The relationship between the Shang and the ethnic groups on the Northern Frontiers as reflected in the northern-style bronzes unearthed in Yinxu Site

  • 1 Center for Research on Ancient Chinese History, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

Abstract

Through an analysis of oracle bone inscriptions relating to attacks on the northern and western borders of the Shang Kingdom by various ethnic groups living in the Northern Frontier Zone, this paper suggests that the members of northern chiefdoms such as the Qiong Fang, Tu Fang, or Fang Fang mainly lived in the mountainous areas of present-day western and northwestern Shanxi, northeastern Shaanxi, and northern Hebei Provinces. The paper analyzes the characteristics of northern frontier-style bronzes unearthed from this region and suggests to which cultures they may have belonged. Based on these suggestions and analyses, this paper discusses the northern-style bronzes unearthed from offering pits, sacrificial pits and tombs at the Yinxu Site and reveals that the northern-style bronzes frequently seen at Yinxu, especially the ones dating to the late stage of Phase I and Phase II of Yinxu Period (i.e., those dating to the reigns of Kings Wu Ding and Zu Jia), are a sign of frequent warfare between the Shang people and the ethnic groups inhabiting the Northern Frontier Zone, warfare having been the main form of the contact between them. Moreover, this paper discusses the significance of the communication of the Shang with these northern ethnic groups for establishing exchange between the Shang and the people in the Eurasian Steppe.

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