Lesson video

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Hello, hello, hello, my name is Mr. Hutchinson, and welcome to history, where we're learning all about the Shang dynasty, this fascinating group of people who lived around the Yellow River in ancient China over 3,000 years ago.

In today's lesson, we're actually going to be doing something that I love doing.

We're going to be zooming out and doing a bit of a big picture because we've been focused on this area in East Asia where China is today.

In today's lesson, we're going to think a little bit about what else was going on in the world and how the Shang people's beliefs were similar and different to other people's at the time.

And this is something that's really interesting to do because we find that even though throughout history people quite often are really far apart, and without the internet, without the sort of technology we have, they're not able to talk to each other or communicate to each other in the same way that we can now.

Despite that, very often these sorts of civilizations, early civilizations have quite common beliefs and quite common technologies.

They invent things about the same time.

They have belief systems that look quite similar.

They organise their societies in similar ways.

Not always, sometimes it looks very different as well.

And that's what's really interesting to do as historians, what's similar and what's different and why have those similarities and differences emerge.

So that's what we'll be looking at today.

And our lesson's going to look something like this.

We're going to do a meanwhile, elsewhere.

So at the same time, what else is happening in the world? We'll then look at something called shamanism, which is the name of a sort of religious practise or religious belief.

We'll then look at the Mandate of Heaven, which we know is very important to the Shang people, and see how that was similar to other ideas around the time and how it's continued to influence ideas.

And we'll finish with our end of lesson quiz as usual.

So let's get started, meanwhile, elsewhere.

What else was going on in the world? So the Shang dynasty flourished.

It was around when? When did it start and when did it end? Can you remember? Great work if you said it.

It started Bible 1600 BCE, so about 1,600 years before year 0, and ended about 1066 BCE, so about 1,666 years before year 0, which is about 3,000 years ago because we've had another 2,000 years since plus a bit more.

So what else was happening in the world at that time? So this is the world in 1600 BCE.

Well, we know that the Shang dynasty was flourishing in East Asia.

There was also a civilization in what's called the Indus Valley, which is sort of the north of India, the Punjab sort of region around Pakistan.

And there was a flourishing civilization in the Indus Valley about the same time.

In Africa, there was somewhere called the Land of Punt, this fascinating land.

We're not exactly sure where it was.

Most scholars think it's actually around here.

I've pointed it to here, but most scholars actually think it's around here, around the sort of Ethiopia region.

The ancient Egyptians wrote about the Land of Punt, though we don't have any archaeological evidence for it.

In Mesoamerica, or Middle America, the Mayan civilization was getting started.

This is a civilization that lasted for thousands and thousands of years and really started to flourish actually about 250 BCE, but the start of the civilization was around, was beginning about 1600 BCE.

And in North Africa, we have ancient Egypt really.

So at this point, ancient Egypt is in what's sometimes called the New Kingdom.

So this is one of those famous times during ancient Egyptian history because it's the time when lots of the famous pharaohs were reigning.

You'll notice that there are other empires about the same time.

So the Hittite empire over here was flourishing.

And you can see that the Land of Punt, probably just sort of south of Egypt in Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea sort of area.

So about this time, other things are happening around the world.

About the same time, to give you the bigger picture, this is what's going on in the world.

Back at home in Britain in about 1600 BCE, Stonehenge is just being finished off.

So Britain's in the Bronze Age, but still doing lots with stone, including creating this huge stone structure of Stonehenge.

And religious beliefs probably underpin Stonehenge, and we'll get to that a little bit later.

The first thing I'd like you to do is see if you can sketch out that big picture.

So can you draw a map of the whole world and add in all of the different civilizations that were flourishing in about 1600 BCE? So it's going to take you a little bit of time to get it perfect, but that's okay.

Pause the video.

Take as much time as you need with a pencil and a piece of paper or your notebook, just to add in exactly where all of these different civilizations are flourishing at about this time.

Great work.

Well done.

I'm sure that you've got a really lovely map there.

I'd love to see it.

At the end of this lesson, I'll tell you how you can share all of your brilliant works.

I know that you're working so hard, so keep it up.

Well done.

So we're going to move now to something called shamanism, which is a name given to a kind of belief system and practise that we've actually sort of been talking about but haven't mentioned specifically.

So on oracle bones, well, why were oracle bones important? On oracle bones, there's evidence of this sort of shamanism.

So what is shamanism? Well, it's really the belief that there's a kind of spirit world which might be inhabited by the spirits of our ancestors, almost like ghosts are ancestors, people, members of our family who have died.

And then there's the living world, us.

And shamans are people who say, "I can communicate with the spirit world.

So I'm in the living world, but I can communicate with the spirit world.

I'm able to get messages from people in the spirit world and give messages to people in the spirit world." Now, within the Shang dynasty, that was done through oracle bones.

Priests or shamans would say that they can write messages, and by putting hot rods in and carefully.

Sometimes they might do a sacrifice to the ancestors.

