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Socio-economic and socio-political structure of Shan society

Problems of localization and dating of the Late Christian time


According to the Zhou historical tradition, the ruler who opened the late period of the history of the Shang was Pan Geng (about 1300 BC). He was associated with the transfer of the state capital to the area called Yin. According to one of the fragments of the lost Late Zhou chronicle “Weather records on bamboo planks” (Zhushu Jinyang), “Pan Geng… moved [the capital] from Yan to Beimeng, which became known as Yin.”

In Zhou epigraphic and literary monuments, this toponym became the main designation of the Shang country and, possibly, the self-name of its people. In the divination texts found in 1977 near Xi’an, the ruler of this state was called Wang (lord) Yin. Judging by the inscriptions on the divination bones found near Xi’an, it was the site of a divination ceremony by representatives of the “Yin Wang”, which may indicate that at that time this area (possibly inhabited by Zhous) was under the control of the Shan Wang. However, in the texts compiled by the scribes of the Xiaotun oracle, there is no mention of the capital city of Yin. Here it is given descriptive names: Da and Shang, or “Great Settlement of Shang”, Tian and Shang, or “Heavenly Settlement of Shang”. The territory centered near the capital is called Zhong Shang in divination texts, or “The Territory of the Shang located in the center”. Around lay the so-called” lands ” (fan), named after the countries of the world. The whole of this vast area, consisting of the center and the four surrounding “lands”, appears in the divination texts as the object of questions about the types of crops. It was, apparently, the area where the Shan authorities had direct control.


The only source that, in our opinion, makes it possible to adequately reconstruct a number of aspects of the history of Late Christian society is the divination texts. However, their dating is associated with considerable difficulties, since they do not mention the names of living rulers. Fortunately, a very late transmission preserved a complete genealogical list of all the Shang Vans — namely, in the” Records of the historiographer ” Sima Qian (145-88 BC). It is certainly reliable, since in most cases it is confirmed in the data of fortune-telling texts that mention all the Shan rulers of historical time and a long series of their ancestors.

The chronology and periodization of divination texts is based on the analysis of a number of features of divination formulas. Thus, by the nature of the ritualization of the names of deceased ancestors found in individual texts, it is possible to determine under which of the Late Christian Vans this divination was performed. And the systematization of the names of fortune-tellers and observations on the evolution of writing allowed scientists to distinguish among the divination texts known to science five extensive complexes, each of which belongs to a certain period —

  1. Under Wu Ding,
  2. under Zu Geng and Zu Jia,
  3. under Lin Xing and Kang Ding,
  4. under Wu Yi and Wen Ding,
  5. with Di and Di Sin.

Thus, the sum of the years of the reigns of these nine Vans forms the time of the activity of the Anyang oracle and the flourishing of the late Han culture. Chronologically, it corresponds to the period between the XIII and XI centuries BC. None of the existing chronologies of the Shang-Yin era, based on 1122 or 1028 BC, which Liu Xin (lived in the late I century BC — early I century AD) and “Weather records on bamboo planks” dated the death of this dynasty and the victory of the Zhou, can not be recognized as scientific and taken into account in modern studies. Liu Xin, based on the reference to the position of the planet Jupiter at the time of the decisive battle of the Zhou people with the Shang, operated with fantastic calendar calculations and astronomical data of the Han era. The “Weather records” also used later calculations dating back to the Zhanguo period. Repeated attempts to establish absolute dates for Late Christian time by identifying lunar eclipses mentioned in the inscriptions on fortune-telling bones cannot yet be considered successful. They proceed from the assumption that the inscriptions preserve the memory of a number of real astronomical phenomena, and not of fabricated signs, that the sixty-day cycle used in late Christian times did not creep in errors and distortions, etc., undermining faith in the reliability of the data obtained.

At the moment, science has three samples dated with the help of radiocarbon analysis, which allow us to clarify the general features of the chronological orientation of the Late Christian period:

  • from a tomb in Wuguancong-1255 (±160) BC;
  • from a layer in the western part of Xiaotong-1290 (±105) BC.;
  • from the burial in Xiaomintong — 1005 (±105) B.C.

