His book, Shang Civilization, has been on my shelf a long time, and I consider it a precursor to other historical reading I would like to undertake about China. Nearly a third of the way through, however, I find it reads more like a survey of (then) recent archaeological finds than a history proper. Not that I expected much different: rather his assertion that he would be writing a history surprised me. Chang, of course, was known primarily as an archaeologist. Still, the reading is unbearably dry (I read his book Art, Myth and Ritual back in the 80s or early 90s, and liked it, which is why I snapped up Shang Civilization some years back when I found it in the dollar bin.)
The Shang dynasty, of course, borders on prehistory, so a heavy archeological basis is to be expected. A lot of exposition pertaining to sources is preliminary, with Part I beginning on p.69 following a long prolegomena. But even Part I deals with recent excavations, particularly in An-yang. Details are interesting: very amusing the recent history of finding (and understanding) oracle bones which were used for divination (hmm, not so far from the augurs I was reading about in Rome, though I simplify drastically, of course, because for the time of Cicero and Caesar we have an incredibly rich textual backdrop: one must go earlier for a suitable comparison).
The book was published in 1980, and while I doubt as a text it has been superseded, every indication is that hugely vaster amounts of information are available to the historian today than Chang had at his disposal. An updated account would probably correct what he got wrong; however, for my purposes, because he is a writer I trust, I am content with slightly out-of-date information. Possibly future reading will bring any misperceptions I have to the light; though, frankly, archeological reading not hardly in my comfort-zone, it is hard to say what I am culling other than bits and fragments. At the last two pages of the prolegomena Chang discusses theoretical models. “This is not to try to fit or even tailor our facts to any preconceived theories. Our theories are blueprints of known situations, and if our pieces cannot fit into any of them, it simply means either that this is a new situation completely or that we do not yet have enough pieces.” I do not accept his reasoning totally here, but I expect, after pages and pages of dry matter, it will be at the end when he wraps it up in an epilogue, “Shang in the Ancient World,” that I will finally find reward for all the hard slog.
Not that details are entirely without interest in their own right. Just four years before publication of his book, the Fu Hao Tomb, a major discovery, was excavated:
The construction of the grave was largely in the same tradition as M232 described above from the predynastic period, but Tomb Number Five was more elaborate and much richer. Again it was a rectangular pit grave, oriented largely from north to south. The opening of the grave pit was only half a meter below the ground surface, but an above-ground house foundation 5.5 by 5 meters was built exactly on top of it, possibly a sacrificial structure for the burial underneath.... Just above the ledge on the east and west walls, a long niche (less than 2 meters in length) was excavated on each wall in which sacrificial victims were buried. A chamber constructed of timber filled the pit within the ledge, and a coffin was placed inside the chamber. At the bottom of the pit a small pit was excavated south of the center for a sacrificial human victim and a dog. The mistress of the grave was presumably placed in the coffin, and she was accompanied by sixteen sacrificed humans (four on top of the chamber, two inside under the eastern wall niche, one inside the western wall niche, one in a pit dug in the floor of the chamber, and the remaining eight taken out of underground water with their original positions unknown but presumably within the chamber) and six sacrificed dogs (one in the pit below bottom and the other on top of the chamber). Among the sixteen humans, four were men, one of them young; two were women, two were children; the sexes and ages of the rest were unclear. At least one was killed; one other was cut in half at the waist.
Enormous quantities of grave goods were placed in various parts of the grave, inside the coffin, inside the chamber, and in the fill of the grave pit all the way to within a meter of the opening. Altogether there were more than 1,600 objects, plus about 7,000 cowrie shells. Among the objects there were more than 440 bronzes, more than 590 jades, over 560 bone objects, in excess of 70 stone objects, several ivory carvings, several pottery objects, more than a dozen shell objects, and three seashells. These were placed in the grave and in the pit fill as the pit was filled with stamped earth layer by layer (each layer was 10-11 centimeters deep).
Moreover, the name of the tomb mistress is known, and she is a historical personage well known from previous research on oracle bone inscriptions. Many of the bronze vessels and weapons and a few jade and stone pieces were inscribed, and the bulk of the inscriptions contain seven names or emblems. The name Fu Hao appears on more than sixty objects; Hou Hsin appears on at least five objects, including two large square cauldrons; Hou T’u appears on some twenty objects; the three ya-names and the seventh name, an emblem, appear on a relatively few pieces. Fu Hao, or Lady Hao (Lady from the Tzu clan), was, in addition to being one of Wu Ting’s sixty-four known wives, a prominent personage whose name and activities appear often in oracle bone inscriptions of the Wu Ting period. She is known from the inscriptions to have been a leader of military campaigns; she was made mistress of a landed estate outside the royal capital; she was sometimes in charge of specific rituals; and she was the subject of Wu Ting’s divinations concerning her illnesses and child births, and general well-being. She died during Wu Ting’s long reign. The name Hou Hsin (Queen Hsin) is also significant: In the ritual calendar of later Shang Kings (to be described later), Wu Ting was shown to have been paired with three official wives: Hsin, Kuei, and Wu. Since these are believed to be posthumous names, Queen Hsin was evidently the posthumus name of the wife who was known in her lifetime as Fu Hao. The fact that in this tomb in the same bronze assemblage the names Fu Hao and Hou Hsin occur together is reasonable proof that these names referred to the same person, the person known as Fu Hao in Wu Ting period inscriptions. This is the first time in Shang history that an archeological find can be identified with a historical individual.