By Mario Poceski
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Both groups needed each other. The living provided the dead with sumptuous tombs and funeral offerings; they also performed regular sacrifices on behalf of the departed ancestors and paid homage to them. On the other hand, the dead extended their blessings and protection on the living. It is also important to note that the king had a virtual monopoly on the prerogative to commune and interact with the royal ancestors, whose exalted existence and otherworldly power sanctified his rule. The king effectively occupied a special position in the central kinship community of the royal house, which crossed the conventional lines of demarcation that separated the dead from the living.
The oracle bone inscriptions provide us with important information about the religious beliefs, existential concerns, and everyday activities of the Shang kings and their people. • The Shang pantheon was structured hierarchically, with Shangdi, the supreme deity, ruling over a host of nature deities and ancestors. The royal ancestors were important objects of worship and propitiation, as well as a key source of sociopolitical legitimacy for the Shang kings and the royal family. • During the Zhou period we witness an expansion of the ancestral cult, which increasingly came to incorporate moral concerns centered on the family, including the virtue of filial piety.
The tombs also contained a number of funerary objects, especially various treasures the deceased was supposed to be able to use in the afterlife, such as bronzes, jades, weapons, and ceramics. Typically the scale of the burial site and the number and refinement of the funerary objects reflected the status and wealth of the deceased, with the largest tombs being those of the Shang kings. The point of death involved important transformation, as the spirits of the deceased turned into ancestors, who were then integrated into a ritual scheme devised and perpetuated by the living descendents.
Chinese Religions: the EBook by Mario Poceski