China's first prayer.

Author:Schwartz, Adam Craig
Position:Essay
 
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INTRODUCTION

The Huayuanzhuang East oracle bones [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] first discovered in 1991 and completely published in six folio volumes in 2003, are a synchronically compact and unified Shang corpus (ca. 1600-1045 B.C.) of approximately 2,500 individual divination accounts engraved on hundreds of intact and half-intact turtle shells and bovine scapulae. (1) They were produced on the behalf of a mature prince of the royal family whose parents, both alive and still very much active, almost certainly were the twenty-first Shang king Wu Ding [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (r. ca. 1200 B.C.) and his consort Lady Hao (fu Hao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Undoubtedly one of the most important epigraphic finds in China's vast and abundant archaeological history, these "princely communications" now stand as the prototype for corpus-based and scientific approaches to oracle bone study as a discipline. What the study of early China has needed for quite some time is more intact discoveries that reveal information about key aspects of daily life in Shang society.

While the earliest Chinese documents (jiaguwen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) contain several words that signify modes of communication with ancestral spirits during ritual worship events, there is an extremely limited account of direct dialogue. This is most notably the case with zhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a compound pictograph that depicts the oral aspect of prayer, where it was done, and the emotive posture of the doer. While the word is not uncommon in oracle bone inscriptions (hereafter OBI), poorly contextualized accounts of the king's divinations and hitherto non-existing accounts in royal family and non-royal divinations have led to a shallow understanding of the communicative role and performative function of prayer during this foundational period of elite religious practice.

Fortunately, with its unusually meticulous divinations on religious rites the HYZ OBI finally take us into deeper depths and present more complexities on the subject. In this paper, a synopsis of how prayer was used in royal family religious rites, the first of its kind in secondary literature, sets the context for an annotated reading of what is arguably the most significant account in the entire corpus--an extraordinary divination (HYZ 161.1) on a proposed prayer to be uttered by a princely grandson to his deceased kingly grandfather, the twentieth Shang king Xiao Yi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Although this direct-speech prayer utterance is embedded within a divination statement, I propose to classify it as a prayer text and surmise that it is precisely this type of content that would have appeared in direct communications to the spirits. Comparisons are drawn to recently excavated manuscripts and received texts from the ensuing Zhou and Warring States periods, with particular attention paid to the circumstances of prayer performance and to the formulaic, rhetorical structure of its verbal utterance.

THE PICTOGRAPH ZHU [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

Of all the characters in the early Chinese lexicon signifying spirit communication, zhu 'to pray' best exemplifies its oral aspect and the emotion instilled in the action. (2) Its most depictive spelling shows a kneeling man with outstretched hands and mouth directed upwards next to a spirit altar. (3) The HYZ script form shown below, with its full-bodied representation of a kneeling man, is now the most vivid portrayal ever seen (Fig. 1).

SYNTAX AND GRAMMAR IN THE HYZ OBI

Zhu is a high-frequency word in the HYZ lexicon. Its sixty-nine instances enlarge the total amount of its usage in the Shang lexicon by 38%. (4) In addition to a wealth of new syntax and grammar, unusually meticulous contexts supplement and greatly advance what little has been known about the role and function of prayer both in the royal family's religious practice and, presumably, with other elite lineages at this time as well.

Except for two potential nominal cases (both found on the same piece, HYZ 286), zhu is used in its original verbal sense throughout the HYZ inscriptions. (5) It occurs most frequently in two types of divination statements:

  1. As the topic of the divination statement that focused on the selection of the prayer-maker, or whether prayer should be incorporated into an aforementioned ritual activity. In these instances, the grammatical pattern is formed with the modal copula hui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a word that indicates an initial stage of the divination process, expresses volition, and places focus on the language that immediately follows it. When part of a complex divination statement (i.e., more than one clause), its syntactic position usually comes after the initial, circumstantial (or subordinate) clause, although there are instances where it is preposed to the head of a sentence for emphasis. Sentences containing this word ought to be read in a mood analogous to the subjunctive.

