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HOME > Exhibition > Permanent Exhibition > Acient Liaoning > The Xia, Shang and Zhou Periods
The Xia, Shang and Zhou Periods

The Xia, Shang and Zhou Periods (approximately 4,000 to 2,500 years ago)




Regional Northern States Associated with the Xia


Approximately 4,000 years ago, clans from different areas of ancient China underwent a process of cultural exchange, conflict and merging that marked the beginning of the era of the Xia and Shang dynasties and their coexistence with surrounding regional states. The Liaoning area also featured the Lower Xiajiadian culture associated with the Xia, as well as many other types of bronze cultures, including the Gaotaishan, Machengzi and Shuangtuozi cultures, which formed regional states made up of different northern clans during the Shang and Zhou periods. Although each of these cultures had its own special characteristics, they maintained close relations with the Xia and Shang dynasties of the central Chinese plains and were the precursors of the different northeastern ethnic cultures that followed.

The Lower Xiajiadian Culture

The Lower Xiajiadian culture spanned the period from 4,100 to 3,500 years ago, equivalent to a period from the middle Xia to the early Shang. It bordered the Xar Moron River on the north, the Yongding River on the south, and was centred on the northern side of the Yan Mountains. This culture featured clusters of walled towns with deep defences, painted pottery, imitation-bronze pottery ritual implements and groups of jade implements, reflecting contemporary social stratification and the  formation of ritual systems. The Lower Xiajiadian culture, which dominated the area to the north and south of the Yan Mountains, experienced a period of greatness and was a powerful northern China regional state associated with the Xia. It may be related to the Yan Bo region described in written accounts.     


Gaotaishan Culture

The Gaotaishan culture was mainly distributed around the flatlands of the lower Liao River approximately 3,300 years ago. It had permanent settlements and separate burial grounds. The pottery bowls interred with the dead were often placed on top of pottery jars or pots, which were painted plain red, lending these burial customs a unique style. This branch of Bronze Age culture bordered the Lower Xiajiadian culture to the east and west and enjoyed a thriving exchange with it. It also had a strong influence on the formation and development of other Bronze Age cultures in the eastern area of the Liao River and even all of northeastern China.


Machengzi Culture

The Machengzi culture is primarily located in the mountains of the eastern area of the Liao River, and dates to around 3,300 years ago. Its tombs are mainly found in the limestone caves on either bank of the Taizi River, and feature cremation and funerary items that include groupings of pots, jars and bowls. This is an important branch of early Bronze Age culture in Liaoning, influential in northeastern China and northeast Asia. It may be related to the Mo people of ancient times who lived in the eastern area of the Liao River. 

The Shuangtuozi Culture


Dating from 4,000 to 3,500 years ago, the Shuangtuozi culture is the earliest Bronze Age culture in southern and eastern Liaoning. This culture is divided into three stages. Its first and second periods were heavily influenced by the Longshan culture of Shandong and the Yueshi culture. The third period, on the other hand, shows strong regional characteristics. The Shuangtuozi culture was transmitted to the hinterlands of the eastern area of the Liao River along the coasts of the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea, and had a significant impact on the Bronze Age culture of this region.  


Northern Transmission of Chinese Culture:  Bronze ware from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties 

A large number of Shang and Zhou bronze wares dating from the end of the Shang and the beginning of the Zhou, all important state ritual wares, were discovered in storage pits in the Daling River basin of western Liaoning. The presence of the Marquis of Yan’s wares among them indicates that the power of the state of Yan had already reached western Liaoning by the start of the Zhou. Wares from the Marquis of Ji, Boju and Yu ethnicities are also found in the Yan tombs on the Liuli River near Beijing. Furthermore there are records that they received favours and awards from the Marquis of Yan. This shows that the owner of these wares was a survived aristocrat of the Yin from the late Shang period, who was active in the Yan region at the start of the Zhou. These people served the Marquis of Yan, but maintained their original clan organization and relatively high rank. This is a demonstration of the tolerant method of rule used by the early Zhou over survivors of the Yin (Shang).