They would say, "I would be able to get a message from the ancestors about what's going to happen." And the name given to sometimes shamans or sometimes it's like wizards or sorcerers or priests in ancient China was wu.

You might remember that one of the emperors.

Do you remember one of the emperors with the name Wu? Wu Ding, well done.

Great work.

So we can see that there, Wu Ding obviously had this status of being sort of a wizard or somebody that communicates, a shaman, somebody that can communicate with the spirit world.

But it's not just in the Shang.

So about the same time in Britain with the Stonehenge, the reason Stonehenge was put together is because druids, and there's some modern druids here, but druids thought that they could communicate with ancestors as well.

And so we get this common practise, this common belief around different civilizations of ancestor veneration.

If you venerate somebody, it means that you really, really respect and worship them.

And we get this ancestor veneration in lots of early civilizations, including in Britain.

That's why Stonehenge was there.

And Stonehenge may have been used for sacrifices in the same way that sacrifices happened within the Shang dynasty with the shamans.

So can you complete these different sentences? I've left some gaps, and at the bottom you'll see that there's some words that you can use to fill in the gaps.

So you're going to need to pause the video and fill in all of those gaps now.

Let's see if you were right.

So the correct answers are, "Many early civilizations, including ancient Maya, druids in Britain, and the Shang all believed that some special people could communicate with their ancestors.

This is sometimes known as shamanism." Give yourself a tick if you got any of those right.

You can make little corrections if you got any wrong.

No problem.

So this early belief system happening in very different places, including into the early, the Mayans practised this idea of shamanism.

And there's still some modern shamanism in the Mayan area and Mesoamerica now, just as there's still some modern druids in Britain, even though it's 3,000 years later.

So we get similar beliefs and sometimes beliefs a little bit different as well.

The Mandate of Heaven.

Now, we talked a little bit in previous lessons about why this was so important.

The rise and fall of kings depends on it, looking up at the stars, and lots of different early civilizations paid close attention to the skies, watched the moon, watched the stars, mapped the constellations, saw how they changed throughout the year, and felt that this was something bigger than them communicating with them.

And so this starts to lead to the idea of the divine right of kings.

And it's usually kings and not queens at this stage in early history, usually kings.

There are some examples of queens ruling, Cleopatra a little bit later on in ancient Egypt, but it's mostly kings.

And we get this idea of divine or god-given right of kings.

And so the idea is that there's god, and within the Shang dynasty, that was Shangdi, the ultimate reality, and that gods somehow chose the emperor.

The main god, and you can sort of see from the stars, that's the Mandate of Heaven, mandate means that you have the right to do something, rule, was given to the emperor.

And the priests, of course, are the ones that are communicating with the spirits, with the ancestors, with the gods, reading the stars, reading the oracle bones.

So thinking about that, priests in lots of different civilizations become one of the most important groups in society, very often the most wealthy and important groups.

Why do you think that priests emerge as a really important group in lots of early civilizations, thinking about the idea of the Mandate of Heaven? What did you think? Why are priests so important? Were you thinking about how if the priests, the ones that are writing down what they think that the gods are saying or what the stars are telling them, then they're actually very powerful 'cause they almost become kingmakers.

They're the ones that decide who will be the next king.

And so probably anybody that's important that would want to be king would really want to make sure that they were looking after the priests.

We see that happening in lots of early civilizations.

That starts to lead to something called an imperial cult.

So an imperial cult is when the emperor or king is not just treated as if they're chosen by god, but they're worshipped as if they're a god themself.

So in ancient Egypt, the pharaohs are worshipped as gods.

So they're kings, but also gods.

And there have been lots of different examples of imperial cults leading from this idea of sort of Mandate from Heaven, Mandate of Heaven.

So the Roman Empire had an imperial cult where the Roman emperor was treated as a god, and ancient Egypt.

Later dynasties in China start to move to this idea that the emperor is not just chosen by the heavens, but is actually a god.

So what do you think gives somebody the right to rule? We've seen that in the ancient civilizations, there's this belief that you have the right to rule, the right to be king if you're chosen by a god.

And the priests may well sort of give that message.

Do you think that that's right, or do you think that there should be another way to be chosen to rule? What do you think gives someone the right to rule? Take a moment, think about it, and write down your answer.

Awesome work.

I'd be really interested in your thoughts.

I haven't written down an answer there because I don't know.

It's your ideas.

It's what you think.

It's your opinion based on everything that you've learnt and everything that you think is right.

But I'd love to see your answer.

And so what you can do is you can ask your parent or carer to take a photo of it and put it onto Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, tagging in @OakNational, #LearnwithOak.

And then me and thousands of other people will be able to read and see your brilliant work.

And you worked so hard, so I think that you should do that because you'll get lots of great recognition and praise.

Well done for working so hard.

That is the end of our lesson.

And so that's all there is to it.

You've worked really hard.

You've got lots of new ideas about different belief systems, how the Shang were similar and different, and what the world looked like in 1600 BCE over 3,000 years ago.

How interesting.

Well done.

I'll see you next time.