Late Han beliefs

Another feature of many divination texts, which significantly reduces their value as a source, is that they record only the appeal of the Shang ruler to the deity and the answers of the oracle about the possible results of the actions that the Shans are going to take. In some cases, the answers about the results of the actions taken as a result of divination were also recorded. The specificity of the source makes it extremely difficult to extract the information necessary to develop a working model of a particular element of Late German political and social structures. It is obvious that it is impossible to overcome the “subjectivity” of divination texts and turn the informative parts of divination formulas into objective news without a preliminary review of some of the main features of the religious beliefs of the Shants. This circumstance makes it necessary that the reconstruction of the most important features of the Late Christian statehood, its associated territorial and administrative organization, management methods, etc., should be preceded by a description of the Late Christian concept of deities and their attributes, as well as the entire structure of organized worship of “higher powers”.

Supreme Deity and ancestor worship

The Shantz pantheon combined animate phenomena and objects of the natural world with the spirits of their ancestors. One of the gods was assigned the functions of the supreme administrator of the cosmos and the organizer of the divine and human planes of existence. Known by the divination texts as Shandi, he was the first of those higher supernatural beings whom the Shans referred to by the term di. The main and most consistent attribute of Shandi in divination texts was the domination over the deities of the celestial sphere: over the eastern and western mothers, who are identified with the sun and moon, over the deities of clouds, wind, rain, snow, and over the earthly deities, who were in charge of the cardinal directions, mountains, streams, as well as the ancestors of the ruling family. At the same time, Shandee was thought of as the center of the cosmos. Its periphery was arranged in four directions, controlled by the four backgrounds, the deities of the four main sides of the horizon.

Decoration in the form of a mythical bird. Jade. From the grave of the high priestess and warrior Fu Hao. The Shang-Yin era.

Decoration in the form of a mythical bird. Jade. From the grave of the high priestess and warrior Fu Hao. Shang-Yin. End of the second millennium BC.

It must be said that the orientation of space according to the five cardinal points was an essential feature of the structure of the world of the Shan gods. In the divination texts, the fans who owned the four sides of the world sometimes appear as the rulers of the four winds, which played such an important role in the life of ancient farmers.

According to the Shang religious doctrine, Shandi ruled, or, as it is said in the divination texts, “gave orders” to all the natural elements, his will was constantly manifested in human affairs, but he was too far from the world of people, and the latter did not dare to directly address him with their everyday requests. But they could communicate with the ruler’s endless line of deified ancestors, and through them they could send Shandi requests for rain or pleas for crops, ask for their advice, and call for their help. As the main intermediaries between the human and sacred planes of existence, the Shang people singled out a group of mythical first ancestors of the ruling family. In the legendary part of the genealogies of the Shan Vans, they occupied a place at the very origins of the genealogical series. The ancients combined in these supernatural beings the traits of human ancestors and natural deities. In divination texts, they most often took the form of a water stream and a mountain peak. The burning of their intended sacrifices indicates, according to researchers, that the ancients ranked them as celestial beings, united in nature with the Shandis. The proximity of the first ancestors to the Shandis, and the fact that the ancients apparently saw them as the rulers of water and clouds, explains why they were sometimes referred to as the givers of rain and harvest.

The tendency of divination texts to bring all the inhabitants of the heavenly and earthly spheres closer together is reflected in the later genealogical legends known in the Zhou versions, where the Shandi merges with the mythical first ancestors and turns into the direct ancestor of the Shang. The processes of combining natural deities with ancestral spirits reflected in the Late Christian religious practice led to the emergence of ideas that their functions in the human world basically coincided. However, in some cases, the involvement of ancestral spirits in human affairs was more intimate and described in specific terms. Thus, only the spirits of the ancestors were attributed the ability to “nurture”, “protect” the ruler, his fields and the millet crop.

The ancestral spirits, who, according to the beliefs of the Shans, had the ability to enter the abode of Shandi and “stay” with him, served as a link between the world of the gods and the world of people. In the divination texts, there are traces of the idea that each Shang ruler during the period of his earthly existence through a chain of incarnations was inextricably linked with the entire line of his genealogical ancestors. The special position of the spirits of the ruler’s ancestors was emphasized by the fact that only to them, unlike the gods of the natural cosmos, domestic animals and people were sacrificed, which bore the character of the sacrament of communion. At the disposal of modern science, there is no data yet on the presence of a moral element in the religious beliefs of the Shan people. The divination texts do not indicate that the favor of the higher powers depended on the personal virtues of the ruler or his entourage.

Structure of the Shantz world

The divination texts reflected the belief of the Shants that the human world was an earthly analogue, an earthly realization of the world of the gods. The center of the world of people was considered the territory of Zhongshan or Shang inhabited by the Shang, personified in the personality of the ruler, who bore the title of Wang and was, according to religious doctrine, in sacred unity with the clan of deified ancestors.

