Divination: Science, Technology, and the Mantic Arts in Traditional China

  • Richard J. Smith
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4425-0_8541

From Neolithic times into the twentieth century, divination occupied an extremely prominent place in Chinese culture. By the third millennium, BCE at the latest – and some recent research suggests considerably earlier – specialists in reading stress cracks in the bones of various animals had already emerged as a distinct occupational group in north China. During the Shang dynasty (ca. 1500–ca. 1100 BCE), the interpretation of so‐called oracle bones (the dried plastrons of turtles and the scapulae of cattle) reached a high degree of sophistication. Royal diviners sought spiritual advice on behalf of the Shang kings concerning a wide range of important topics, from the weather, agriculture, hunting and travel, to civil and military administration, the construction of buildings, the location of cities, religious sacrifices, and personal problems.

The inscriptions on Shang oracle bones do more than indicate the preoccupations of rulers, however; they also reveal patterns of thought and...

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  • Richard J. Smith

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