CHAPTER XLVI. ORACLES AND OMENS

Consulting the oracles seems to have been a universal practice, and there are numerous historical allusions, made by statesmen of the orthodox principalities, to supposed interpretations attached to this or that combination of mystic signs or diagrams from the "Changes," together with arguments as to their specific meaning or omen in given circumstances. Doubtless the Chinese of those dates, like our own searchers for religious "analogies" and mysteries, examined with perfect good faith combinations of the Diagrams which to us appear arrant nonsense; and there can be no doubt of Confucius' own individual zeal, though the fact that he thought fifty years' study at least would be necessary for full comprehension points to the tacit confession that he had totally failed to understand much of the mystery. The Changes are supposed to have been developed by the father of the Warrior King when (about 1160 B.C.) he was in prison under the tyrannous suspicions of the last Shang emperor; and we have seen that the ruler of Ts'u was his tutor, at a time when Ts'u was not yet vassal to Chou. Like the Odes, Book, and Rites, the Changes were Chou literature, though possibly the unwritten traditions of earlier dynasties may have contributed to that literature; which, indeed, seems very likely, as Ts'u was already able to teach Chou.

Another form of augury was the examination of the marks on the carapax of a tortoise; thus the Martial King in 146 consulted, and found unfavourable, such marks - this was before attacking the last Shang emperor; and it was only at the earnest instigation of his chief henchman (afterwards vassal king and founder of Ts'i) that he was prevailed upon to proceed. Possibly he borrowed Eastern ideas from this founder of Ts'i too. Later on, the Martial King's younger brother, the Duke of Chou, consulted the oracle along with the same Ts'i adviser: this was done before the three ancestral altars of their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, in order to ascertain if the Emperor (i.e. the Martial King) would recover from a sickness. In 1109 the Martial King's son and successor sent one of his uncles or near relatives to examine the site of modern Ho-nan Fu, with a view to transferring the metropolis thither, and, the oracles being favourable, the Nine Tripods were removed to that place, and it was afterwards called the "Eastern Metropolis" (the original or western capital was not moved for over 300 years after that). It was at the same time foretold that there would be thirty more reigns, of 700 years in all: this was "Heaven's decree." On the other hand, when the Duke of Chou died during a tempest, the young Emperor was advised not to consult the oracles as to what the storm signified, because his uncle's virtues were so manifest that Heaven itself had, by the agency of a tempest, spontaneously announced the fact.

Astrology was another form of soothsaying. In 780 B.C. the imperial astrologer (one of those two men, by the way, whom erroneous tradition 1000 years later confused with Lao-tsz) foretold the rise of Ts'i, Tsin, Ts'u, and Ts'in, upon the ruins of the imperial power; in 773 the same astrologer repeated the prophecy to the imperial prince then recently enfeoffed by his relative the Emperor in the state of CHENG. In 705 the imperial astrologer, when passing through the orthodox state of CH'EN, foretold from the diagrams that a scion of the CH'EN house would obtain the throne of Ts'i (which actually took place when the maire du palais, to the horror of Confucius, assassinated the last legitimate duke in 481 B.C.); this particular prophecy is doubly interesting, because the diagrams from the Changes, thus cited in detail in Confucius' history, correspond exactly with the diagrams of the Book of Changes as we have it now, since Confucius manipulated it - proof that no change has taken place in this part of the text at least.

The ruler of Ts'in in the year 762, nine years after receiving the western half of the Chou imperial domain, and being recognized as a first-class vassal, consulted the oracle as to whither he should move his own capital. In the year 677 the oracles once more decided the then reigning ruler to shift his capital to (the modern) Feng-siang Fu in West Shen Si; the oracles added: "And later you will water your steeds in the Yellow River"; which came to pass after the conquests and annexations of 643 B.C., as already related. In 374 B.C. the imperial astrologer (the second man whom tradition, 300 years later this time, erroneously confused with Lao-tsz) then on a visit to the now royal Ts'in court said: "After 500 years of separation Ts'in is reunited to our imperial house; in 77 years more a domineering monarch will arise." Seven years later the "raining down of metal" (probably some natural phenomenon not clearly understood at the time) was considered a good omen in connection with the new capital, now placed on the south bank of the River Wei. After Ts'in had conquered China, there are numerous other instances of oracles, omens, and so forth, all supposed to have had political significance.