2019 marks the 120th anniversary of the discovery of inscribed oracle bones and the 60th anniversary of the publication of Professor Jao Tsung-i’s monumental work Oracle Bone Diviners of the Yin Dynasty (Yindai zhenbu renwu tongkao. Hong Kong University Press, 1959). To commemorate these two very special occasions in the field of early China studies, HKBU Jao Tsung-I Academy of Sinology collaborates with the National Museum of Chinese Writing, Anyang, Henan Province, P.R.C., Hong Kong Baptist University Library and Jao Tsung-I Petite Ecole of The University of Hong Kong and organizes the fifth instalment in the Academy’s “Scholarship and Culture” series: “The Divine Plan at Work: The 120th Anniversary of the Discovery of Oracle Bone Inscriptions” cum “60th Anniversary of the Publication of Oracle Bone Diviners of the Yin Dynasty by Professor Jao Tsung-i” special exhibition.
As the first research institute specialized in Sinology and Classical Chinese Studies in Hong Kong, HKBU Jao Tsung-I Academy of Sinology is deeply honored to have the great Sinologist Professor Jao Tsung-i as its Honorary Permanent Director. In the continuation of the dual pursuit of scholarship and art that Master Jao famously exemplified, the Academy has organized the “Scholarship and Culture” series of exhibitions and art-related activities ever since 2015. This year we partner with the National Museum of Chinese Writing, the only national museum dedicated to the Chinese writing system. This is the first time the touring exhibition “Chinese Characters” will be held in Hong Kong. It is no coincidence that the Museum is based in Anyang, the last capital of the Shang dynasty and the hometown of oracle bone inscriptions. Our other collaborators include Hong Kong Baptist University Library, which is known for its rich collection, and the Jao Tsung-I Petite Ecole of The University of Hong Kong, a sister institution devoted to Jao Studies and related disciplines. Through this collaborative effort the organizers hope to bring knowledge of oracle bones to the public and promote Jao Studies to a wider audience.
“The Divine Plan at Work” is inspired by the line “Our tortoises are wearied out, and will not tell us anything about the plans” in the Shi jing (#195) poem “Xiao min” (Foreboding). The idea is that mortals might get a glimpse of the “Divine Plan” that deities have devised for mankind through turtle shell divination or “plastromancy.” Pyromantic practice has Neolithic origins and since the Shang dynasty (1600-1045 BC) involved burning holes into turtle shells and animal bones and reading the resulting cracks to determine the divine will on a particular enquiry, and then recording divination accounts onto the same shells and bones used to make the divination. The accounts often included whether or not the proposition was favorable and fit to be used. These texts are known as jiaguwen or “oracle bone inscriptions” and the writing system in use at that time is called oracle bone script. It is generally considered to be China’s first writing.
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