Shang Dynasty Architecture - Ancient China
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Shang Architecture

foundations of a rectangular building in the dirt on a hill
Shang Dynasty palace at Erlitou

September 2016 - Even as early as the Shang Dynasty, about 1500 BC, the buildings we know about look like later Chinese buildings - anyone would know they were from China, not from West Asia or Africa.

In the cities, people lived in rows of rectangular houses laid out in rows, built of wood and rammed earth. Rammed earth is just dirt that's been packed down hard by pounding on it, like packing the sand into the bucket to make a sand castle. In the center of the city, there was a big palace or temple (nobody is sure which) on a high earth platform like the earlier Sumerian ziggurats. One building at An-yang was a big hall with pillars all the way around it, about the size of a modern basketball court (though the Shang Dynasty emperors didn't use the building for basketball!).

Shang palace
Reconstruction of the Shang palace
or temple at Panlongcheng

There was another building a lot like this one at Panlongcheng. Both buildings probably had thatched roofs. You might compare this building to early Greek temples from around 800 BC, which also have wooden columns all the way around them and thatched, slanted roofs. Those Greek temples were built later than these Chinese ones.

Learn by doing: build a lego model of a Shang Dynasty building
More about Shang Dynasty architecture

Bibliography and further reading about Shang Dynasty architecture:

Zhou Dynasty
More about Chinese Architecture
Ancient China


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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