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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

Officials who served the ruler personally


In

addition to the nature deities which were implored to give fertility, to send rain, or to prevent floods and storms, the Shang also worshipped deceased rulers and even dead ministers as a kind of intermediaries between man and the highest deity, Shang Ti. This practice may be regarded as the forerunner of "ancestral worship" which became so typical of later China.

3 _Transition to feudalism_

At the head of the Shang state was a king, posthumously called a "Ti", the same word as in the name of the supreme god. We have found on bones the names of all the rulers of this dynasty and even some of their pre-dynastic ancestors. These names can be brought into agreement with lists of rulers found in the ancient Chinese literature. The ruler seems to have been a high priest, too; and around him were many other priests. We know some of them now so well from the inscriptions that their biographies could be written. The king seems to have had some kind of bureaucracy. There were "ch'en", officials who served the ruler personally, as well as scribes and military officials. The basic army organization was in units of one hundred men which were combined as "right", "left" and "central" units into an army of 300 men. But it seems that the central power did not extend very far. In the more distant parts of the realm were more or less independent lords, who recognized the ruler only as their supreme lord and religious leader.

We may describe this as an early, loose form of the feudal system, although the main element of real feudalism was still absent. The main obligations of these lords were to send tributes of grain, to participate with their soldiers in the wars, to send tortoise shells to the capital to be used there for oracles, and to send occasionally cattle and horses. There were some thirty such dependent states. Although we do not know much about the general population, we know that the rulers had a patrilinear system of inheritance. After the death of the ruler his brothers followed him on the throne, the older brothers first. After the death of all brothers, the sons of older or younger brothers became rulers. No preference was shown to the son of the oldest brother, and no preference between sons of main or of secondary wives is recognizable. Thus, the Shang patrilinear system was much less extreme than the later system. Moreover, the deceased wives of the rulers played a great role in the cult, another element which later disappeared. From these facts and from the general structure of Shang religion it has been concluded that there was a strong matrilinear strain in Shang culture. Although this cannot be proved, it seems quite plausible because we know of matrilinear societies in the South of China at later times.

About the middle of the Shang period there occurred interesting changes, probably under the influence of nomad peoples from the north-west.

In religion there appears


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