Shang and Chou Dynasties: Family Life & Ancestor Worship

During this time period in ancient Chinese civilization, there were two ruling families that held control for around 1,500 years in China. During both dynasties, daily life did not change as much. In this article, you will learn about facts regarding family life and the way the ancestors were worshipped.


Throughout the Shang and Chou Dynasties, there are many different accomplishments and advancements that are associated with this time period. For example, the use of jade and bronze was quite popular. Horse-drawn chariots transported residents. During this time, human sacrifice was also a practice that the ancient Chinese was known for. The Bronze Age also saw the invention of chopsticks, which revolutionized the way residents ate their food.


When it comes to combat, highly organized armies were an important part of ancient Chinese defense. On the home front, cities displayed protective walls. For example, one of the cities was surrounded by a wall that measured 30 feet high, 65 feet thick, and stretched 4 ½ miles long. Beyond the walls, it was the rulers, warriors, and priests of the land that resided there. On the outside of the walls, mud homes were constructed to house merchants and craftsman. The farmers of the city positioned themselves close to the villages.


Family Life


Regardless if a household was poor or wealthy, the family was an important part of daily life and living. The oldest male in the home led the structure of the family. The overall view of living in ancient China dealt with the pride. For instance, let’s say the youngest daughter did something improper. This transgression would have placed disgrace over the entire family.


In the family, younger members also obeyed the wishes of their parents without question. For example, within noble households, marriages were arranged to add to the strength of family bloodlines. When two clans or families wished to join as a unifying group, marriages were often arranged to achieve this desire.


The ancient Chinese also took ancestor worship very seriously. For example, although a rich noble may possess a wealth of servants, a son may tend to their fathers needs without any asking. It was a desired goal to become a parent and produce heirs that would honor them as they did their parents. As for the role of the woman, she was expected to ooze a sense of gentleness, calm, as well as respectfulness. Obeying her husband was one of her prime duties. If there was anything sacred during these times, it was a residence and family.


Ancestor Worship


During the rule of early Shang kings and nobles, ancestor worship played an important role in their belief system. This way of life affected the way they viewed the afterlife. It was believed that when an individual passed away, his or her spirit would thrive in the afterworld. The power of the ancestors was thought strong enough to affect the happenings of the living. They felt that they possessed magical powers that could be used to deliver punishments.


The ancient Chinese also believed that they had the ability to bestow wisdom on the worthy. This prompted inhabitants to complete tasks that would keep the ancestors pleased. Food was brought as gifts, as well as wine. These presents were transported to special personal locations about town, as well as in the temples. It was also a common practice to hold celebrations to honor the ancestors.