Below the nobility we find large numbers of dependent people; modern Chinese scholars call them frequently “slaves” and speak of a “slave society”. There is no doubt that at least some farmers were “free farmers”; others were what we might call “serfs”: families in hereditary group dependence upon some noble families and working on land which the noble families regarded as theirs. Families of artisans and craftsmen also were hereditary servants of noble families—a type of social organization which has its parallels in ancient Japan and in later India and other parts of the world. There were also real slaves: persons who were the personal property of noblemen. The independent states around the Shang state also had serfs. When the Shang captured neighbouring states, they resettled the captured foreign aristocracy by attaching them as a group to their own noblemen. The captured serfs remained under their masters and shared their fate. The same system was later practiced by the Chou after their conquest of the Shang state.
The conquests of late Shang added more territory to the realm than could be coped with by the primitive communications of the time. When the last ruler of Shang made his big war which lasted 260 days against the tribes in the south-east, rebellions broke out which lead to the end of the dynasty, about 1028 B.C. according to the new chronology (1122 B.C. old chronology).
THE CHOU DYNASTY (c. 1028-257 B.C.)
1 Cultural origin of the Chou and end of the Shang dynasty