An essential element of the picture of the world was the periphery surrounding the center of the Shan, which, as in the world of the gods, was oriented along the four main sides of the horizon and consisted of four “lands”, or four fans — “countries of the world”. Further detailing of this picture of the world, as evidenced by the divination texts, was the result of the merger of the semi-fantastic systematization scheme with the constantly expanding real-geographical outlook of the Shants. In the space occupied by the “countries of the world”, the ancients placed groups of small fans, which represented both descriptive and classification units (Longfang — “the land of the dragon”, Yufang — “the land of charioteers”, Mafang — “the land of horses”), and genuine ethnopolitical formations — Qiongfang, Qiangfang, Jifang, Tufan, Renfang, etc. The use of the term fan in all these cases was only an indication that they were referring to areas that formed the distant and usually hostile periphery of the Shan world. It is obvious that the term fan had nothing to do with the structure of those real ethnopolitical entities, in the names of which it was introduced by the Shants, and therefore the interpretation of it proposed by some researchers as a designation of a genus or tribe seems inappropriate.

Territorial division of Shantsev

The scheme of the model of the world developed in the Shan period was manifested in the elements of the real territorial and administrative organization of the Shan lands themselves, known from divination texts. Here the lowest unit of territorial associations was – “settlement”. There is no data on the total number of them in the Shan lands. There is, however, a record of divination – “On the day of the Igui… will not forty settlements be destroyed?” – which indicates that the number of such units numbered in the tens. The capital of the Shants was the center, around which were located four peripheral areas-bi, marked on the four main sides of the horizon. This statement can be illustrated by a number of divination texts: “Fortune-telling on the day of Jisa, the fortune-teller asked whether to order an unknown character to be in southern bi”, “Daifang attacked twenty settlements of [western] bi, on the day of gengyin rain came from the south”. It should be said that the desire inherent in the thinking of the Shans for a hierarchical division of the Oikumene into the center and the periphery, for the orientation of its elements along the five cardinal points, was widely reflected in the Shans geographical nomenclature.

A ritual axe for human sacrifice. Bronze. Late Christian period.

A ritual axe for human sacrifice. Bronze. Late Christian period.

The area of distribution of the Shan possessions occupied the lands of Henan province. Beyond it, between the Shang lands proper and the Fan belt, which was usually interpreted in divination texts as a hostile force and a source of anxiety, lay a number of areas over which the Shang Vans exercised direct or indirect administrative control.

All these areas, as well as a number of localities with a Shan population, modern researchers tend to consider as the territories of “tribal collectives”, while their superiors are considered “heads of clans”. There is no doubt that some of the toponyms that became known in the Shan period were closely connected with the life of certain blood-related associations. Thus, among the Yin (Shan) clans mentioned by Zhou historiographers, there is the Xiao clan. In turn, in the divination texts, there is a place designated by a simplified form of the same hieroglyph, Su, inhabited, obviously, by representatives of this clan. It is unlikely, however, that in the absence of any additional information, it is permissible to draw final conclusions about the nature of the social organization of all its inhabitants. As for the local administration, according to the divination texts, the power here at one time belonged to the governor sent from the center, in the role of which Wang’s son named Zi Su acted. In general, in the Shan period, the practice of entrusting representatives of the royal family with the management of the regions was widespread.

From the divination texts, it is known that the ruler of the fertile Que region, located, according to Shirakawa Shizuki, on the site of modern Wenxian County (Henan Province), was Wang’s younger brother Wu Ding. The Que region itself was part of the Shang military-administrative control system, as evidenced by the placement of military detachments sent from the center: “Divination on the day of Mouzi. Order Li… to go to Que and camp there.”

The administrative situation in a number of border regions was similar. This can be seen from the surviving reports of incursions by hostile fans. These reports were sent to the Shan capital, and here they were introduced into divination texts to become the subject of discussion with the oracle. As an example, we can cite fragments of fortune-telling records related to the Yu region (near the northern spurs of the Taihang range):

“On the ninth day on the day of Xinmao, a disaster really came from the north. From Yu, the king’s wife, Zhan, reported: “[People from the] Tufan tribe attacked our fields, [captured] ten people…»»;

“Guichou Day divination, the fortune teller Zhen asked if there would be losses and sorrows in the [new] decade. On the fourth day of the Gengsheng day, trouble came again from the north. The King’s son, an unknown hieroglyph, reported: “Last day, the Jiacheng [tribe] Fang invaded Yu, captured fifteen people.”

