Cattle and water buffalo have played a central role in the subsistence and culture of China for millennia. This paper will begin by reviewing what we know about the domestication of cattle and water buffalo in East Asia. New zooarchaeological and paleogenetic data from prehistoric Chinese archaeological sites show that the origins and domestication of Chinese bovines are complex and involved multiple waves and routes of introduction. There is growing evidence that people may have also experimented with managing indigenous wild cattle populations. The archaeological contexts in which bovine remains are found reveal the diverse roles that these animals played in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age societies such as the Shang Dynasty. In addition to their uses for subsistence and as beasts of burden, cattle held a central position in the economic and ritual activities of many early urban centers. For example, cattle were sacrificed by the hundreds at sites such as the Late Shang capital at Anyang. Their scapulae were used for oracle bone divination, and the bones from the rest of the skeleton were sent to large state-controlled bone workshops that mass produced a variety of utilitarian and decorative objects for trade.