National Palace Museum Taipei, Taiwan

One of my favourite sites is the site of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. Beautiful pictures and a lot of information. Check for instance the section with past exhibitions. My favourite one is A Special Exhibition of Bronze Inscriptions from the Western Chou. The introduction is a good entry into the world of bronze inscriptions. Other ones are Ancient Writing from the Ruins of Yin (about oracle bones) or a Special Exhibition of Shang Period Ritual Bronzes.

I can spend hours on sites like this.


Shanghai Museum Chujian Zhouyi

Books can make me happy, but the book I received today thrills me with excitement. I finally received a copy of the Chujian Zhouyi, aka the Shanghai Museum manuscript of the Zhouyi (to read more about it see Edward Shaughnessy, A First Reading of the Shanghai Museum Bamboo-Strip Manuscript of the Zhou Yi, forthcoming). It is the oldest (but not complete) copy of the Zhouyi we have today; it is estimated around 300 BC.

In the Spring of 2004 the Chujian Zhouyi was published. Shaughnessy writes about this book:

(…) this third volume is sumptuously produced. It begins with a two-part section of photographs of all the strips: first, half-size full-color photos of all of the strips arranged in what the editors believe was their original order, and then enlarged full-color photos in which each strip occupies a single page. This introductory section is then followed by an 83-page section of transcription and detailed commentary written by Pu Maozuo 濮茅左, a senior curator at the Shanghai Museum. As in earlier volumes, this section begins with a brief overview of the text, including its physical properties, format, general paleographic considerations, and, in this case, the place of the manuscript in the textual history of the Yi jing. This section proper consists of strip-by-strip presentations of the text. Also as in previous volumes, each strip is introduced by yet another photograph, this one full-size and black-and-white (though certain symbols that are red on the original strips seem to have been hand-colored in these photographs). There then comes a detailed description of the physical characteristics of the strip, including especially notation of any breaks and/or rejoinings. Finally comes a phrase-by-phrase discussion of the text on the strip, each of which is followed by how the phrase reads in the silk manuscript of the Yi jing that was discovered thirty years ago at Mawangdui 馬王堆, in Changsha 長沙, Hunan, and also how it reads in the received text. The presentation of the Zhou Yi includes also two appendices. The first, 35 pages long, is a line-by-line comparison of the Shanghai Museum manuscript, the silk manuscript from Mawangdui, and the received text of the Zhou Yi; entries for both the Shanghai Museum and Mawangdui manuscripts include both photos of the original manuscript and also direct kaishu 楷書 transcriptions. The second appendix, 10 pages long, is a study of six different black and/or red symbols that are included with each of the hexagram texts of the manuscripts. Publication of the volume was delayed apparently because of a flaw in the coloring of these symbols in the first print-run, necessitating the withdrawal and reprinting of the entire edition. This is a manifestation of the care that has gone into the editing and publication of all of the Shanghai Museum manuscripts. Although this volume, like most paleographic publications, has already met with various types of criticism, mainly from scholars in China, the scholarly world is surely much in the debt of all those who have worked so hard to make these manuscripts available.

The book measures 44 x 30 cm in size, the quality of the paper, printing and binding is excellent, in all, it is a pleasure to look at. I don’t even dare to read it, afraid that I will spoil the pages!

The next few weeks I will examine the book and the manuscript carefully. If I find anything interesting (of course I will) I will let you know.

上海博物館藏戰國楚竹, Vol. 3
ISBN 7532530140

Below are some samples of pages.

The banner of ‘qian’

There are a lot of things you have to keep in mind when you investigate the character qian 乾 from hexagram 1. First, there is the problem of finding the right components which form the character. Your first impression would probably be that the character consists of the component on the left side, and 乞 on the right side. This idea would probably be strengthened by the fact that there are more characters with as a component, like 朝 or . Continue reading

Some observations

The Chinese character of hexagram 20, guān 觀, is most of the time translated as ‘contemplation’, ‘observing’ or something similar. There is nothing wrong with that, and even though 觀 has more meanings it is likely that in the Yi 觀 also means ‘observe’. But a little scrutiny can add some valuable background information.

Guān 觀 consists of two parts: 雚 and 見. Most etymological dictionaries quote the Shuo Wen 說文 which says that 雚 represents the pronunciation guan, and that 見 gives the meaning ‘look’. But according to the 甲骨文字典, 雚 is the precursor of 觀 (p. 979 and 408-409). It is more than a phonetic component, it definitely adds meaning to 觀.

雚 is rarely mentioned in Chinese texts, it mostly occurs as a component in other characters (觀, 權, 歡, 灌, 勸, 罐,顴 etc.). The Shuo Wen 說文 says that 雚 is a “小爵” (漢語大字典 4104.2), an ancient wine vessel with three legs and a loop handle. This seems to be correct, as Karlgren says about 爵: “Cup for libations or feasts; noble, nobility, dignity, rank — cf. 尊; originally a picture, in the small seal altered so as to contain 鬯 aromatic herbs and 又 hand; now still more deformed; the cup had the form of a bird; 爵 and 雀 ‘small bird’ are etymologically the same word, hence 爵 is sometimes used for 雀” (quoted in Wenlin). The fact that a 爵 had the shape of a bird, more specifically a heron, is significant here, because 雚 contains the component 隹 ‘bird’. (But I don’t understand why Karlgren says that 爵 and 雀 are etymologically the same word, because according to the 甲骨文字典 their shapes are entirely different. But we will take that for granted.) The 吅 component in the character might represent the two knobs which are used to carry the vessel after the wine has been warmed. That 吅 can represent these knobs can be seen in the character 斝, which is also an ancient type of vessel which has these knobs (see here).

The 甲骨文字典 says that 雚 and 雈 (not to be confused with 萑) are exchangeable. In oracle bone inscriptions 雈 can be the name of a sacrifice, the name of a place, of a person, or synonym to 觀 ‘look’, or the same as 舊 ‘old’. Tsung Tung-Chang adds: ” (variants ) is identical to 雈 = an owl with feather horns (according to the Shuo Wen HM), (…) 雚 = 鸛 = ‘ciconia boyciana‘. In oracle bone inscriptions it is used for the homophone verbs 灌 = ‘pour wine’ and 觀 = ‘look at’.” (Der Kult der Shang-dynastie im Spiegel der Orakelinschriften, p. 65).

The chance that 觀 has something to do with offerings is enlarged by the Judgment of hexagram 20: 盥而不薦.有孚顒若. “Washing the hands yet not sacrificing. Having captives (of war) looking up, which is in order”. This text deals with offerings and sacrifices.

But what is then the meaning of the component 見? If 雚 represents the wine vessel (covered up 艹 because it is not yet used?) for the libation or the libation itself (灌), then what does 見 add to it? It seems as if it refers to the persons who are not carrying out the sacrifice, but are viewing (見) it. They are observers, and maybe their job was to look for omens which might occur during the service, as a sign of the gods. They ‘wash their hands but do not sacrifice’. They only observe.

Hexagram 20 could describe different kinds of looking at the sacrifice, for instance, 童觀 in the first line could denote viewing the sacrifice from within a barren field, or from the top of a mountain which has all the vegetation cut down for a better view (for this meaning of 童 see 漢語大字典 2711.9).