The Shang Dynasty – Planning Overview

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Dan

Do you want to bring the Ancient Chinese Shang Dynasty into your classroom and turn history into an exciting and educational adventure?

Teaching your students about the Shang Dynasty can be a rewarding experience, full of fun activities that even those tired teachers can have fun with!

As you plan out this exploration, take time to learn more about the events during this period for a comprehensively engaging lesson. In this blog post, I’ll share five steps for creating a compelling planning overview for teaching about The Shang Dynasty in your classroom.

Related: For more, check out our planning overview on The History of Benin  here.

The Shang Dynasty Timeline

The Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that existed from approximately 1766 to 1046 BC. It is renowned for its many cultural and technological achievements, notably using writing characters and bronze working techniques. During this period, the political unification of China occurred, and it is often seen as the beginning of civilization in East Asia.

The Shang Dynasty was highly influential in literature, art, music and architecture. The royal court had access to numerous resources and used them to create grand palaces and tombs for their rulers. They were also responsible for introducing ancestor worship, festivals and ritual sacrifices – practices which would become embedded within Chinese culture for centuries afterwards.

A Timeline of Key Events from the Shang Dynasty

  • 1766 BC: The Shang Dynasty begins and marks the start of Chinese civilization in East Asia.
  • 1200 BC: The height of the dynasty is reached, with many advances in culture, technology and art.
  • 1045 BC: King Zhou of Shang is overthrown by King Wu of Zhou, beginning the Zhou Dynasty.
  • 1050 BC: The end of the dynasty is marked by a series of military defeats and cultural disruption.
  • 1046 BC: End of the Shang Dynasty with the establishment of the new kingship in China.

Historical Context Around the Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty was a significant part of Chinese history. However, it did not exist in isolation from the rest of the world. During this period, there were many other advanced civilizations in existence. In Egypt, the Old Kingdom of Pharaohs was nearing its peak and had already begun construction on the Great Pyramids.

In Asia Minor, the Hittites and Assyrians were locked in an ongoing power struggle to control Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, early Bronze Age cultures such as Mycenaean Greece and Minoan Crete were evolving rapidly in Europe.

Significant Achievements of the Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty was a period of technological, artistic and linguistic advancement. The Shang Dynasty is known for its achievements in bronze casting. This technique created various weapons and tools, such as swords, knives and spears. The process began with moulds made from clay that was used to shape the molten bronze into the desired item.

Once cooled, these items were polished and sharpened before being used or displayed as symbols of status and wealth. This advanced technology was a significant contributing factor to the success of the Shang Dynasty during this period.

The writing was developed during this period using pictograms inscribed on oracle bones, forming the basis of modern Chinese writing. In terms of art and culture, elaborate jade sculptures and achievements in poetry are also attributed to this period.

Written Language and Literature of the Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty is credited with the development of writing using pictograms inscribed on oracle bones. These symbols referenced various topics, including divination, medical treatments, royal decrees and everyday matters. This written language eventually evolved into modern Chinese writing.

In terms of literature, poetry was an essential part of the culture during this period. Many famous works were composed on bronze vessels, including poems such as ‘Song of Chu’ and ‘Lying in Judgment’ by philosopher Qu Yuan.

Learning Opportunities from the Shang Dynasty

Here are just some of the learning opportunities that come up from studying the Shang Dynasty:

  1. Understanding of Bronze Casting Techniques
  2. Development of Writing Systems
  3. Appreciation for Poetry and Literature
  4. Insight into Ancient Religions and Customs
  5. Exploration of Ancient China’s Social Structures
  6. Examining Philosophical and Political Ideas

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan 1: Understanding of Bronze Casting Techniques

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will understand bronze casting techniques and their artistic importance during the Shang Dynasty.
  • Students will recognize how bronze casting is still relevant today.

Main Teaching Points:

  • Overview of bronze casting techniques in Ancient China.
  • In-depth examination of creative designs, shapes and sizes of vessels.
  • Discussion on how technologies have changed over time.

Reflection and Adaptation:

  • Encourage students to draw connections between ancient bronze casting techniques to modern methods.
  • Promote discussion amongst students about what can be derived from these practices today.

Key Questions:

  1. How were Ancient Chinese bronze vessels made?
  2. What are some ancient symbols that appear on dishes from the Shang Dynasty?
  3. How has bronze casting technology evolved?

Lesson Plan 2: Development of Writing Systems

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will learn about the different writing systems developed during the Shang Dynasty, including the oracle bone script and its evolution into modern Chinese writing.
  • – Students will appreciate the significance of written language in contemporary culture.

Main Teaching Points:

  • Overview of ancient writing systems in Ancient China, such as the oracle bone script and its development into the modern Chinese writing system we use today.
  • Discuss how written language has adapted to our needs over time and its continued importance in our lives today.

Reflection and Adaptation:

– Encourage students to reflect on how written language has changed their lives today, both positively and negatively, by connecting personal stories with a historical context relating to this topic

– Allow students to further explore other ancient writing systems from around the world

Key Questions:

1. What examples of writing systems developed during the Shang Dynasty?

2. How have these systems evolved until they became what it is today?

3. What does this mean for us in terms of communicating with one another?

Lesson Plan 3: Appreciation for Poetry and Literature

Learning Objectives:

-Students will gain an appreciation for poetry pieces composed during the Shang Dynasty and inscribed on bronze vessels, such as ‘Song of Chu’ or ‘Lying in Judgment’ by philosopher Qu Yuan.

-Students will be able to explore how literature reflects the culture and offers insight into critical philosophical questions surrounding life.

Main Teaching Points:

  • – Introduction to various poetry pieces composed during the Shang Dynasty inscribed onto bronze vessels.
  • – Exploration of how literature reveals values held by society then.

Reflection and Adaptation:

– Allow students to connect themes they find in poetry pieces to present-day issues they care about – Discuss ways different poetic works can inspire people even if they don’t necessarily agree with them

Key Questions:

1. What do literature pieces tell us about society at a particular time?

2. What does reading poems tell us about ourselves?

3 . How can literature help us think about complex topics such as death or power dynamics between individuals or societies?

FAQ

Q: What is the Shang Dynasty?

A: The Shang Dynasty was an ancient Chinese dynasty from 1600 BCE to 1046 BCE. It was the second dynasty of China and marked a significant period in the country’s history.

Q: Why is the Shang Dynasty important?

A: The Shang Dynasty was important for several reasons. It was responsible for many advancements in Chinese cultures, such as developing a writing system, creating bronze objects of great artistic value, and establishing a complex social hierarchy.

Q: Why is the Shang Dynasty taught in schools?

A: The Shang Dynasty is taught in schools because it represents a critical period in Chinese history. Learning about the Shang Dynasty can help students understand the evolution of Chinese civilization and culture and how it has influenced the modern world.

Q: What are some of the significant accomplishments of the Shang Dynasty?

A: The Shang Dynasty was responsible for many significant cultural and technological accomplishments, including the development of a system of writing, the creation of bronze objects of great artistic value, and the establishment of a complex social hierarchy.

Q: What is the best way to study the Shang Dynasty?

A: The best way to study the Shang Dynasty is to read books and articles about it, watch documentaries, participate in classroom discussions, and take notes. You can also visit museums with exhibits about the Shang Dynasty to understand this period’s culture and history better.

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