Back to index 'Origins of characters'

The winnowing basket
The character qi 

1    2    3    4
1: oracle bone, 2: bronze, Shang, 3: bronze, Western Zhou, 4: bronze, Eastern Zhou

    Qi is a picture of a winnowing basket, sometimes on a stand.
Originally it meant to anticipate, expect, so often it can be translated as: be expected to, might, will, should, probably, likely. Before a verb it makes future tense. Nowadays it is often a possessive pronoun, but in old texts for a possessive pronoun usually jué is used.
   On oracle bones it is very often part of the question: one divination 'it may rain', and a second one, on the other side of the carapace or bone, 'no rain'. On the carapace below you can find qi at left, in the corner of the indentation: fei qi, not maybe. 

   The entire inscription reads at right: ping chen (day of fire dragon) divination Ke (the diviner) asks-oracle we obtain millet year-harvest, and at left: ping chen divination Ke asks-oracle we not maybe obtain millet year-harvest four moon (in the 4th month). At left at the bottom: above favorable (very favorable: the oracle' answer). In the middle numbers from 1 to 5, the regions of crack-making. Outside the carapace the text in modern characters. 
   Usually qi was used with the less desirable prognostication: softening the 'bad' answer, in order to entice the spirits to give the good outcome? 
   The character 'asks-oracle', zhen, is the same Wilhelm translates as 'perseverance'. I call it 'determination', which comprises the act of oracle consulting or its answer, as well as the perseverance resulting from following the answer. It is also to test, try out, correct. And it is the name of the lower trigram of a hexagram. See 'Divination and regrets'.

The character qi can be found in the Far-East dictionary nr.317, Mathews’ nr.525, Karlgren, Li Leyi p.250, Schuessler p.470-ff.