    Only two people ever served as invocators in the inscriptions. The first was the patron of the HYZ divination organization and main subject of its oracular inquiries, a son of the reigning king Wu Ding and his wife Lady Hao, who, as a rule, was only ever referred to by his staff by the honorific designation "Our Lord" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). (6) The second was likely a ritualist whose exact identity still remains unclear. Statistics indicate that it was the prince who usually prayed during daily ancestor rites, especially at the sacrifice ceremony. Below are a few examples:

    (1A) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

    (1B) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (29.2-3)

    On Gengyin [day], sui-sacrifice (7) [to] Ancestor ... one cow [and] X (8) will pray. #1,2 On Gengyin [day] divined: Let it be Our Lord who prays. Not [to be] used. (9) #1,2

    (2) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (76.1)

    On Yimao [day], when sui-sacrificing [to] Ancestor Yi the pig that will be killed, (10) let it be Our Lord who prays. [To be] used. #2

    (3) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (13.4)

    Let it be Our Lord who prays when sui-sacrificing [to] Ancestor Yi [a] boar. [To be] used. #1,2

    (4) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (6.1)

    On the evening of Jiachen [day], when sui-sacrificing [to] Ancestor Yi one black bull, let it be Our Lord who prays, [for it] will be favorable [and] Ancestor Yi will be happy. [To be] used. [Carved] (11) [bull meat] for the 17-day rite. (12) #1

    (5) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (179.2)

    On Jiachen [day] divined: When sui-sacrificing a Wan [victim] (13) and handing over [> presenting] [to] Ancestor Jia wild boar [meat], let it be Our Lord who prays. [To be] used. #1

    (6) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (220.3)

    On Jiashen [day], when sui-sacrificing [to] Ancestor Jia one boar, let it be X who prays. [To be] used. #1

    (7) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (267.3)

    On Jiachen [day] divined: When making the morning meat offering [to] Ancestor Jia, let it be Our Lord who prays. #1

  2. As an independent clause within a complex divination statement on the topic of ancestor sacrifice. The multiple clauses are coordinate, and the lack of any grammatical words such as qi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and hui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] means the mood of the statement is indicative-declarative. The most commonly seen divination formula is "date + [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]-clause + [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]- clause." Below are several examples:

    (8A) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

    (8B) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (13.1-2)

    On Jiawu [day], swi-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Jia one boar [and] Our Lord will pray. At Fu. #1

    On Yiwei [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Yi (a) boar [and] Our Lord will pray. At Fu. #1,2

    (9A) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

    (9B) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (17.1-2)

    On Jiachen [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Jia one penned cow [and] Our Lord will pray. #1

    On Yisi [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Yi one penned cow [and] X will pray. #1

    (10A) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

    (10B) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (67.1-2)

    On the evening of Yihai [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Yi one black cow [and] Our Lord will pray. #1,2

    On the evening of Yihai [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Yi one black cow [and] Our Lord will pray. #3,4

    Within this base formula a syntactic variation sees additional verb clauses, all supplemental offerings meant to accompany the animal sacrifice, inserted between the sui-clause and the zhu-clause. The most common is an offering of aromatic wine (you chang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]):

    (11A) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

    (11B) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (291.2,4)

    On Jiashen [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Jia a small pen-raised sheep, offer one measure of aromatic wine, [and] Our Lord will pray. At Lu. #1,2

    On Yiyou [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Yi a small pen-raised sheep, a boar, offer one measure of aromatic wine, [and] X will pray. At Lu. #2,3,4

    (12) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (392.1)

    On Xinwei [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Yi a black bull, offer one measure of aromatic wine, [and] Our Lord will pray. #2

    (13) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... (161.1)

    On Xinwei [day], sui-sacrifice [to] Ancestor Yi a black bull, offer one measure of aromatic wine, [and] Our Lord will pray ...

    Zhu is negated by bi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (equivalent to wu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which means that the verb that follows denotes a voluntary and controllable action. There is also talk about changes to prayer making, albeit in an emphatic mood that reveals an unwillingness to do so:

    (14) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (214.2)

    On Xinwei [day] divined: Our Lord ought not to pray. [To be] used. #1

    (15) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (13.3)

    Do not change (14)--pray; let it be that which is used for Ancestor Yi. [To be] used. #1

    In summary, the verb zhu was most frequently used in two types of divination...

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