Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1500BC Shang ya
Subjectya noble warrior
Culture: proto-Chinese
Setting: Shang dynasty, north China 18th-11thc BC

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Peers/McBride 1990 p4-5
"Although later tradition describes a revolt of the Shang people against an even earlier dynasty, the Hsia, culminating in the Battle of Ming T'ian in 1763 BC, it is only with the introduction of writing under the Shang that China emerges from prehistory.  By the 15th century BC the valley of the Hwang Ho was dominated by a palace-based military caste which owed its supremacy to a monopoly of bronze-working techniques among a still mainly Stone Age population.  There is no direct evidence for the origin of this new technology, but similarities in weapon-types suggest that it diffused into northern China via Siberia and Manchuria.  The Shang themselves, however, were certainly indigenous, as their styles of art and writing show.  Their original centre of power may have been in modern Shantung, but they moved their early wooden palaces frequently, perhaps to avoid the notorious Hwang Ho floods, gradually drifting north and east down the valley.  As they did so they brought an increasing number of neighbouring tribes under their rule.  Shang culture as well as political influence spread over a wide area of north China, but did not yet constitute a centralized state.
    "[...] War was a means of legitimising the power of the new aristocracy, and the main aim of foreign policy was the sending out of expeditions to parade this power and gather tribute.  Surrounding peoples were deliberately left unconquered to serve as an excuse for war and a reservoir of booty and prisoners; the maintenance of a steady supply of captives was important to the Shang state, as its religion relied heavily on human sacrifice.  This represents a primitive stage in the evolution of international relations, in which the resources of other communities at a lower technological level are exploited in a manner analogous to a hunting expedition.  In fact hunting trips and military campaigns wre organized in the same way, and the distinction between them was often blurred."

* Treistman 1972 p114-115
"The pattern of raiding and 'warfare,' of capturing men primarily for sacrifice (and probably horses as well), preceded the growth of a commercial network that fostered the tribute system of later years.  Chou poetry and philosophy, with the institutionalized ideal of unity, glorified warfare, but for the Shang it was nothing more than another aspect of the search for legitimization of a stratified society.  The machines of warfare were simple, and largely borrowed from the victims.  Borrowed, unless we consider that before the Shang came to ascendancy they participated in the larger cultural configuration of Northern Asia and were allied to the nomads who were forever shifting across the ecological frontiers.  For one thousand years they had been working out a cultural life-style of pastoralism which existed in symbiosis with the sedentary agriculturalists of the Huang plains.
    "[...] The Shang warriors -- again we must think only of an elite -- were protected with armor and shields of leather and helmets of bronze.  The success of the Shang in capturing their victims must have rested on a short-lived supremacy of organization.  This organization, soon to be far surpassed by the military system developed by the horse-riding nomads, was symbolically and realistically based on the war-chariot.  The chariot was a slight wooden vehicle with two spoked wheels, drawn by a team of two horses. ... [I]t was outfitted in splendor, and probably carried the battle-chief.  The mobility afforded by the chariot aided the commander's ability to make decisions affecting the course of raids and brought inspiration to his followers."

* Chang 1980 p194-195
"Both externally and internally the Shang rulers had ample force at their command.  Oracle records abound in mentions of military campaigns involving the use of three thousand, five thousand, or even thirteen thousand troops and the taking of prisoners of war, as many as thirty thousand at one time.  Within their own society, overwhelming garrison force must have been necessary for the imprisonment and sacrificial use of war captives in such large numbers ...
    "[...] [T]he Shang's basic social unit, the tsu, is regarded by many scholars as a military unit.  In a small walled town, which was a defensive instrument as well as a living settlement, the tsu inhabiting it performed military functions as an integral part of its activities, and the tsu chief was a military leader.  In the royal capital, this military aspect of the tsu simply was enlarged and stratified.  The king was the town's (as well as the state's) military leader, and he was required to possess physical strength.  Under him there were a number of tsu, including ... tsu groups headed and led by the king himself, by his consorts, and by his princes.  All tsu, thus, were military as well as socio-political units.  In time of peace, order was maintained by a standing army, perhaps called lu, which included only a portion of the tsu members, but in case of necessity, which was probably frequent, a large or small part of the tsu members could be mobilized to be thrown into military campaigns."