Consequently, during the period to which these reports relate, the power here was in the hands of Wang Wu Ding’s wife and son. Materials from the YH 127 archive pit found at the Xiaotun site indicate that a number of localities located in the immediate vicinity of the Renfang people hostile to the Shang, located on the border of Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, in the Wei River Valley, under the penultimate Shang ruler Di Yi, were also under the jurisdiction of administrators appointed from the center.

Among the Shan borderlands, there were some that were ruled by local lords. This refers to Xi, which is usually localized in the lands of Shanxian County (Henan Province). In divination texts, this area is associated with the activities of Xi Zhen, who was the central figure of the anti-Tufan military expeditions under Wu Ding, and his successor Xi Ho. Judging by their names, they came from the local nobility. It is not possible to determine their political status. It is obvious that they officially shared the Shan religious and political doctrine and recognized the Shan system of values. A fragment of a fortune-telling inscription is known that mentions Xi Zhen’s participation in sacrifices to the ancestors of the Shang Wang. His reports to the Shang Wang are known, which he, like the Wang governors in Yu, had to regularly submit to the capital: “Xi Zhen reported:” The Tufan attacked our eastern border territory, destroyed two settlements. The Tufan also attacked the fields of our western border territory.” The Si, in which the administrative division was built on the Shan model, apparently, was part of the Shan state not as a free federate, but as a subordinate structural unit.

A ritual vessel with an ornament in the form of a taote mask. The Shang-Yin era.

A ritual vessel with an ornament in the form of a taote mask. The Shang-Yin era. End of the second millennium BC.

The rulers of the territories located on the periphery of the Shang world, who recognized the hegemony of the Shang Wang by participating in the state cult, were given the title of hou by the Shang. The information available to modern researchers does not give grounds for the conclusion that the peripheral Hou were the heads of tribal formations allied to the Shantsam. The subordinate position of the lords of the border regions was expressed in the fact that they were obliged to regularly send gifts to the Shan Wang intended for sacrifices to his ancestors, as well as to field military detachments to participate in campaigns against hostile fans. Among the numerous series of fortune-telling records concerning the border areas, the question of whether the Shants will receive border troops at their disposal is almost the most common.

There was another form of realization of the territorial supremacy of the Shan Vans. Wang’s envoys were regularly sent to all the regions peripheral to the Shan center, in order to make sacrifices to the deified ancestors of the Shan ruling family at specially selected points. The above-mentioned evidence of the appearance in the late Shang of the first attempts to focus on formally classified criteria in geographical descriptions (the division of the Shang lands and border areas into central and peripheral areas), as well as data on the creation of various forms of local administration managed from the center indicate that the process of forming a territorial-administrative structure characteristic of a public-law society has already begun.

Political hierarchy in Shan society

At the same time, there are well-known references to the preservation of a certain complex of patriarchal relations and blood ties in Late Christian society. A number of historians who have studied the information of divination texts, it was noted that the vast majority of Shan names coincide with geographical names. This pattern has been evident for centuries. It is believed to reflect the usual for a society that retains elements of the generic organization, the stable connection of the members of the genus with a certain area. Consequently, in the late Shang, along with the emerging territorial and administrative associations, the old, traditional type of public relations continued to live. Such dualism reflected the contradictory and many-sided forms of socio-political development of the late German society. The most clearly dynamic shifts and the emergence of qualitatively new phenomena were found in the sphere of management of this society. On the basis of a series of unambiguously interpreted divination texts, it is possible to identify a number of levels where the social institutions inherent in the gentile structure were already replaced by colleges of officials representing the ruling elite, led by Wang, and where completely new bodies of coercive power, separate from the people, appeared.

A ritual wine vessel in the form of a syncretic animal: a dragon, a tiger, a snake, an owl. Henan.

A ritual wine vessel in the form of a syncretic animal: a dragon, a tiger, a snake, an owl. Bronze. Xiaotun. Henan. The second half of the second millennium BC.

The process of organizational formation of the ruling class, which emerged as a result of the growth of property and social differentiation, which took place in the late Christian period, was closely connected with the formation of the oldest religious and political doctrine. Thus, the idea of the personality of Wang as the center of the earthly world, as the guarantor of its harmonious existence, determined a number of characteristic features of the constitution of the ruling stratum, the creation of a corporation of professional managers in the late Shang. The perception of this ideological concept was one of the necessary conditions for admission to the corporation. In late Han times, most of the officials who made up the Wang administration were identified by the pictorial character chen, which was a schematic drawing of a wide-open eye. It did not mean a legal state of citizenship or an object of power, as later, but a constant supervision of everything that was carried out on the orders of Wang. Among these “overseers”, two types of titles were the most common:

  • xiaochen-small chen; shaochen-young chen;
  • jiuchen — old Chen, laochen-old chen.

