13th-11th c BCE Chinese Shang Sculpture
SHANG DYNASTY Anonymous
(1527 BCE - 1027 BCE)
1299 BCE-1000 BCE
13th-11th c BCE
Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago.
The Shang rulers lived in luxury, but it was a luxury that was purchased at the expense of their people. Their economy was based on slavery and human sacrifice played an important role in their rituals. Apparently the victims were prisoners who were captured in war, but sometimes raiding expeditions were sent out with the sole purpose of procuring sacrificial victims. They were sacrificed to a deity who was primarily concerned with war, rainfall and the crops.
This small stone statue of a prisoner kneeling in preparation for the sacrifice shows a simplified and powerful approach to form. The simplicity of the surfaces is quite different from the richly decorated surfaces of the bronzes.
Sacrifices were made to Shang rulers after their deaths, indicating that the Chinese practice of ancestor worship was in place by the Shang period. Even though their elaborate tombs were richly furnished, including the bodies of their followers and courtiers who would serve them in the afterlife, they still depended upon their living descendants for nourishment in the form of food offerings. The worst fate that could happen to a disembodied sprit was to be deprived of the nourishment supplied by sacrificial offerings.