Oracle Bone

5 May 2017

Religion in Shang Dynasty Religious practice has always been an essential part of Chinese Culture. Even in the period of the Three Augusts and Five Kings, religious practices occurred. However, it is not until the Shang Dynasty when actually records of spiritual communication were founded. Oracle Bones were recorded of communication between human and spirits. The ritual of cracking oracle bones told what ancient Chinese concerned the most – the relationship between spirits and nature. The intricate Oracle Bones not only reveal the religious aspect of the Shang Dynasty, but also relate the cultural and olitical system in ancient China.

During the Shang Dynasty, Kings were granted the power to communicate with spirits. Mostly importantly, spirits informed kings about the unknowns. When Shang kings have questions regarding the future and their relationship with spirits, they assigned priests and shamans to become medium between human and spirits. When shamans were asked to foretell for the king, they drill hollows in shells and apply red- hot poker to these shells.

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They believed this ritual would attract spirits who were nearby to answer kings’ questions asked by shamans.

Shamans’ main task was to nterpret spirits’ respond through the different cracks on shells. These kinds of predictions were said to be legitimate the kings were the ultimate representative of the spirit. Most of the time, kings requested to perform oracle bones divination to learn from spirits regarding the success of harvest, outcomes of battles, and schedule of sacrifices to spirits. For example, the King asked: “Will Di order rain sufficient for harvest? ” (Eno 46). During earlier years of Shang Dynasty, the outcomes of harvests were more important to the people. Nevertheless, by the end of the

Shang Dynasty, a large portion of divinations were performed to know the schedule and proper scarifications to spirits and ancestors. There were scarifications everyday for different ancestors and spirits according the results of divinations accumulated overtime. After oracle bone divinations were performed, kings would perform sacrifice to the assigned spirit at a specify time with appropriate goods. When an oracle divination indicated a negative answer from spirits, for instance defeat in battles, kings would then sacrifice to spirits hoping for spirits’ help to change the result.

Shamans would slaughter animals and/or humans according to spirits’ preference. The result of appeasing spirits could lead spirits to provide extra helps for the people. On the other hand, if the king sacrifice the perfect quality and quantity of goods to a specify spirit but the king did not get his preference; kings could temporarily stop sacrificing to this spirit until the effect of previous scarifications were shown. Therefore, human scarification and spirits’ effectiveness created an economy between human and heaven. This economy applied more on the loyal level than the family level.

During Shang Dynasty, family could only sacrifice to their own linage of ancestry. It was a crime to sacrifice to other linage of ancestries because only the king had this power. Family often sacrificed to hope ancestors would bless the family to have male children which can extend the family-tree. Thus, only the royal family had the Shang king can communicate and sacrifice to all linage of ancestries, which include Shen (natural deities), royal ancestors, and cultural heros. People in Shang Dynasty worship the greatest spirit – Di (Tian). Yet Di do not receive any sacrifice ompare to other spirits.

Tian, which is said to be equivalent to Di, was so powerful that other spirits could never match their power with D’. Di was a significant factor of Shang people’s religious believe that was indicated in the oracle bones but Tian was not indicted in any evidences at all. On the other hand, Shang people viewed Shen as the power of nature, including power of earth, river, mountains, rain, thunder, and the power of directions, etc. in the early stage of Shang Dynasty, oracle bones divinations were directly performed to communicate with Shen to foretell harvest esults.

Shen, unlike Di, did take sacrifice in order approve kings’ requests. For example, king asked, “Shall we call upon Que to sacrifice a hound by fire to Cloud? ” (Eno 48). Thus, Shen was the second highly respected power after D’. Shang kings also sacrifice to spirits of their royal ancestors, including parents, grandparents, forebears of ruling king, relatives. These spirits were located inside the royal familys palace, and their tablets were put together with other ancestors of the same family. Kings worshiped his linage of ancestors to hope they would bring fortune to the royal amily and the countries.

When the current king died, he became part of his linage. Oracle bones divinations were use to communicate with royal ancestor spirits: “Should we protect the kings eyes against Grandmother Ji? ” (Eno 49). Current kings Other families only sacrifice to their own linage as well. This ancestor worship ritual was established during the Shang Dynasty and is still performing in modern Chinese culture. Finally, kings also sacrificed to ancient cultural heroes, yet they were the less prominent group of spirits. Thus, religion practices in Shang Dynasty were an essential part of Chinese ultural before and in todays society.

The use of oracle bones to predict future allowed reader to date the first actual evidence of Chinese religion. The written records left by Shang Dynasty created a clear picture of the cultural and politic aspects of ancient China as well. The relationship between human and spirits remains to be a significant part of Chinese people’s religious belief. I grew up practicing ancestor worship. Work Cited Eno, Robert. “Deities and Ancestors in Early Oracle Inscriptions. ” Religions Of China In Practice. Donald S. Lopez Jr. New Jersey: Princeton University press. 41-51

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