9 Responses to Book review (1): Edward Shaughnessy, ‘Unearthing the Changes’

  1. inimitable! Your Yi-tube channel is also a kind of unearthing….
    Yijing adepts like me welcome your views and knowledge with great interest.
    Hope to see and hear more reviews of you Harmen, soon.

  2. Hi Harmen,
    you wear my reading glasses!

    I am reading that book ‘unearthing the changes’ now (through such glasses 🙂
    I have a question about the favorite quote you give, or actually what comes right before on page 66. “I suspect the ancient diviners were already well aware that words are variable, changeable (!), and that in creating the Yi, the Changes, they sought to exploit this feature of their language.”

    On the other hand, you begin your video here with the observation that amateur translators confuse Chinese grammar. They feel a given sign can stand for a noun or a verb or an adjective, and choose what suits them best.
    For example, where Slaughnessy in the Shanghai Museum version maintains a noun “Constancy” (the received YiJing has another noun).

    32.1 Perceptive constancy. Determining: ominous. There is nothing beneficial.

    I would think the meaning is best loosely given with a verb here “Stay”. I can’t find anything wrong with that. Suddenly Slaughnessy’s erudite gibberish becomes understandable in my version:

    32.1 Stay vigilant, there is danger, best do nothing.

    So what’s with the Chinese grammar?

    Also, LiSe told me you have a talent for ‘digging up’ Chinese texts, and I have a big problem finding the Chinese article in note 3 from the Conclusions and Conjectures chapter of ‘unearthing the changes’. So I like to ask you if you can find it on the web or perhaps you have the paper itself? (because I must google translate it, I need a digital version).

    CC Note 3 …a detailed description of milfoil divination methods… Center for the Study and Preservation of Unearthed Texts (= Chutu Wenxian Yanjiu Yu Baohu Zhongxin). Manuscript in volume 4 of their series Qinghua Daxue cang Zhanguo zhu jian (2014?).

    And another problem. How can we judge if this find is not a forgery? The origin of many recent finds on ancient bamboo sticks can only be traced back to the black market of Hong Kong, therefore my worry.

    Thank you for helping 🙂

    • They are my computer glasses – without it I can’t read anything from my screen 🙂

      About grammar: what I see most amateur translators do is that they pick their favorite (often modern) dictionary, look up a character from the Yijing, and choose the meaning that fits their idea of that character, or the text, or the context, without considering if that meaning is in any way justified by the grammar structure of the text. In a way I see you do that too: you interpret the first character of H32.1, a variant of 濬 according to Zheng Yushan 鄭玉姍 which has the same pronunciation & meaning as 浚 in the received text, as ‘stay (vigilant)’ but this interpretation is not founded on any sources that backup this reading. Your rendition of H32.1 (‘Stay vigilant, there is danger, best do nothing’) is not a translation but an interpretation because 1. there is no ‘stay’ in the text, no ‘vigilant’, no ‘danger’, no ‘best’ and no ‘do nothing’ which illustrates what I mean when I say that many new translators don’t pay attention to grammar: in the sentence 浚恆 浚 is an adjective that does something to 恆, a character which in the given context is best translated as ‘constancy’.

      About the reference in note 3 from Ed’s book: He mentions that this text will be published in volume 4 of the 《清华大学藏战国竹简》 series. the only manuscript published in volume 4 is the Shifa 《筮法》 manuscript. This manuscript has been described and translated bu Constance Cook and Zhao Lu 趙璐 in Stalk Divination: A Newly Discovered Alternative to the I Ching. It is not, as Ed thought when he was writing his book, ‘a detailed description of milfoil divination methods’.

      How do we know the Shanghai Museum manuscripts are not forgeries? In The Embodied Text: Establishing Textual Identity in Early Chinese Manuscripts Matthias Richter writes,

      “Ma (Chengyuan, former curator of the Shanghai Museum who bought the manuscripts HM) reported the result of two carbon dating tests that determined an age of 2,257 ± 65 years, which would place the manuscripts in the mid-third century bce. However, Ma also pointed out that carbon dating is better suited to testing much older objects and is, in his opinion, a less reliable indicator of authenticity than a combination of other factors, some of which relate to the text and others to the materiality of the manuscripts. His argument that the texts could not possibly have been forged is less convincing than his observation that the style of script and color of the ink are consistent with that of Chu manuscripts from controlled excavations. And finally, Ma also mentioned as an indication of authenticity the changes in color and shape of the bamboo slips, once they were taken out of the material in which they were preserved and were exposed to sunlight. Material of a later date would have reacted differently.
      An important indication of provenance is that the entire collection of Shangbo manuscripts is very similar in format, handwriting, and content to the manuscripts excavated from tomb one of Guodian. Two texts appear in only slightly different versions in both collections: a counterpart of the Liji chapter “Zi yi” as well as versions of a hitherto unknown text titled by the editors *Xing qing lun 性情論 (Shangbo) and *Xing zi ming chu 性自 命出 (Guodian), respectively. What may be even more important is that the Shangbo manuscripts show a similar degree of diversity in formats and styles of writing, as well as orthographic variability, as the Guodian manuscripts. This complex pattern of similarities and dissimilarities is an important factor to take into consideration when it comes to assessing the authenticity of the Shangbo manuscripts.”
      (p. 22-23)

      • Ah thank you Harmen,
        you surely know a lot!

