argument
some Chinese characters clearly have picture origins
very quickly, though, this just becomes an abstract concept that means East
people don't see the symbol anymore of the sun rising in the east
similar to the English word "breakfast" which comes from the idea of "breaking one's nightly fast"
but when I say, "Let's go have breakfast", you don't think of breaking your fast anymore
the same in Chinese: once you are a literate person, you are just reading words as people do who read European languages
so we don't want to get to eccentric about how different and Chinese writing system is, it's a writing system like any other writing system
one important feature, though, is it is not directly phonetic
there are many theories about why Chinese became unified at a very early date in history and remained unified
"I personally think it has to do with the writing system"
so you have people's who speak completely different dialects, but when they read the language, they can read it in their own dialect
in this way different peoples are connected to the written system in a way that is different than, let's say, if you are reading Latin and you are a German speaker, if you are a German you can't read a Latin document from the Pope in German
however, people living in the outback areas of China receiving an official notice from the central government can each read it in their own dialect
Shang chronology
King Tang - 1554 BC
defeated the evil king of the Xia and founded the Shang dynasty
Wu Ding (1250-1192 BC)
Di Xin (1105-1046 BC)
23rd generation
dissolute, evil, mean to people, lost in drink
was defeated by his own army
oracle bones
makes up much of the information we have from Shang
turtle shells
shoulder blades of oxen
discovered in 1898, "dragon bones" used in traditional medicine
they were being dug up by farmers and sold to pharmacies
we now have hundreds of thousands of them
they were divination records
records of attempts to communicate with the ancestors
tend to be about things that are not under human control
child bearing
there were attempts by Shang kings to get some insight into what will happen in the future
so we have these records at least of what the Shang royal line was concerned about
Shang Pantheon
Shang Di
"Lord on High"
the supreme god in the Shang pantheon
seems to be an independent god
originally a sky god
referring to a region around the north pole in the sky
important because all the other stars go around it
the past Shang ancestors
the further back, the more revered
nature deities
king is the political ruler and a kind of spiritual god
spirits communicate through crack patterns in bone
take a hot poker, stick it on the bone and it cracks
the pattern from the cracks reveals what the answer from the spirits is
the king is the only one who can interpret that pattern
Shang bronze vessels
evocative shamanic imagery
animalistic spirits
shamanistic figures transforming or being embraced by animals
food and drink
animals and humans
large numbers of war captives were sacrifices in exchange for
avoiding bad luck
if an important person is getting married
you don't communicate with the ancestors without making some sort of offer to them
need keep them happy
entombing the dead
elite tombs were very large
prepared physical body
there was a process which they went through to turn a dead person into a spirit
tombs vary wildly in elaborateness
showed a very stratified culture
would put human sacrifices in the tomb
luxury items, food and tools
a good part of the gross national product went into the ground with dead people
Shang Dynasty (1554-1045 BC)
ruled in the Yellow River valley, the first source of significant written records
earliest known body of Chinese writing, mostly divinations inscribed on oracle bones