Nomadic Herders   Northern Bronze Ware


At the end of the Shang dynasty and the beginning of the Zhou, the Liaoning region still had the remnants of a kind of northern-style bronze ware. This bronze ware, with strong characteristics of the nomadic herders of the grasslands, consisted mainly of items with military, work and equestrian applications. Easy to carry, they were wel suited to the mounted lifestyle of the nomadic herders. With carvings of animals the wares are highly vivid and individualized. This kind of bronze ware has been discovered throughout the area between the coast of the Black Sea and the Mongolian Plateau. It was one of the predominant Eurasian grassland cultures of this time period. Approximately 2,000 years BCE, some nomadic herders migrated east from what is today the central south parts of Inner Mongolia, settling in Liaoning and areas to the east, and forming a cultural transmission zone shaped in time and space by the Inner Mongolian Great Wall.


Traces of the Hui and Mo People   Bronze dagger with anfractuous blade



From the Western Zhou until the Warring States period, a bronze culture characterized by this bronze dagger with anfractuous blade with T-shaped handles was widespread in the southern part of northeast China. Because this kind of short sword is most commonly found in the Liaoning area, and shows continuity throughout the period, it has been called the Liaoning-style bronze sword. This kind of short sword was predominantly used as a funerary item, often accompanying objects such as multi-knobbed bronze mirrors and carriages. Distributed as far away as the Korean peninsula, Japanese archipelago and Russia’s extreme east, it may be connected to the ancient Hui and Mo peoples of northeast China. 



The Culture of the Bronze Dagger with Anfractuous Blade in Western Liaoning
Around the middle of the Western Zhou period, traces of a bronze dagger with anfractuous blade began to appear in the Liaoxi area. Burials chiefly featured earth pits with wood-chambered tombs. Groupings of bronze chariot gear and bronze dings (ancient tripodal cooking vessels) as well as ancient bianzhong (bronze bells) have been excavated. Showing clear regional and ethnic characteristics, they also bore the deep influence of the Yan culture’s ritual system. Cultural exchange between the Yan and local cultures laid the groundwork for the Yan Qin unification.  

The Dong dazhangzi Burial Ground in Jianchang
The Dongdazhangzi grave site in Jianchang is a large-scale group of tombs from the Warring States period which preserves the bronze short sword culture. It is also the largest group of Warring States-era tombs in the northeastern region. The large-scale distribution of bronze dagger with anfractuous blade with gilded handles is rarely seen in China’s northeast or even throughout northeast Asia. This burial site also contains some tombs which preserved indigenous customs, such as the sealing shut of tombs with rocks, and the burial of live animals with the dead. The burial system and sets of bronze and pottery ritual instruments of the Yan culture, however, had gradually become the centrepiece. This demonstrates that the local aristocrats had already been widely influenced by the ritual system of the central plains, laying a foundation for the establishment of the prefectural and county administration in the northeast during the Yan and Qin periods.

The Culture of Curved Daggers and Bronze Short Swords in the eastern area of the Liao 

Ancient sites containing curved daggers and bronze short swords in the eastern area of the Liao River region universally use stone coffins and tomb covers. At present, the earliest known example is the double-chambered stone coffin of Xinjin County, dating to the start of the Western Zhou. This type of culture gradually moved northwest along the Qianshan Mountains and along the sides of the valleys to become the most important remnant of Bronze Age culture in the Eastern Liaoning region. Its influence extended as far as the Korean peninsula, the Japanese archipelago and northeast Asia. These cultural relics are related to the ancient Mo people.


Stone Sheds from the eastern area of the Liao River Peninsula

Stone sheds are closely connected to the curved daggers and bronze short swords. They are mainly distributed from Liaoyang, Haicheng, Yingkou and Gaixian through the southern extremity of the eastern area of Liao River peninsula. They are generally found on mountaintops, and their roofs are broad and thick, with the longest reaching over eight metres. They are an impressive sight on the peninsula, and were likely to have been used in offering religious sacrifices.  







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