* Yang 1992 p54
"Weapons for personal defense during the Shang Dynasty were mostly short bronze sickle-like knives of the dagger-type, not exceeding 20-40 cm in length with a protruding lower guard.  The tang was narrower and usually had a slit in the middle, with the backs of the tang and the blade forming a curve.  The end of the tang was usually decorated with the figure of a cast animal head.  Since long-hafted weapons become useless in hand-to-hand combat, these short weapons were very handy and most effective.  They are thus effective weapons for personal protection. ... These daggers with animal head decorations are reminiscent of the grasslands and show that they were probably products deeply influenced by the cultures of the northwestern or northern nomadic tribes."

* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson p173 (Thom Richardson, "China and Central Asia" p172-185)
"...[F]or close fighting, and probably for general purposes too, they used small curved animal-headed knives.  These were probably introduced at the same time as the chariot -- similar bronze knives are found on sites in northwest China and in southern Siberia."

* So/Bunker 1995 p101
"[G]oat-head knives have been recovered at Suide Xian in Shaanxi Province, Qinglong Xian in Hebei Province, and even in the Shang capital at Anyang in Henan Province.  Goat- and other animal-heads also decorate the pommels of daggers from northern sites.  Although knives with similar animal-head handles are characteristic of southern Siberia as well, they cannot match the northern examples in variety and workmanship, thus leading scholars to suggest a possible northern rather than Siberian origin for the type."

* Empires beyond the Great Wall 1993 p39-40
"Cultural exchange between central China and the Eastern Hu was by no means one-sided.   A late Shang-era bronze dagger has a shape (and particularly, a curvature) that is characteristic of others unearthed at Xia and Shang cultural sites; but its ram's head pommel is typical of bronze daggers crafted in the north.  ... [R]am's head daggers have been retrieved from the late Shang-era capital at Anyang in Henan province; these were perhaps taken by the Shang during their northern campaigns." [citation omitted]

* Till 2009 p56
"Curved daggers or knives were ... common to tombs of the Shang and Western Zhou periods as well as the tombs of contemporaneous neighbouring tribes in the north and west.  It is not known where the knives originated, as the continuous exchange of goods and ideas meant that there were reciprocal influences.  The knives had plain ring handles and zoomorphic head pommels, often in the shape of an ibex head, and likely served as cutting tools rather than weapons.  The ring handles are thought to be more typically Chinese while the pommels are in keeping with the style employed by the neighbouring tribes."


* Yang 1992 p40
"The dagger-axe is the most important Shang weapon and was the standard equipment for the common soldier.  This fact is also reflected in the archeological finds from the excavations of Shang Dynasty Ruins at Anyang during 1969-1977. ...
    "Judging by their shapes and designs, the bronze dagger-axes of the Shang Dynasty can roughly be divided into 3 types: those with straight nei butt, those with arched nei butt and those with perforated nei butt.  The first two types had already appeared in the Erlitou Culture, and still retained some of the characteristics of the sickle; they were made with straight, flat blades and no special guard between the blade and the nei butt.  The earlier Shang bronze dagger-axes were developed from the two kinds of bronze daggers of the Erlitou Culture, as shown by the fact that they were made with both straight and arched nei butts.  Yet some improvements are discernible; both the upper and the lower edges of the blade are slightly arched and there is already a protruded guard between the blade and the nei butt."

