This paper surveys the Bronze Age in ancient China, which covers a period from approximately 1600 to 600 B.C. That is, it begins more or less coincidentally with the so-called Shang Dynasty, and continues through the first half or so of the so-called Chou Dynasty, covering the Western Chou period (1122-771 B.C.) and most of the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 B.C.), named after one of the Chinese literary classics, The Spring and Autumn Annals.
The earliest bronze in China was found to date from about the beginnings of the Shang dynasty, and probably represents a shift in economic and political power catalyzed by technological innovation, as is known to have happened during the Neolithic/Bronze transition in the Mediterranean region. The major Shang cities, the capital of An-Yang and two other major cities, spring up relatively suddenly, and represent a vast advance over previous urban development.
For example, the city near Chang-chou, in northern Honan, suddenly acquired a wall, 30 feet high and sixty feet wide, about 2400 feet in perimeter, surrounding an area of about 1.25 square miles. It is estimated that this wall would have taken 10,000 workers 18 years to complete, which suggests that, even though the level of technology was still relatively low, the Chinese had already devised effective ways to organize manpower. Chinese civilization begins at this time at a level approximately comparable to that of Egypt or Sumeria in about 3000 B.C. (Meskill 6-7).
Within these walls was apparently, judging from An-yang, an administrative and ceremonial center, containing mansions of the rulers and nobility and a few temples. Outside the city walls were businesses, such as bronze foundries, pottery kilns, bone and stone workshops, and a winery, and residences for the artisan classes. The earliest Chinese writing is found on the scapular bones which were used for divination in Shang temples, and it enables some reconstructi...