Shang and Early Chinese Civilization

November 11-12, 2011


Oracle bone inscriptions (OBI) establish Shang as the first Chinese and thus the first Asian civilization whose existence is supported by both textual and archeological evidence. Standing side by side with Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphic writing, and Sumerian cuneiform, OBI represents one of the four independent writing systems ever invented. The Shang scholarship not only plays a pivotal role in bridging the archeological China and the textual China, it is also of great import to the comparative study of early world civilization.

As Professor Robert L. Thorp has put it so well, “Among scholars outside China, no one in the 20th century had as much impact on the development of Chinese archaeology as the late Chang Kwang-chih (1931-2001).” In addition to his work on prehistoric China, Professor Chang’s work on the Shang and Zhou royal lineage represented the first synthesis of OBI with anthropology. In 1982, he organized the first international conference on Shang civilization in North America. In the 1990s, he was instrumental in initiating an “Early Shang Civilization” project in Shangqiu, Henan. The essence of Chang’s scholarship is “to bridge” and “to synthesize”. It is in this spirit, we would like to dedicate this conference to the memory of Professor Chang Kwang-chih and his contribution to Shang scholarship.

The extensive archeological excavation of Shang sites since 1970s has made it increasingly necessary to integrate the study of oracle bone inscriptions with other disciplines in order to gain a better understanding of Shang history. The advancement of the knowledge of other earlier civilizations, particularly Maya, has also called for a more integrative and comparative approach of studying Shang in the context of world civilization.


Conference Goal: 

As we enter the new millennium, the globalization in various facets of human activity calls for more understanding of different cultures. Within this context, there is a great need to initiate a cross-civilization research. In the west, the study of Shang (including early Zhou) clearly lags behind studies of other ancient civilizations. The proposed conference represents an initial effort to address this deficiency. Specifically, it hopes to address the following issues:


(1) The significant progress of early China archaeology, including OBI, has generated a larger body of primary materials. How do we assemble and disseminate the information on the materials related to Shang and early Zhou?

(2) How do we synthesize the information garnered from archeological excavation and from documentary research to advance the understanding of Shang and early Zhou society and history?

(3) How do we synthesize the study of OBI and bronze inscriptions with that of textual documents?

(4) How do we bridge the East and West scholarship on Shang research?

(5) How do we bridge the cross-civilization research on Shang, Mayan, Egyptian, and Sumerian?

Under the broad theme of Shang and early Chinese civilization, the presenters can discuss their own specialized areas and also try to address these common issues.


Expected Results: 

After the conference, a volume of conference papers will be edited and submitted for publication. This volume will represent a major effort in understanding Shang civilization and its place in the origin and development of Chinese civilization through the synthesis of areas of expertise such as epigraphy, archaeology, and history.


Conference Venue: 

Rutgers Continuing Studies Conference Center
178 Ryders Lane
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Phone: (732) 932-9144



Important Dates: 

June 17, 2011 Deadline for reply about availability

June 30, 2011 Deadline for paper title and abstract

October 28, 2011 Deadline for submission of conference papers


Organizing Committee: 

Kuang Yu Chen, Rutgers University

Dietrich Tschanz, Rutgers University

Ching-I Tu, Rutgers University