* Yang 1992 p45
"Comparing the bronze dagger-axes of the late Shang Dynasty with those of the early Shang Dynasty and the Erlitou Culture, we can see that improvements were mainly made in the following directions.  First, the lethal nature of the weapon was increased by making the blade from a stright edge into a curved one, sharpening the tip and increasing the angle between the ridge and the guard.  Secondly, the method by which the dagger-axe was fixed to the shaft to prevent it from slipping in the course of combat was improved.  This was done by first casting a protruded side guard between the blade and the nei to prevent it from getting loose in the process of chopping and cutting and then adding a downward perforated hu in the lower edge near the guard to attach the axe more firmly to the shaft.  This additional hu became longer and longer subsequently, and was made with more holes in it to ensure that the dagger-axe and shaft should be firmly held together."

* Barnes 1999 p124 f54(a)-(b)
"Shang bronze weapons.  Among the weaponry, ge dagger-axes are a unique type, meant to be hafted perpendicularly to a long pole and used with a chopping motion.  Over time, a flange was extended down the shaft to provide for more secure hafting."

Till 2009 p56
"In ancient Chinese society one's weapon was often a good indicator of one's status.  As such, weaponry was often included in the collections accompanying the deceased on his last journey, especially if he were a member of the nobility.  The premier weapon of war during the Shang period was the battle-axe or dagger-axe known as ge.  It had a knife-shaped bronze blade mounted at a right angle to a long wooden shaft, either by a simple lashing or in a reinforced socket.  There were several forms of elaborately decorated ge halberds found in tombs, ones with a solid construction actually used as weapons, and some so thinly cast they served more as symbols of power and status.  Some ge were plain, while others had decorations of stylised animal silhouettes or turquoise inlay on the tang.  Some of the ceremonial ge were jade replicas of bronze pieces.  Other, much less common Shang tomb finds include heavy, wide axes, which were often decorated with masks and characters."


* Yang 1992 p58-62
"A complete suit of bronze armour of the early Shang Dynasty has not yet been discovered.  The same is true of the late Shang Dynasty.  Only bronze helmets have been found in the Shang Dynasty Ruins in Anyang where over 140 pieces of bronze helmets were unearthed. ... The two halves of the mold meet along the vertical central line of the helmet and create a ridge that divides the entire helmet into two equal parts.  All the ornamental figures on the helmet are distributed symmetrically on either side of this center line.  The helmet is so shaped as to provide protection to the back of the neck and the ears.  Many of the bronze helmets are decorated with cast figures of animal heads with the animal's nose located in the middle of the forehead and the animal's eyes and eyebrows on either side of it.  Some of these cast figures have two long curved horns like those of the buffalo.  Below the nose is the visor of the helmet, where the animal's mouth would be if it were added; instead, the face of the soldier is bared and takes on an awesome look.  Some of the helmets are cast with a pair of big eyes instead of the figure of an animal head, or with a sunflower.  The helmet has a vertical bronze tube at the center of the top for holding tassels.  These bronze helmets, more than 20 cm in height and between 2000-3000 g in weight, are finely polished on the outer side and figures of beast faces are cast in relief; but their inner side is left rough and unpolished.  This shows that these helmets must have been worn by soldiers wearing turbans or a lining of soft material inside the helmet."

* Gabriel 2018 p28
"Chinese helmets of the Shang Period were bronze with a rounded crown, with sides and back that came down over the ears and protected the nape of the neck."


* Yang 1992 p62
"No cast shield has been discovered so far.  What has been unearthed are only shields with bronze ornaments cast in the form of plaques of beasts or human heads. ... Judging from the shapes of the shields depicted in inscriptions on tortoise shells and bronze articles, the Shang shields wre mostly rectangular.  According to clues discovered in the Shang Dynasty Ruins in Anyang, they were made of wooden frames covered with painted leather which was decorated with various animal and human heads, sometimes tiger heads.  Such shields are generally 80-90 cm in length, and they are as a whole angular in form, with the upper side broader than the lower one."


* Yang 1992 p47



* Yang 1992 p45-46