Obviously, the content of these titles directly indicates the nature and duration of contact of certain groups of representatives of the ruling class with the Vanis.

Indeed, the titles of the second type were applied to the long-dead servants of former rulers, who were famous for their loyalty and intelligence. According to the beliefs of that time, there was a long-standing sacred closeness between them and a number of deified representatives of the Van family, which also made them an object of worship. In comparison, everyone under the direct command of the living Wang, regardless of their actual age, was considered a young servant who had just come into contact with their master. The social status of the little Chens was quite high. The inscription on the Late Han bronze vessel Xiaocheng Wu ding indicates that they included Wang’s closest relatives. The administrative functions of the small Chens were diverse: they supervised agricultural work, participated in military campaigns, supervised chariots and horses, acted as fortune tellers, etc.

According to the Shan texts, another category of professional stewards is known, closely related to the personal cult of Wang and his ancestors. They were designated by the hieroglyph I, which at that time represented a symbolic representation of a model of the world, a burial chamber, and a temple with an altar. The records of the diviners mention that their duty was to participate in a special ritual intended to “nurture and protect Van”. However, in reality, they, like the lesser Chen, exercised administrative control on behalf of Wang in various spheres of the socio-economic life of late Han society. There are reports that they were subordinated to detachments of forced laborers, who were used both for various jobs and for military purposes. In one of the inscriptions we read: “They were wondering on the day of lingyu whether the steward Ya named … should go to Tsung with a detachment of [his subordinates]? [The deity] agrees.”

Supervision of work performed

A characteristic feature of the centralized system of management and supervision in the field of agriculture, which was the basis of the social production of the Shants, was its close connection with various religious and magical rituals. So, along with regular “field inspections”, which were aimed at getting acquainted on the ground with the state of the soil and other natural factors, Wang and his agents carried out “bull inspections”, during which they observed the preparation of sacrificial animals for the appropriate rites. It is possible that Wang’s very position as the supreme administrator of all labor processes related to the cultivation of the land, sowing or harvesting, was considered as an attribute of the magical world-building abilities attributed to his personality. In a number of cases, the texts refer to the Vanas as participants in these labor processes. The diviners who composed the texts apparently had in mind the performance of certain functions by the Vanis in the administration of the corresponding agricultural cults and magical rites, such as sacred plowing. As for the actual management of field work, the Wangs usually carried it out through subordinate officials — through small Chen or simply “stewards” without a specific title. Before ordering the start of the next cycle of work, an oracle was consulted in every vast area of the Shan domain or in every locality:

  • “[Divination] on the day of guihai. Should Wang order all the stewards to hoe the fields in the west? Let’s harvest the harvest. “
  • ” [Divination] on the day of Yichou. Should Wang order the field to be hoed in Jing?»

According to the divination records, it is known about the “processing of millet crops” in Dong, Gong and Longyu, “harvesting” in Jing, “grazing” in Shang, “hay harvesting” in Yong, etc., carried out under the control of the authorities. Data from the archives of the diviners allow us to express a number of considerations about the nature of all these works. For their implementation, apparently, not all the agricultural population of these areas was involved, but only a part of it. There is a record of divination, during which the oracle discussed the question of whether it was time to collect labor: “The Diviner X asks whether Wang should publish the great commandment to the people [assigned] to the Zhong, which says: ‘Work together’? They will reap the harvest.” The chekun character used in this text, which was an extremely simplified drawing of a group of people engaged in field work, in late Christian times acted as a designation for a group of peasants following an official.

A ritual wine vessel with an ornament in the form of birds and dragons. The second half of the second millennium BC.

A ritual wine vessel with an ornament in the form of birds and dragons. Bronze. Ningxiang. Hunan. The second half of the second millennium BC.

There are references to the fact that in some cases, the control of the work of such units was carried out by Wang himself: “[Divination] on the day of mowin. The fortune-teller Bin asks whether Wang should go with the Zhongs to cultivate the millet crops in Jun? “However, the inscriptions usually refer to the lesser Chen as overseers:” Should the Xiaochen (lesser Chen) order the Zhongs to cultivate the millet crops? The first moon.” Agricultural zhongs could include hundreds or thousands of workers. This is indicated, in particular, by the content of one fragmented divination text: “[Divination] on the day of xingchou. The fortune teller… should three thousand people be involved in field work?»

