Back to index 'Origins of characters'

Thomas, Sept.15, 2001, Iching-YiJing mailing list

   Richard Rutt, in his book "Zhouyi, the Book of Changes" summarizes his view: "The literary content of ZHOUYI is to be found in the line statements, which are notoriously obscure. The interpretation underlying my translation of them depends heavily on Richard Kunst's suggestions, many of which derive from Chinese scholars. If they are correct, ZHOUYI is a royal book of oracles mainly related to warfare, especially warfare as a means of obtaining captives to be killed in sacrifices.
   Gao Heng draws attention to the inscription on a Western Zhou bronze vessel called Xiaoyu 'Ding' (probably cast in the first quarter of the 10th century BC, but known only from rubbings) that eerily confirms the impressions from the line statements. It describes the ceremony after a general called Yu returns from a campaign in the Gui territory mentioned in Hexagrams 63 and 64. He has captured 3 chieftains, 5049 severed heads and left ears, 13,081 men, more than 104 horses, more than 130 vehicles, 355 cattle, and 38 sheep - there is some doubt about the actual numbers, but the scale is clear enough.
   The effect, wrote Herrlee Creel, 'is one of great spaces, dimmed light, awe-inspiring and sometimes gruesome pageantry.'
   The king congratulates Yu, who brings forward the three captive chiefs. The king has them interrogated about their motives in resisting Zhou, and when the interrogation is over they are decapitated. All the ears or heads are offered in a great burnt sacrifice.

   Here we recognize the people of ZHOUYI and their concerns. It is all a long way from the later use of the YIJING as a book of wisdom, and still further from using it for reflective self-analysis or in seeking advice about the future." (p. 135)
  Personally I have been very fascinated to discover this ancient Zhou world, so different form the Confucian moral reading of the text. The Yijing covers the whole span of Chinese history, from its civilized yet barbaric Shang and Zhou beginnings around 1000 BCE to the refined Song dynasty Neo-confucians like Cheng Yi around 1000 CE. 
The book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0700704671

   On the same subject I found this from Plutschow's article: http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap0102/china.htm   "As we can observe in other (e.g. the Aztecs) cultures as well, the most common Shang source of human sacrifice was war prisoners and, or, slaves, many of whom were natives of the sheep-raising Ch'iang tribe, the preferred source of human sacrifice for the Shang. A community tends to choose its sacrificial victims outside itself, as René Girard pointed out; prisoners of war, slaves, beggars, cripples, and other people at the fringe of society, being the favorite supplies.[7]
  Sociologically, such selection not only reflected the social order, but created it. The Tso-chuan reports that in the years 663 BC, 532 and 488, in Lu, a backward state continuing the Shang sacrificial system, war prisoners from a recent campaign were sacrificed.[8] Sacrificed war prisoners were sometimes mutilated (beheaded), although the meaning of such mutilation is still being disputed.  Slaves must be understood not only as war prisoners, but useful laborers until sacrificed, but included people accused of crime, desertion, murder, etc.
   Other than the surrogate bride of the river deity, the way war prisoners were sacrificed at the ancestral shrine, does not seem to reflect Girard's understanding that such victims must first be totally integrated into the community before sacrificing them.[9] Integrating a relatively large number of war prisoners into the community would surely have been dangerous and uneconomical. It is more likely they were killed without delay." 
   When I think of the modern terrorists, our world is still in some ways equally barbaric...
   Thomas

  Another interesting link: http://www.san.beck.org/EC13-Chou.html
"Human sacrifice was practiced by the Shang as indicated by the character for sacrifice which shows a person's head being chopped off. The numbers sacrificed do not seem to be large except in the case of the Giang, who were killed in greater numbers because they appear to have been sheepherders interfering with Shang cattle grazing. The practice of human sacrifice naturally decreased in the Zhou era. Nevertheless it was clear that in Shang society, a king or lord had the power of life or death over those under him. Slavery, usually from those captured in war, was also common."  
   Thomas

   I also found this reference in "La Chine Ancienne", by Klaussel Flessel, University of Erlangen: (I translate from French) "The Shang brought prisoners back from their military expeditions that became slaves or were killed by the dozens during sacrifices that were ritual ceremonies, organized mostly in the honor of nature deities, or they were killed by the hundreds during royal funerals." 
   Thomas 

(Zhé shou3
   The most precise description in the I Ching of the executions of captive chiefs prior to the sacrifices is in the top line of hexagram 30
. Wilhelm has: " The king used him to march forth and chastise.  Then it is best to kill the leaders (ZHE SHOU)  And take captive the followers. No blame."  ZHE SHOU, remove the head, is translated literally by Richard Rutt in its 800 BCE meaning 'to decapitate' : "Using this the king goes on campaign. A triumph for beheading the foe, when all the captured chieftains are on show. No misfortune." 
   This term ZHE SHOU (beheading) has also been found on a bronze ritual cauldron dating from the reign of the Zhou king Xuan (827-787): this is the only occurrence of that term in bronze and is, according to Ed Shaughnessy, an argument for dating the I Ching to that period.
   The term does not occur on Shang oracle-bones, which probably means the I Ching is no older than 800 BCE. It does not occur in later materials either. It looks like the practice after a victorious battle was to decapitate all enemy corpses on the battlefield or remove their left ears, bring all that back to the capital with the captives; then ceremonially decapitate the captured enemy officers; then burn all the heads and ears in a sacrifice to the spirits; the ordinary soldiers were most likely simply made to be slaves.
   This is rather spine-chilling, but when I use the I Ching for consultation, I do it in the more innocent spirit of the later Confucians like the authors of the Ten Wings or Wang Bi, who knew little or nothing about those ancient human sacrifices. 
   Thomas 

Back to index 'Origins of characters'