Tian 田: ‘to hunt’.
You qin 有禽: ‘there is a catch’.
These first three characters probably deal with the royal hunt, a theme which is often mentioned in the oracle bone inscriptions, and in these inscriptions the phrase tian qin 田禽, ‘at the hunt there will be a catch’ is mentioned frequently. In his influential paper Rising from Blood-Stained Fields: Royal Hunting and State Formation in Shang Dynasty China, Magnus Fiskesjö talks in detail about the meaning and usage of these two characters:
tian [; modern 田], meaning “to [take to the] field”; “to hunt”: the graph is similar to the modern Chinese character for the noun “field,” a picture of a square divided by internal strokes into four units (sometimes more). The division of land for agricultural activities may be one of its original meanings, and the use of tian as a noun for “fields” constituting part of Shang-controlled territory is attested in some inscriptions. There are examples suggesting tian may mean actual “farming” (tilling of the land) but there are only very few cases that indicate this clearly:
Crack on] yimao [day 52] … divining: “[If we] call [on X] to tian at Y, [then we will] receive a harvest.”
It has also been suggested that tian (i.e. “field”) is used for, and should be taken to mean, “hunting” because of what it does for the fields: clearing them from harmful wild animals (wei tian chu hai 為田除害). Hunting is indeed frequently linked with the clearing of fields in later historical periods, historically and ethnographically, not least in swidden farming where the deployment of fire to clear forest creates the opportunity for hunting. By extension, the usage of tian for royal hunting could be explained by what the king does to the wild in the hunt, “turning the wild into fields.” The name of the place for the hunt is not always provided, but certain place-names did serve both as the location for hunts and for farming – indicating that hunting with fire and opening new fields may indeed have been if not synonymous, then at least increasingly related, especially in the last period. The fact that tian increasingly becomes the general word for hunting in the later periods (i.e. coupled with animal victims of the hunt) may also reflect the acceleration of such a process of expansion.
The word tian was also used for an office (“Keeper of the Land”), not to be confused with the verbal use of tian 田 (modern transcription, dian 甸). Similar titles include “Hound-Keepers” (quan 犬, and “Herdsmen [mu 牧]).” Such armed officials, stationed in outlying areas by the king, sometimes also are mentioned as capturing enemy prisoners (most often termed qiang 羌, “barbarians”) and presenting them to the king; these various officers also hunt and catch animals. The king himself, and his act of putting himself at risk in the hunt, is the main topic of interest in the inscriptions, however. There are numerous examples:
“Crack on renchen [day 29]. He [a personal name] divining: If the king hunts, [there will be] no misfortune.” (Heji 28440, III).
The divinations may be made well in advance:
“Crack on jiayin [day 51]. The king said: Divine. On the next yimao [day 52], [if We?] hunt, [there will be] no misfortune. At Gu.” (Heji 24471, II)
The word tian is, as mentioned, sometimes used in combinations with other words. In one rare case, tian is used in a hunting inscription along with what is apparently a specification of the weapon used (Tunnan 4556). Another, more common combination is with xing [, modern 省], the meaning of which is believed to approximate “inspection,” thus “field/hunting-inspections” carried out by the king himself or by others assigned by him.
There is often concern for the weather (especially wind and rain, as might be expected when hunting). For example:
“If the king [xing Yu tian =] inspects Yu fields in the early morning, [then] there will be no rain” (Heji 29093, III).
“The king should not hunt [tian] on a ren-day [for if he does, the weather] will be overcast, [and his expedition] will encounter heavy rain” (Heji 28680, III).
Some scholars have read the first of these two examples as an “inspection of the hunt [tian],” the king inspecting someone else’s hunting – an awkward construction, and no inscriptions of this type mention any capture of prey. It may be another indication that tian wa.s also a word for some more general activity, which may not include the hunting of wild game. But the tian (“fields”) in the combinations “xing … tian” and “tian xing … “can also be understood as the object of inspection different from the verbal tian. Other such objects of xing occasionally include “elephants” (Heji 32954, IV; perhaps not an elephant stable but rather a place called Xiang; that graph often stands for a personal name or a place in the inscriptions); “fish” ([yu], a fish pond, or “fishing,” Tunnan 673, III); “millet” (Heji 9612, I); or ordinary “cattle” [niu]:
“Crack on bingyin [day 3]. Que divining: The king goes to inspect cattle … ” (Heji 11170, I)
Since there is never any game “captured” on such tian “inspections,” tian probably here refers to physical “fields”), and they may not have been done primarily to check on wild game. In the light of the many other inscriptions that address a need for rain or the hope for a rich harvest (shou nian), the object of inspection may have been agricultural potential, or farming progress. A small number of divinations concerning the appropriateness of “inspecting fields” are carved on the same bone as, and follow directly upon, divinations about tian or shou; and the “inspection” of fields also could have been a substitute for a hunt in those fields, i.e. an inspection of a hunting-ground.