Centralized control over the work of the Zhong seems to have involved centralized supply of their inventory. This assumption is confirmed by the materials of the Xiaotong settlement. Agricultural implements are usually found here in large quantities, more than a hundred stone sickles were found in one of the Xiaotong storage dugouts, and seven ash pits excavated in 1929-1932 contained about 3,600 such sickles. These are undoubtedly the remnants of the equipment that was distributed among the teams of farmers during the harvest. Large groups of zhongren, i.e. “people assigned to the Zhong”, who worked, as one of the inscriptions says, “together”, had to cultivate quite extensive areas of land that were entirely under the jurisdiction of the central government. Indirect evidence of the existence of such “state fields” in different areas of the Shan possessions is the following circumstance. Analysis of divination about the upcoming harvest shows that Shan officials were often interested in forecasts that did not concern all the land in a given area, but only certain field areas, often with their own names. For example, fragments No. 1926, 1932 of the Kyoto University collection contain a series of similar records:

  • “[Divination] on Dinghai day. Should I order the zhongs to [work] in the Gao field? They will harvest grain»;
  • “There will be a grain harvest in the Yu field in Ju. In the Lower Unknown hieroglyph on the southern field, they will harvest grain.”

The fields, which were the subject of special interest to official fortune-tellers, apparently belonged to the royal land fund. Information about the origin and status of the latter is almost completely absent. Only the text is known, from which it follows that one of the stewards Wang wanted to instruct “to make a large field”. Obviously, the last expression suggested that the official of Wang was supposed to develop some empty land and turn it into a “royal field”together with a detachment of state workers handed to him.

In the Shang era, specialized posts and departments were the first to appear in the field of centralized agricultural management. The texts mention officials who had very expressive names:

  • xiaojechen-small chen, who were in charge of those involved in field work,
  • and xiaozhongzhengcheng-small chen, who were in charge of people assigned to the Zhong.

In different areas of the Shan state, they monitored the organization of the labor of farmers in the state-owned fields. In the center and in the localities, they were obviously responsible for the direct control of the collection of labor employed in the royal economy, as well as for the distribution of tools, seeds, and food to the Zhongs. However, the volume of administrative work in the royal economy was so large that it could involve not only representatives of special departments,but also a variety of persons from among the direct executors of the will of Wang. So, the royal field work in the capital region and in the surrounding areas was performed with the participation of representatives of the inner circle of Wang. A fortune-telling text has been preserved that asked: “Should the king’s wife, Ching, be called to [cultivate] the millet crops in Shang?” According to one of the modern researchers, Jing, who was the wife of the Shang ruler Wu Ding, should have led her relatives to work in the capital’s fields. This assumption is unlikely. Indeed, the royal wife mentioned in the quoted text, judging by her name, came from a region located north of the Yellow River, far from the center of the Shan civilization. It is more appropriate to interpret this text in the sense that the tsarist wife Jing, who acted here as a representative of the central government, which was common in Shan times, wanted to entrust the leadership of a detachment of local farmers assigned to work in the capital’s fields. It is about these fields, and not about the king’s wife Jing’s own land, as some authors believe, that the following divination text is referred to: “[Divination] on the day of Yichou. The fortune-teller asks if there will be a harvest in the fields of the king’s wife Jing.”

A ritual vessel in the form of an owl-the guardian of graves. The Shang-Yin era.

A ritual vessel in the form of an owl-the guardian of graves. Bronze. The Shang-Yin era. End of the second millennium BC.

Many guesses dating back to Wu Ding’s time are devoted to the question of whether there will be rain in the Zi region, where there also seemed to be fields whose crops belonged to Wang. There are references that several officials supervised the processing of them, one of whom is well known as a member of the college of fortune tellers at Ding: “[Whether to call] an unknown hieroglyph and even Que and Fu for field work in Zi? They will get a harvest. Divination on dingyu day. The fortune-teller Zheng asks whether to call Fu to [cultivate] the grain crops in Zi? It will get a bountiful harvest.” Of course, the people mentioned here did not work in the royal household themselves, but only managed groups of the rural population, connected by a system of simple duties with the house of Wang. Similarly, the mandatory work for Wang’s house and the Ming area was organized: “[Fortune-telling on the day of Jimao]. Qiao the fortune teller asks if Lei should be called up for field work in Ming.”

