Shang Dynasty Chinese Art - Ancient China
Welcome to Study Guides!

Shang Dynasty Art

Shang bronze pitcher
Shang bronze pitcher, about 1300 BC
(Musee Guimet, Paris)

By about 2000 BC, people in China had learned from the people of West Asia how to make bronze out of copper and tin. People began to make many jars and plaques (flat pieces) out of bronze to give to their gods.

Right from the beginning, these jars were of very high quality. Some people have thought that Chinese bronze-smiths must have been practicing a long time to make such good bronze pieces, but this is really normal with any new technology: people are very interested in it at first and do a very good job, and it is only later that they try to do it cheaper and faster and not as well.

These bronze jars and boxes were cast in molds using the lost-wax technique. Usually they were cast in several different pieces and then soldered (SOD-erd) together with melted bronze or tin.

shang elephant

Some of the jars are plain with just a few lines cut (incised) into them. Other jars and goblets have lots of fancy decoration sticking out all over them. Some are abstract designs, others show plants or animals or mythical monsters like dragons. Some show demons, or human faces.

Shang bird stand

Towards the end of the Shang Dynasty, about 1200 BC, people began to write messages on these bronze jars and cups using the earliest Chinese pictograms.

Chinese woman using a pottery wheel

It was probably sometime during the Shang Dynasty that nomadic Indo-Europeans brought the potter's wheel to China.

The potter's wheel let artists make pots much more quickly, so that they became cheaper and more widely used.

Learn by Doing - Shang Dynasty art

Bibliography and further reading about Shang Dynasty art:

The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, by Jessica Rawson and others (1996). Rawson is a curator at the British Museum, and she uses the collection of the British Museum to illustrate this book. Library Journal calls it "easily the best introductory overview of Chinese art to appear in years".

Art in China (Oxford History of Art Series), by Craig Clunas (1997). Not specifically , but a good introduction to the spirit of Chinese art. Warning: this one is not arranged in chronological order. Instead, it has chapters on sculpture, calligraphy, and so on.

Next period of Chinese art (the Zhou dynasty)
More about the Shang Dynasty
Ancient China home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
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.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more? is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 24 April, 2017