Consumption, Exchange and Production at the Great Settlement Shang: Bone-Working at Tiesanlu, Anyang

By Campbell, Roderick B.; Li, Zhipeng et al. | Antiquity, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Consumption, Exchange and Production at the Great Settlement Shang: Bone-Working at Tiesanlu, Anyang


Campbell, Roderick B., Li, Zhipeng, He, Yuling, Jing, Yuan, Antiquity


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Introduction

King's City (Chang 1985), pivot of the four quarters, centripetalizing ceremonial center (Wheatley 1971) are all names and descriptors for the Bronze Age mega-site located at Anyang, China, long the source of social evolutionary counter-narratives (Chang 1980, 1983, 1985, 1990). Shang civilisation, according to the reigning paradigm, was founded on political and religious rather than economic innovation and its economy, unlike that of West Asian polities, was under-developed and essentially tributary (Chang 1990; Liu & Chen 2003; Underhill & Fang 2004). Yet if one looks more closely at the empirical foundations of this paradigm it is clearly an edifice built on sand. Social and economic research has not been on the agenda of Chinese archaeology until very recently and it might be safer to say that outside of certain aspects of elite practice we know almost nothing of Shang production, exchange or consumption.

Bronze casting has been the flagship of ancient Chinese production study (indeed is virtually the only ship in the fleet). Claimed to be indexical of early Chinese civilisation (Bagley 1999), it was central to the elite symbolic economy and the ancestral- sacrificial complex, involving multiple, large-scale resource flows and sitting at the pinnacle of technology. The nature of this economy, moreover, is widely held to be redistributive and tributary, defined by inter-elite exchanges and close control of production (Liu & Chen 2003; Li 2005; Underhill & Fang 2004). This view, stemming from both elite- biased, post-Shang textual sources and anthropological models of wealth economies, creates the paradox that Shang China seems to have had a chiefly gift-exchange economy yet, considering the kilo-tonnage of cast bronze, on a scale precocious even for an 'early state' (Chang 1980). Despite this tendency to interpret the Central Plains Bronze Age economy in terms of this one industry, there is reason to believe that this is not the whole picture. Chen (2005), for instance, despite being a prominent proponent of the bronze elite redistributive production model, notes, based on stone tool crafting at Huizui, that there may have been separate economies for non-elite goods. Campbell (2007) has argued, based on epigraphic evidence, for expansive, ad hoc, as well as routine and intensive Shang economic networks, not all of which were directly controlled by the court.

The large bone-working areas discovered at Anyang present an interesting and understudied window into Shang production. Previous research (ZSKY 1987, 1994; ZSKYAG 1992; Meng & Xie 2006) suggests that their main products were hairpins, an artefact not necessarily destined for elites. On the other hand, the most common raw material used in this production, the limb bones of cattle, derived from an animal of immense royal and ritual importance. Moreover, the location and scale of the bone-working areas mimics the patterns of bronze-working at the site: massive, multiple, redundant production sites located within apparent production zones (Figure 1). These apparent contradictions and broad linkages between different facets of Shang society suggest that Anyang's bone-working areas may offer novel perspectives on Shang social economies.

Up till now, archaeologists have reconstructed Shang civilisation largely from mortuary deposits, or the afterlife of things. Production studies, on the other hand, afford an opportunity to focus on the birth of things and the effects engendered by their entry into the social matrix. While much of the literature on production has been centred on neo-evolutionary attempts to make production serve as a proxy for social complexity, more recently interest has shifted to such topics as production traditions (Lemonnier 1986; Feinman & Nicholas 2004), philosophies of technology (Sillar 1996; Boivin 2008) and ritual economies (McAnany & Wells 2008), at the same time that artefacts are increasingly seen as things with agency (Gell 1998; Latour 2005). …

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