The above information reflects one of the oldest stages of the process of formation of the state apparatus, when there were only primitive governing bodies, represented by separate, little-connected officials. A significant number of the latter consisted of performers of the will of Wang without certain permanent functions. However, there were already positions whose names reflected the duties of the officials who performed them. The geography of the “royal fields”, reconstructed from divination records, indicates the prevalence and stability of agricultural farms controlled from the center. The collection of labor for these farms was carried out on a territorial basis rather than on a tribal basis.

The presence in the archives of the Xiaotun fortune-tellers of a large number of texts that contained questions to the gods on the organization of mandatory work for the house of Wang, testifies to the significance of the role played in the exploitation of farmers by the late Han state and Wang at its head.

Exploited population

In divination texts, the direct producers are mentioned almost exclusively as members of the Zhong. The question of the social content of the works performed by Zhun attracted the attention of researchers. Among them, there are many supporters of the view that the Zhong were groups of slaves. However, in the divination texts, there is a repeated mention that the members of the Zhong performed the state duties of the free population and were used as soldiers who served as border guards. This is evident, for example, from the content of the inscription on fragment No. 2142 from the collection of the University of Moscow. Kyoto: “If we call the border guards to protect us from the Qiangs and fons in Zui, will we cause damage to the Qiangs and fons, or will we lose the zhongs?»

A fragmented inscription has been preserved, indicating that the Zhongs, led by their chief, participated in sacrifices in the temple of one of the ancestors of the Shan Van. In some cases, the divination texts, speaking of the Zhongs who acted as military detachments, also mention the areas where they were gathered. For example: “[Divination] on Dinghai day. Should Wang order Bi and the Zhongs of the Unknown Character to march against [the country of] Zhaofang). From such reports, it follows that the leaders of the peripheral Zhongs were not local leaders from the tribal elite, but military leaders appointed from above, known from other inscriptions as permanent executors of Wang’s military-administrative assignments. According to another inscription, the Zhong gathering itself, which discussed whether to send the warlord Wang to “select [the warriors] in Fu,” was also under the direct control of the authorities. The term wangzhong found in the Shan texts — “Wang Zhong” – was used as another name for the tsu, the military-corporate associations associated with the house of Wang. The latter, like the zhongs, could be used as independent military detachments or as border guards. In the sources there are indications that can be interpreted as evidence of the coincidence of the tsu with the territorial divisions. The settlement of Yu and Zu of the same name is mentioned, for example. However, it is hardly permissible to conclude from such instructions that the tsu coincides with any elements of the tribal organization.

There are cases when the warriors who were part of the tsu, obviously, were not related by family ties. Such were the detachments called dozzu, which united young noble hostages from the subject domains and young men from the Shang ruling family. Undoubtedly, in such cases, the term tsu could not hide patrilineal kinship groups. In general, among the forms of military organization known from divination inscriptions, there are none that would be built on the basis of tribal principles. When composing texts related to the formation of large militias, the scribes of the late Han oracle generally omitted both geographical and any other characteristics of the detachments gathered throughout the country, giving their warriors the generalized and impersonal name wangren – people of Wang: “[Divination] on the day of dingyu. A fortune-teller Unknown hieroglyph asks if five thousand of Wang’s men should be sent out this spring to punish Tufan! Thus, Wang’s men were part of an army with a stable number of warriors. The inscriptions also mention smaller units, which also had a constant numerical composition. Wang’s militia was usually divided into left, center, and right squads. They were not led by local chieftains, but by the warlords of Van, who had special titles. These features of the military-organizational structure clearly show the features inherent in the armies of early class societies. This conclusion makes us cautious about the popular belief that primitive communal relations and tribal organization prevailed in all spheres of life in Late Christian society. In these inscriptions, the historian finds a whole hierarchy of rulers, headed by Wang, who represented the ruling class and seized key positions not only in the sphere of exploitation of direct producers, but also in military affairs.

There is less clarity about the situation of the bulk of the population of the late German empire. Divination texts, due to the specificity of their content, provide very little to reveal the social essence of the extra-economic coercion to which it was subjected, as well as to reconstruct its legal status. An analysis of the divination inscriptions concerning the organization of work in the “royal fields” shows that the main burden here, apparently, fell on the peasants-community members, who were obliged to work for a certain period as part of the Zhong. This, however, did not at all exclude the possibility of using slave detachments in various jobs for the house of Wang.


