The Writing of the History of Shang Dynasty Literature and Its Significance

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.10, 2015


The Writing of the History of Shang Dynasty Literature and Its Significance



Zhao Minli


Archeological texts excavated in recent years and those handed down over the centuries throw light on each other, laying a firm foundation for our rethinking of Shang Dynasty literature. Shang literature, represented by the texts of oracle bones, bronze inscriptions, the Pan’geng chapter of the Book of History and the Odes of the Shang Dynasty in the Book of Songs, are the first group of literary works to have been written down in Chinese history and the first that can be reliably attested through the interaction of archeological texts and those handed down over the centuries. The prose writings of the period developed continuously on a pragmatic basis, providing the earliest record of words and events; they thus established a creative tradition and expressive model for Chinese prose from the Zhou Dynasty on. The poetry of the period functioned variously to record history, spread religious ideas and represent cultural views. It is clearly stamped with the marks of its times, and is the forerunner of the Book of Songs. The emergence of Shang Dynasty literature marks literary history’s departure from the age of legends in remote antiquity and its advance towards a new era in writing, heralding the first flourishing of the arts of song and dance in China. It should therefore be viewed as a unique depiction of a particular historical period; that is its great value and significance.