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The Shang oracle bones

The questions asked by the Shang rulers are brief enquiries, usually about practical matters of importance to the community - such as sacrifices, war, hunting or agriculture. But Wu-ting, who consults the oracle considerably more often than other rulers, sometimes wants to know more personal details - such as which of his ancestors is causing his present toothache.

The bones record each enquiry in a brief and formal manner. A typical example is: 'Day kuei-mao, oracle examined by the priest Huan: Sacrifice a dog to the ancestor Chia.'

Occasionally further information is recorded on the bones. The same ruler, Wuding, is impatient to know what will be the outcome of a forthcoming hunt:

'Day mou-wu, oracle examined by the priest Ku: Hunting at Ch'iu, will we capture anything? Hunting on this day we captured 1 tiger, 40 deer, 164 foxes, 159 hornless deer.'

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