The verbal tian is also used in other combinations where prey is involved, including the delegation or invitation to others to hunt; the names or titles of such persons may or may not be specified.
In summary, there may have been several meanings to tian and capturing wild animals clearly was one important aspect. We do not know exactly why this graph was used in the sense “hunting,” but its graphical characteristics and its usage history does imply a dose connection with agriculture related to the symbolic clearing or preparing of fields, either indirectly, or directly by killing off the wild in order to transform and incorporate land into domesticated agriculture. In many cases, given the right context, it can properly be translated as “hunting.”
qin [; modern 禽], “capture” (alternatively, “bag,” or “net”): this graph, for which the pronunciation is uncertain (it has also been transcribed as bi), is the simplest version of a series. Here it is composed of a “hand” and a “net”(?), understood as the combination of those two. Even if the upper part of the word indeed should be interpreted as a net, the word is clearly used in a more general sense than “netting,” as indicated by the many examples of inscriptions stating that the king hunts (shou, or tian) and then the capture is enumerated using this word. Many inscriptions specify one of several different specific hunting methods prior to using this term, to express “capture.” Examples include Heji 33371, and Tunnan 2626, where the king hunts with pit-falls and then captures (qin 禽), in the latter case, “700 elaphure deer;” and Heji 27902, where the king first uses bow and arrow, and then captures (qin 禽). Alternatively, to express what may have been an original sense of “netting,” but still retaining a distinction from the following word, this graph could tentatively be rendered as “to bag,” or “to net” in a general sense.
The word is sometimes used conjointly with huo 獲 (…) but only for capture of animals and not human enemies, as with huo.
Having food on the table was not the sole purpose of the hunt:
The hunt, as recorded in bone inscriptions, is first and foremostly the prerogative of the king. It was not just a royal sport but rather a symbolic undertaking, that led to royal sacrifice and guaranteed the king’s role as supreme religious and political leader. Hunted animals were not buried or offered in sacrifice outside the ancestor cult. The primary purpose of hunting was thus not only to legitimize the king’s power but to provide sacrifice in maintaining the blessing of royal ancestor spirits.
(Elizabeth Childs-Johnson, The metamorphic image: A predominant theme in the ritual art of Shang China; Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities No.70, p. 38)
See also Chao Lin, The Socio-Political Systems of the Shang Dynasty, p. 59-.
Zhi yan 執言: stand by your (critical) words. For more about yan see here.
Zhangzi 長子: eldest son.
Shuai shi 帥師: to lead an army. The Chujian text has a character that closely resembles the character 𧗵, which is related to 率. Both are known variants of 帥 (漢語大字典, vol. 2, p. 839). The expression 率師, ‘to lead an army’ is common in ancient texts.
Dizi 弟子: youngest son.
Yu shi 輿尸: carry a cartload of corpses, see line 3.
The eldest son leads the army. The Zuo Zhuan contains an anecdote in which a general urges his ruler not to have the ruler’s eldest son command the army:
The marquis of Jin proposed sending his eldest son Shen Sheng to invade the Gao Luo tribe of the eastern hills, when Li Ke remonstrated, saying, “It is the business of the eldest son to bear the vessel of millet for the great sacrifices, and for those at the altars of the land and the grain, and also to inspect the provisions cooked for the ruler every morning and evening. On this account he is styled the ‘great son.’ When the ruler goes abroad, he guards the capital; and if another be appointed to guard it, he attends upon his father. When he attends upon him, he is called ‘Soother of the host;’ when he stays behind on guard, he is called ‘Inspector of the State;’ – this is the ancient rule. But to lead the army and determine its movements and plans, issuing all commands to the troops: – this is what the ruler and his chief minister have to provide for; it is not the business of the eldest son. The conduct of an army all depends on the definite commands which are given. If the son receive the commands of another, it is injurious to his majesty; if he determines himself the commands, he is unfilial. For this reason the ruler’s proper son and heir ought not to have the command of the army. The ruler fails to employ the right man in devolving the command on him; and if, as commander, he lose the majesty which belongs to him, how can he afterwards be employed? Your servant, moreover, has heard that the Gao Luo will fight. Leave, I pray you, your son alone, and do not send him.”
(Chun Qiu Zuo Zhuan 春秋左傳, tr. James Legge, p. 130)
The sons of a ruler should not have active duties in the army, nor should they do labour that does not befit their noble position. Doing so would be highly inappropriate and therefore inauspicious.
At the hunt there is a catch.
Favourable to stand by your words.
No curse from the ancestors.
The eldest son leads the army.
The youngest son is carrying the corpses.