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Posted By admin On 03:15 PM In Past Events 2018-19 | Comments Disabled

2018/2019 School of Chinese Research Student Seminar

Divine Calamity and Ghostly Haunting: Sui祟-divination and Calamity Theory Reflected in Chu Divinatory Bamboo Slips

李華倫Mr. Lee Wa Lun

March 29, 2019 (Friday); 5:30-6:45pm
Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus
Language: Putonghua


The connection between man and supernatural entities has long been an enthralling issue in all civilizations. According to general beliefs, the concept of sui, literally ghost-caused haunting or calamity, presumably plays an essential role in both etiological theory and healing in early China. In Weighing of Discourse, Wang Chong (27-97AD) consistently criticizes the practice of sui-divination (busui), which intends to identify the haunting source for a radical remedy for ailments. Instead of being known as a critique, Wang’s saying has been cited as a paradigmatic summary of divinatory formulae in archaic China. Some even go further to propose that divination in the Warring States Period (475-221BC), particularly in the region of Chu, was diagnostic rather than predictive in nature. Jumping to this conclusion, previous studies may have oversimplified the issue by obscuring (a) prognostications and charges and (b) the erudite interpretations of the divination outcomes by divinatory elites and the secular concerns of the popularity or the non-specialists. With archeological discoveries of a dozen bamboo slips unearthed from the Warring States Period tombs, believably of Chu provenance, in Hubei and Henan provinces since 1965, a new genre of paleographic manuscripts named “divinatory bamboo slips” has come into the public’s eyes. In its charge, the phrase “Shang wuyou sui” (literally “may there be no calamity) appears frequently. Scholars were once led to a conclusion that the paleographic character “祟” should be identified as other characters else due primarily to the premise that Chinese-style iatromancy is sui-seeking in nature and hence the divinators would have by no means wished no sign of calamity is found. The fact, however, deems quite the opposite after a scrutiny of the divinatory bamboo slips and other paleographical materials such as the Shuihudi Daybook (Rishu) and the Tsinghua Divination Methods (Shifa). Rectifying the misidentification of “祟” may direct our re-consideration of the issue of sui-divination. The talk will begin with this paleographical debate and illustrate how the resolution to it may have reconstructed our understanding of Chu-style divination. Focusing on the charges and prognostications of the divinatory manuscripts as well as their relationship, it will examine how the conclusion on the diagnostic nature of Chu divination may have been fallacious and how the significance of sui in popular religion should be reevaluated.


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