On the cultural scene we first find an important element of progress: bronze, in traces in the middle layers of the Yang-shao culture, about 1800 B.C.; that element had become very widespread by 1400 B.C. The forms of the oldest weapons and their ornamentation show similarities with weapons from Siberia; and both mythology and other indications suggest that the bronze came into China from the north and was not produced in China proper. Thus, from the present state of our knowledge, it seems most correct to say that the bronze was brought to the Far East through the agency of peoples living north of China, such as the Turkish tribes who in historical times were China’s northern neighbours (or perhaps only individual families or clans, the so-called smith families with whom we meet later in Turkish tradition), reaching the Chinese either through these people themselves or through the further agency of Mongols. At first the forms of the weapons were left unaltered. The bronze vessels, however, which made their appearance about 1450 B.C. are entirely different from anything produced in other parts of Asia; their ornamentation shows, on the one hand, elements of the so-called “animal style” which is typical of the steppe people of the Ordos area and of Central Asia. But most of the other elements, especially the “filling” between stylized designs, is recognizably southern (probably of the Tai culture), no doubt first applied to wooden vessels and vessels made from gourds, and then transferred to bronze. This implies that the art of casting bronze very soon spread from North China, where it was first practised by Turkish peoples, to the east and south, which quickly developed bronze industries of their own. There are few deposits of copper and tin in North China, while in South China both metals are plentiful and easily extracted, so that a trade in bronze from south to north soon set in.
The origin of the Hsia state may have been a consequence of the progress due to bronze. The Chinese tradition speaks of the Hsia dynasty, but can say scarcely anything about it. The excavations, too, yield no clear conclusions, so that we can only say that it flourished at the time and in the area in which the painted pottery occurred, with a centre in south-west Shansi. We date this dynasty now somewhere between 2000 and 1600 B.C. and believe that it was an agrarian culture with bronze weapons and pottery vessels but without the knowledge of the art of writing.
THE SHANG DYNASTY (c. 1600-1028 B.C.)
1 Period, origin, material culture
About 1600 B.C. we come at last into the realm of history. Of the Shang dynasty, which now followed, we have knowledge both from later texts and from excavations and the documents they have brought to light. The Shang civilization, an evident off-shoot of the Lung-shan culture (Tai, Yao, and Tunguses), but also with elements of the Hsia culture (with Tibetan and Mongol and/or Turkish elements), was beyond doubt a high civilization. Of the origin of the Shang State we have no details, nor do we know how the Hsia culture passed into the Shang culture.