In the social vocabulary of fortune-telling texts, there is no word that can be considered with a sufficient degree of confidence as the designation of a slave. However, in the news about the campaigns of the Shants against the surrounding tribes, there are references to the capture of enemy soldiers and unarmed residents. Some inscriptions speak of thousands captured. Captivity, as we know, was everywhere the earliest source of slavery. In Shan China, prisoners were primarily sacrificed to the spirits of the ancestors of the ruling family, but some of these people from other social groups were apparently turned into forced laborers. Among the divinatory records devoted to the Qian pastoralists who lived on the western borders of the Shang state, questions are repeatedly found about the use of prisoners belonging to this people as grooms and beaters in the royal household and royal hunting. For example:

  • “Should many Qian people chase the deer? They’ll catch you.”
  • “Should many Qians go after horses?»

In 1971, in Hougan near Anyang, a slave was forcibly buried in the ancestral grave of a representative of the ruling class. The condition of the skeleton of the latter indicates that his leg was amputated during his lifetime. It is believed that this slave was subjected to a special punishment, which included the severing of a leg, about which later sources tell a lot. This circumstance brings to mind one hieroglyph of inscription No. 1688 of the Kyoto University collection and inscription No. 1178, published in the “Continuation [publication] of preserved divination bones”. It looks like a schematic drawing of a man whose leg is being cut off. Epigraphists believe that this hieroglyph meant the punishment applied to slaves, and suggest that the inscriptions should be interpreted as follows:

  • “Fortune telling… Should one hundred people whose feet have been cut off be buried [to sacrifice to the deity]? “
  • ” Should the feet of one hundred people be cut off, or should they be buried?»

Similar divination is found among the inscriptions published by Luo Zhenyu. In them, the subject of divination is indicated by the zai hieroglyph, which was later applied to officials of the highest rank. Here it is used in relation to persons of a servile state, whose lives were entirely at the disposal of the state. So, in the fortune-telling records we read:

  • “Should the feet of ten tzai (slaves) be cut off?”
  • “Should the tzai (slave) whose leg is cut off be buried?»

In general, among the late Han divination inscriptions originating from Xiaotong, a very large number was dictated by the concern of the authorities, whether the right moment had come for the destruction of another group of slaves destined for one of the Shan deities. The methods of destruction were different (cutting off the head, burning, burying), depending on the nature of the deity to whom they were intended. The sequence of these sacrifices was maintained regularly, regardless of whether the Shans were fighting successful wars at this time or not. Consequently, large masses of slaves must have been constantly at the disposal of the central authorities, who usually seemed to be engaged in various productive activities, and were sacrificed if necessary.

Shantsev’s external expansion

The formation of the Shan military-administrative bodies was inextricably linked with the ever-increasing external activity of the Van, who sought to include as many peripheral tribal groups and early state formations as possible in the system of their rule. Gradually, round and round, the Shants established their control first over the near and then over the far periphery, imposing their symbols of power on their neighbors, turning them into regular tributaries and into a striking force of military campaigns against the unconquered and the defiant. Judging by the divination texts, there were periods when the military and political expansion of the Shan rulers in the lands of the far periphery was carried out especially actively. For example, the XIII-XII centuries BC are associated with the transformation into a subject area of the Zhou domain, in the area of modern Shanxi Province. The Wang years of Wu Ding and Lin Xin are associated with predatory expeditions to the Qian lands, located in the south of Shanxi Province and in the east of Shaanxi Province. In the middle of Wu Ding’s reign, military actions were taken against the Tufan country. The end of his reign is marked by the annexation of the independent possession of Yu. The head of this area was placed in the Hou, who was entirely subordinate to the Shants. Modern researchers have collected and systematized a series of divination records relating to two campaigns that lasted for several months against the country of Renfang (1084-1080 BC). Various historians attribute the conduct of these campaigns, which aimed to turn the vast lands of the country of Renfang into an object of systematic exploitation, either to Wang Di Yi or Di Xin.

In the history of the late German administration, periods of successful expansion of external influence were usually followed by periods of decline and discord, when the number of “allies” and “servants” quickly fell, and the number of enemies became threatening. At such times, the Shan system of rule usually avoided destruction only by pitting some tribal unions and early state formations against others. However, during the reign of Di Xin, when it was necessary to wage a grueling, almost year-long war with the possession of Yufang, located on the very borders of the Shang state, as well as with a number of other possessions, this remedy ceased to have the necessary effect. Di Xin was opposed by a powerful coalition led by the leaders of the Zhou domain, which crushed the Shang system of rule and ended the hegemony of the Shang Wans in the Yellow River Basin.

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