Anyang was the center of Chinese culture and power during the Shang dynasty (1766–1045 BCE). Archaeological excavations have unearthed many artifacts that showcase the importance and predominance of its civilization, most notably the famous Bronze Age “oracle bones.” Anyang’s Yin Xu excavation site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.

Anyang, a prefecture-level city in today’s Henan Province, was the last royal center of the Shang dynasty from 1300 BCE to 1046 BCE. The Shang (1766–1045 BCE) were also named the Yin; therefore, Anyang is also called Yin Xu (Yin Ruins). Around 1300 BCE, King Pangeng moved his capital here, and the city reached the height of its development during King Wuding’s period (1250–1192 BCE). Eleven kings were buried in Anyang; all the kings’ tombs, along with the tombs of some members of the royal family, were at Houjiazhuang, north of the Huan River. Some lower-ranking elite were buried near Xiaotun village on the south of the river. A temple-and-palace complex, which formed the core city of Anyang, was built at Xiaotun, surrounded by an artificial trench and the river. Workshops for pottery, casting bronzes, bone working, and carving jade, as well as cemeteries, were spread out in a huge area. Beginning with the discovery of oracle bone inscriptions in 1899, many cultural treasures of Anyang have been revealed: fifteen excavations were undertaken from 1928 to 1937, and ongoing excavations have continued since 1950, but it is still too early to deduce the original city plan of the Shang capital.

The locations of the temples, palaces, and cemeteries for royalty and commoners, as well as human sacrificial pits, were based on a hierarchy and suggest social position. The orientation certainly was related to a religious, cultural, and social belief systems, and the Shang elite scrupulously adhered to these beliefs. The burial sites and the associated burial rituals tell us that the Shang people were possibly divided into clans. The layout of Anyang was configured in three distinct sections: the core city, the inner city, and the outer city. The social class and position of people buried in a royal cemetery can be determined by considering its distance from the core city: the farther the location from the core city, the lower the rank of its interred occupants. Moreover, even when the population increased and the city expanded, this layout did not change, showing that the belief in hierarchy remained very strong. The scale and sophistication of the hierarchical system in Anyang did not exist simultaneously in any other urban center in East Asia.

The advanced designs of the ritual bronzes cast in Anyang represent the quality of technology at the time and some of the greatest achievements of the Bronze Age civilization in Asia. Thirty types of bronze vessels of various sizes that were used for ritual offerings of food and liquor have been unearthed there. The excavated jade carvings discovered in Anyang are a part of the unique jade culture of China, and carved bones like the ones uncovered in Anyang have never been found anywhere else.

Anyang was the center of China at the peak of the Shang dynasty. Peoples or nations from as far away as the South China Sea paid tribute to the Shang, and many people who went to war with the Shang were captured and brought to Anyang to be sacrificed to the gods or to serve as slaves. By the very late Anyang period, the Zhou people grew stronger in the west, in today’s Shaanxi Province; they conquered the Shang in 1046 BCE.

The Yin Xu site at Anyang became a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 2006.

Further Reading

Allan, S. (1991). The shape of the turtle: Myth, art, and cosmos in early China. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Anyang. (2008). Handan Daily. Retrieved January 19, 2009, from

Barnes, G. L. (1999). Rise of civilization in east Asia. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Chang, Kwang chih. (1988). Art, myth, and ritual: The path to political authority in ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chang, Kwang chih. (1980). Shang civilization. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Chang, Kwang chih. (1986). Studies of Shang archaeology: Selected papers from the international conference on Shang civilization. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Chi Li. (1978). Anyang. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Li Liu & Xingcan Chen. (2007). State formation in early China. London: Duckworth Publishers.

Thorp, R. (2005). China in the early bronze age: Shang civilization. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2009). Yin Xu. Retrieved January 19, 2009, from

Wen Fong (Ed.). (1980). The great bronze age of China: An exhibition from the People’s Republic of China. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Source: Wang, Ying. (2009). Anyang. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 71–72. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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