Early China Seminar Lecture Series
Title: “On the Newly Identified Phrase ‘Worry is gone’ yōu wáng 憂亡, in the Shāng Oracle Bone Inscriptions”
Speaker: Adam Schwartz, Hong Kong Baptist University
Time: December 8, 2023 (4:30-6:30 PM EST)
Venue: Faculty House
*Please check the announcement board in the first floor lobby for room information.
Among a recently published collection of Shāng dynasty oracle bones scientifically excavated from various deposits at Xiăotún village, Ānyáng, Hénán Province, there is a fragment of an ox scapulae inscribed with the previously unknown divinatory phrase yōu wáng 憂亡 ‘worry is gone.’ I propose, against current interpretations, to read the phrase as it is written and not as a mistaken inversion of the high-frequency phrase wáng yōu 亡憂 ‘there is no [reason to] worry.’ When coupled with other divinatory phrases using the word yōu 憂 that occur in the oracle bone inscriptions, the newly identified yōu wáng 憂亡 thus completes an integral circle of worry: ‘reason to worry’ > ‘am/is worried’ > ‘worry is gone.’ The discovery, in so far as it can be accepted, affords a more comprehensive understanding about the mentality of this negative inner emotion among professional diviners and their royal patrons at the commencement of China’s historical period.