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Similar to ancient Egypt, the Shang dynasty also used religion to explain things that are unexplainable. The Shang Dynasty worshipped many types of deities including weather gods, sky deities, and river deities, yet the most powerful deity was Shang-Di. Shang-Di was the highest of gods, in other words, king of all gods. Related to Shang-Di is Tian ming which also determined who the monarch will be or emperor of China by giving them the Mandate of Heaven which is the right to rule and only given by Shang-Di. It was thought that when the emperor loses the state, it was because Tian ming had been changed. In Early China: A Social and Cultural History, “For the Shang, the supreme deity was Shang-Di.”
While the Shang dynasty worshipped many gods, another significant part of Shang religion was worshipping ancestors. According to the History of China, the people who lived under the Shang Dynasty strongly believed that whenever their ancestors died, they became similar to gods, and should be worshipped as if they were also gods. Each family in the Shang Dynasty would worship not only the gods but also worship their ancestors. Along with ancestor worshipping, during the late Shang Dynasty, people in ancient China also began to use written oracle bones to try to predict the future and to communicate with the gods. An example of this would be in History of China, “the choices that the Shang made involving ancestor worship.”
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Also in this time period, the Shang dynasty took control when they acquired bronze smelting technology, improved their writing system and became a full-fledged civilization. The Shang Dynasty religion was different from the Egyptian worship of the gods who controlled the floods and the Harappan gods who did not seem to be connected to the river. Most of the information that historians know about the Shang comes from their divination. In addition, the Shang Dynasty was the first Chinese dynasty for which we have written and archaeological evidence. Most historians now date the dynasty from 1600-1046 BC when the Zhou Dynasty succeeded it. The Shang Dynasty was centered around the Yellow River in North East China but moved its capital on many occasions. The artistry of its craftsmen has made the dynasty famous for its bronze and jade work.
Bronze metalwork is the most excellent form of art in the Shang Dynasty. The Bronze Age of China lasted from the dynasty of Shang to Han. During the Shang dynasty, bronzes were used for ritual purposes. Bronze shapes and designs became more and more elaborate, especially those produced at the northern city of Anyang, the last Shang capital. Other than that, the Shang dynasty of the Yellow River Valley rose to power after the Xia dynasty. Some direct information about the Shang dynasty comes from Shang inscriptions on bronze artifacts, most comes from oracle bones that bear glyphs that form the first significant corpus of recorded Chinese characters. In China in the Early Bronze Age: Shang Civilization, “Most of all, the culture as defined by pottery and other traits looked right as either the beginnings of Shang or equally possible its predecessor, the Xia.”
After a ruler has finished their business as leaders and die, both Egypt and the Shang dynasty honor them in all types of ways; however, both have separate rituals and beliefs in how they should be honored. In Egypt, the Pharaoh gets a remarkably huge pyramid in which their body is mummified and buried deep down in the structure. The depth of Egyptian thinking and imagination displayed in the creation of ideas and images of the gods and goddesses is beyond compare. On elaborating their beliefs, the Egyptians were working on the cosmic plane searching for an understanding of Religion. The ancient Egyptians instilled their religion into every aspect of life including their art and architecture. In Shang dynasty, however, the way how they honor their dead ruler is by creating a humongous tomb buried underground with a lot of treasures and terracottas for the deceased emperor. Also according to History of China, “Large pit tombs, some nearly 40 feet deep, were furnished with four ramps and massive grave chambers for the kings.”
Religion played a significant role in Ancient Egypt. Their religion was much inspired by custom, tradition, and was complex and intricate. Their main aim throughout their history was to emulate the conditions which they believed has existed at the dawn of creation. Ancient Egyptian includes many religious beliefs and rituals performed in Ancient Egypt beyond 3,000 years. Their religion was used as a guideline for their government and is like rules for the people of Egypt. Religion in Ancient Egypt had gods that were very significant, and they could never defy them in fear, that is why the leader was never defied, being recognized as a god themselves. However, in the book The Religion of Ancient Egypt, “To the Egyptians the gods might be mortal; even Ra, the sun god, is said to have grown old and feeble.” That may be why gods and Pharaohs may not be that much different from each other.
Except for occasional periods of turmoil as dynasties changed, ancient Egypt was ruled by absolute, deified monarchs for nearly three thousand years. Around the same in size and location to the modern Arab Republic of Egypt, the ancient kingdom featured a centralized administration, an influential priesthood, and most distinctively, the commanding position of chief administrator. In Ancient Egypt, there may be monotheism in the early dynasties of rulers, over time, the sun took on an enormous significance in the religion of the Egyptians. Some of the hieroglyphs depict Pharaoh with the sun on his head, the great Amon-Ra. Amon or Amun was considered as the supreme creator while Ra was the much older sun-god, so the two were combined as Amon-Ra.
In ancient Egypt, board games became popular among pharaohs. Primarily, the game of Senet. The game has been found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials. Senet is featured in several illustrations from Ancient Egyptian tombs. By the time of the New Kingdom in Egypt, it had become a kind of talisman for the journey of the dead. There were also other events that happened like the history of the Nubians. They are closely linked with ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt conquered Nubia and incorporated them into its provinces. The Nubians, in turn, were to conquer Egypt in its 25th Dynasty. However, relations between the two peoples also show peaceful cultural interchange and cooperation, including mixed marriages.
Another interesting fact is that charging taxes influenced many civilizations because to be a resident, some type of service or duty had to be given in exchange. In retrospect, Egypt and the Shang dynasty both shared similarities in their government which helped them grow as a large, powerful society, but also varied in some methods mostly because of religious beliefs.
A benefit to both the Shang Dynasty and Egypt is that they both are surrounded by natural barriers which serve as a defense. Egypt has the Nile River that prevents invaders from attacking them and it was surrounded by the Libyan and Nubian deserts, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Red River, which were natural barriers. Egyptians who lived in ancient times had protection from these barriers. There were cataracts, waterfall, rapids, and a vast swamp in the southern Nile, which posed obstacles to outside invaders. However, in spite of the fertile narrow strip of land along the river, farmers could not plant crops in the surrounding deserts. The Shang Dynasty had the Himalayan mountain range to the southwest, the Pamir, Tian Mountains, and the Taklamakan Desert to the west, as well as the major rivers, the Yellow and the Yangtze, also helped protect their society.
There are a fascinating amount of similarities and differences between the Shang Dynasty and Egypt, one difference being that the Shang used machinery to assist them, while Egyptian slaves did most, if not all the labor of the nation. But many differences there were, there were just as many similarities, like how both had the same social hierarchy/social classes, were both polytheistic, and both had tombs and palaces built for rulers.
The culture of the Shang, as far as religion was considered monotheists. Even though the Shang believed in many gods, they worshiped Shang-Di. Shang-Di was thought to be the supreme god who ruled other gods, such as the sun, wind, and the moon. The Shang Dynasty also believed that their ancestors dwelled in the heavens after they passed on to their new life. The gods and the Shang ancestor were sacrificed too. However, we know little about their sacrifices.
For the Shang, it is Shang-Di, the supreme god who ruled over others, and for the Egyptians the supreme god is Amen-Re. Along with similarities between their gods, both the Shang and Egyptian religion also share a lot in common amongst their burial rituals. In the Shang Dynasty and ancient Egypt, the people held a strong belief in an afterlife after death. In Egypt, the pharaoh was viewed as the direct descendant of the gods and was seen as a god.
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