        Then the ancients allowed play
        and pun with double meanings,
        but not with grammar?

        My example 32.1 was based on the
        Shanghai museum version
        from this book (left page).
        I made a mistake. The changed word here
        is Rui “perceptive”, found instead of your
        Jun “deep, profound, open”.
        Slaughnessy mentions the same signs
        as you here on page 102, note 1.
        I cannot read Chinese (don’t want to either).
        I feel I can take vigilant as a synonym for
        perceptive/perspicacious.
        Translators like Ed Slaughnessy and
        Thomas Cleary use too many
        language-technical abstract terms.
        Here Ed writes “perspicacious”,
        but why not “shrewd”, if Merriam Webster
        finds those terms synonymous?
        Same with “constancy” versus “staying”,
        a word used in daily life
        instead of an abstract
        translation-technical term.
        Language for the living,
        not for the archives 😉

        I am also interested in this
        “Stalk Divination:
        A Newly Discovered Alternative to the I Ching”.
        What is that about then?

        Kind greetings,
        F.Gerard

        • Then the ancients allowed play and pun with double meanings, but not with grammar?

          Not that I know of, no. It would make reading early and classical Chinese very complicated.

          I made a mistake. The changed word here is Rui “perceptive”, found instead of your Jun “deep, profound, open” (…) I feel I can take vigilant as a synonym for perceptive/perspicacious.

          Shaughnessy sees the SM character as a version of rui 睿/叡, a character which has connotations like ‘clever, wise, have foresight’ etc. (《汉语大词典》, p. 10837). This is hardly similar to your interpretation of it as ‘vigilant’.

          I cannot read Chinese (don’t want to either).

          That’s a pity because now you are limited to the very few sources that exist in a Western language. If you could read Chinese you would have way more material at your disposal and you wouldn’t have to rely on one source. When it comes to the excavated manuscripts there is a wealth of articles available that can help you to make a weighted decision about the meaning of a character or phrase. And in the case of 浚/睿/叡 you would learn that there are more readings possible instead of ‘perceptive’.

          Translators like Ed Slaughnessy and Thomas Cleary use too many language-technical abstract terms. Here Ed writes “perspicacious”, but why not “shrewd”, if Merriam Webster finds those terms synonymous?

          You should ask Ed that, it’s his language and his choice of words. One reason why he did not choose ‘shrewd’ might be that ‘shrewd’ has negative connotations like ‘cunning, devious, dodgy, slick, sly, scheming’ – connotations that do not belong to 睿/叡.

          Same with “constancy” versus “staying”, a word used in daily life instead of an abstract translation-technical term.

          The problem with this is that in not a single Chinese text 恆 is used with the meaning of ‘staying’ so it is extremely unlikely that it means that here. It is simply not a valid meaning for 恆. Heng 恆 is a term that is seen in several divination texts and often has to do with long-term divination results. See Constance A. Cook, Death in Ancient China, p. 154, footnote 4.

          I am also interested in this “Stalk Divination: A Newly Discovered Alternative to the I Ching”. What is that about then?

          “This book presents for the first time a full translation and analysis of a newly discovered bamboo divination manual from the fourth century BCE China, called the Stalk Divination Method (Shifa). It was used as an alternative to the better-known Zhouyi (popularly known as the I-Ching). The Shifa manual presents a competing method of interpreting the trigrams, the most basic elements of the distinctive sixty-four hexagrams in the Zhouyi. This newly discovered method looks at the combination of four trigrams as a fluid, changeable pattern or unit reflective of different circumstances in an elite man’s life. Unlike the Zhouyi, this new manual provides case studies that explain how to read the trigram patterns for different topics. This method is unprecedented in early China and has left no trace in later Chinese divination traditions. Shifa must be understood then as a competing voice in the centuries before the Zhouyi became the hegemonic standard. The authors of this book have translated this new text and “cracked the code” of its logic. This new divination will change our understanding of Chinese divination and bring new light to Zhouyi studies.”
          (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/stalk-divination-9780190648459?cc=nl&lang=en&#)

