Qin Cao

Roles of weapons: significance, identity and value in Shang (c. 1600-1050 BC) society China

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

An exploration of weapons in middle Bronze Age China. Were they just killing implements?

Start Date: October 2012
End Date: September 2016
Theme: Objects, meanings and knowledge, Image and authority, Technologies, materials and innovation
Research discipline: Scientific research
Locations: East Asia
Staff member: Sascha Priewe
Department: Department of Asia
University and department: University of Oxford
University supervisor: Professor Jessica Rawson
Profile Academia.edu

What can weapons tell us about Shang society?

Their multiple-functions provide insights into social, political, martial and ritual aspects of the society.

Why were bronze and jade weapons of various forms in tombs?

They carried different meanings, functions and associations.

Were bronze weapons used before they were buried?

Evidence from use-wear analysis suggests they were not in pristine conditions but show cuts and wear from use.

About my research

This research examines weapons of various materials and forms to facilitate discussions of their roles in Shang (c. 1600-1050 BC) society China.

I advocate a shift away from the simple ‘weapons=war implements’ and ‘deceased with weapons=professional soldier’ paradigms to a holistic analysis. Adopting an object biographical approach, I am studying weapons deposited in various contexts in order to untangle the functions and significance of weapons. A use-wear analysis on the British Museum Chinese weaponry collection has been carried out and is shedding light on the effectiveness of bronze weapons.

Aims of my research

Through studies of weapons, their roles and significance, this research aims to broaden our understanding of Shang society and their interaction with neighbouring groups from a different perspective, and may also challenge previous research focusing on ritual aspects of the Shang and orthodox Confucian views of a harmonious Chinese society.


‘Ritual or lethal: an inter-disciplinary approach to bronze weapons during the late Shang, China (c.1200- 1050 B.C.)’, Graduate Archaeology Conference, University of Oxford, March 2015.

‘What are weapons? Investigating weapons in burial assemblages.’ British Museum doctoral seminar series, May 2014.

February 2014, Transfer of Status presentation, Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford

‘Tomb of Fuhao, Guojiazhuang M160 and Anyang’, Chinese archaeology seminar, University of Oxford, November 2012.


'A Chinese coin hoard from Barrow’. Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, No.211, Spring 2012,

'A brief guide to Qing cash coins’. Money and Medals Network website.

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‘A brief analysis of the types of World Heritage properties in China’. Sichuan Cultural Heritage, 2006.1, 86-90.