A Glimpse of China’s Earliest Decision-Making: The Meaning of Zhēn 貞 ‘Test’ in the Huāyuánzhuāng East Oracular Inscriptions

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Abstract

Statistics drawn from the Shāng oracle bone inscriptions discovered in Pit H3 at Huāyuánzhuāng East challenge an assumption that all divination statements, or ‘charges’ mìng cí 命辭, be classified as zhēn cí 貞辭, and question an inflexible practice that systematically reads the prefatory word zhēn 貞 ‘test (the correctness of)’ into a divination account when it is absent. The restricted use of zhēn in this unified corpus of inscriptions implies that it had a particular and focused application in the process of decision-making. The Huāyuánzhuāng East inscriptions thus reveal a complex divination matrix that exemplifies the development of royal divination as an institution at Ānyáng more widely.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages35
JournalOld World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia
Volume2
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

User-Defined Keywords

  • oracle bone inscriptions
  • Early China
  • paleography
  • Old Chinese
  • decision-making in antiquity
  • divination systems

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