  3. Yes Harmen, you have penetrated deeply.
    – – –
    The masters Slaughnessy, Lynn and Cleary choose the same key words to go back to the same Chinese characters from the ground text. I believe because their translations are preliminary (Slaughnessy admits this in his introduction). These are “master translations” of the Yi Jing from which one may distil a “copy version”, that is more suited to the purpose of real life divination. And I do like to incorporate some insights from the rich commentary tradition of the Yi Jing in my version, like Wilhelm did with great success. Over the ages the Changes has been a changing book, it may change by adapting to divinatory uses in the future, and now it has changed profoundly by Slaughnessy seeking its roots.
    – – –
    Thanks for erasing my doubts that the Shanghai Museum version might have been a forgery. Slaughnessy omitted this in his book. But it is a difficult topic. For example the carbon dating should be done on the ink, because deposits of blank bamboo sticks are found from that era that shrewd forgerers would reuse.
    – – –
    So we now have three competing yin yang line oracles from ancient China that were standardized with a book: the Yi Jing, the simple Guicang and the diverse Shifa. My intuition is that the Yi Jing came first, and that the Shanghai Museum version as presented by Slaughnessy comes closest to the original. But that the interpretation of hexagrams as two trigrams (e.g. Heaven over Thunder) was influenced by the Shifa and became important only later.
    – – –
    From “Astronomy before the telescope” edited by Christopher Walker:
    – – –
    “Oracle bone fragments show that by 1400 BC, in Shang times, the Chinese had adopted a lunar calendar with mean lunar months of 29.5 days (modern value 29.53 days) by alternating months of 29 and 30 days. Most years counted 12 lunar months.”
    – – –
    Perhaps the Yi Jing has been an “Oracle of the Moon” from the start. And is setting a yarrow stick apart a very old gesture, that mirrors the day that was set apart from every odd month. A day that was never there.
    – – –
    This is indeed of heavenly interest…
    – – –
    Harmen, I wish your perceptive constancy changes.

    • “So we now have three competing yin yang line oracles from ancient China that were standardized with a book: the Yi Jing, the simple Guicang and the diverse Shifa. My intuition is that the Yi Jing came first, and that the Shanghai Museum version as presented by Slaughnessy comes closest to the original. But that the interpretation of hexagrams as two trigrams (e.g. Heaven over Thunder) was influenced by the Shifa and became important only later.”

      That’s a bold assumption that does not correspond with the latest findings. The Shanghai Museum, as well as the earlier shuzigua 數字卦 already divide the hexagram in two trigrams. See my first video: https://youtu.be/sWLBqIY0iKU. BTW you keep writing Ed’s name wrong – it’s Shaughnessy.

      “Thanks for erasing my doubts that the Shanghai Museum version might have been a forgery. Slaughnessy omitted this in his book. But it is a difficult topic. For example the carbon dating should be done on the ink, because deposits of blank bamboo sticks are found from that era that shrewd forgerers would reuse.”

      As you have seen carbon dating was not the only benchmark.

      • Mixed up the L. brrrrrrr, Shaughnessy yes!
        – – –
        There was a division in trigrams of old, you say. But have the trigram meanings clearly influenced the text of the judgements and lines, the primary meanings of the hexagram? I must study that further… At least in the old manuscripts of Unearthing the Changes there is no separate mention of the trigrams that make up a hexagram, what you find in every modern I Ching book.
        – – –
        I would like to come back under your Shuzigua video. That would be very interesting! I read on Reddit (from 2017) that you believe the yin yang division (the binary) is of a later date and the trigrams are foundational. But didn’t the even and odd numbers on these old Shuzigua finds stand for the broken and whole cracked lines of the turtle shells that became the Yi Jing hexagram lines? I was thinking about them before: perhaps those four numbers already implied changing or steady yin yang lines. You will know the answer to those obvious questions, I will first watch the video, and come back later.
        – – –
        Must know more!

        • There was a division in trigrams of old, you say. But have the trigram meanings clearly influenced the text of the judgements and lines, the primary meanings of the hexagram?

          That’s an entirely different question that doesn’t take away the fact that trigrams were recognized in the early stages of hexagram divination. Adam Schwartz believes that the text is based on the trigrams – see here https://repository.hkbu.edu.hk/hkbu_staff_publication/6900/ and here https://www.degruyter.com/abstract/j/asia.2018.72.issue-4/asia-2017-0067/asia-2017-0067.xml

          At least in the old manuscripts of Unearthing the Changes there is no separate mention of the trigrams that make up a hexagram, what you find in every modern I Ching book.

          I understand that you have never seen a picture of the actual bamboo strips. This sample is from the Shanghai Museum manuscript: http://www.itcn.nl/serendipity/uploads/slips.jpg
          As you can see in the upper right corner the hexagram is clearly divided into trigrams. The fragments of the Fuyang Zhouyi that have hexagrams on them show the same division. If you are interested in the excavated Yi documents you should purchase this 2-volume book: http://www.itcn.nl/serendipity/archives/107-Review-The-Bamboo-Zhouyi-from-the-State-Chu-Researches.html.

          I read on Reddit (from 2017) that you believe the yin yang division (the binary) is of a later date and the trigrams are foundational. But didn’t the even and odd numbers on these old Shuzigua finds stand for the broken and whole cracked lines of the turtle shells that became the Yi Jing hexagram lines?

          There is no clear link between the cracks on oracle bones and the lines or numbers from the hexagrams or shuzigua.

          I was thinking about them before: perhaps those four numbers already implied changing or steady yin yang lines. You will know the answer to those obvious questions,

          No, I don’t. But I try to stay away from assumptions and hypotheses as much as possible and try to draw conclusions from what we know instead of ‘inventing’ what we don’t know. You make a lot assumptions like “could it be that…” and often the only answer is “Maybe. Maybe not.” You risk the chance of clinging to your own created castle in the air that does not have any foundation whatsoever.

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