CHAPTER XLVI. ORACLES AND OMENS

In 645 the ruler of the neighbouring state of Tsin consults the oracles in order to ascertain who will be the most suitable war charioteer. A few years before that the court diviner foretold the future success of the petty Ngwei sub-principality of Tsin, which in 403 B.C. actually became a separate vassal kingdom. In 575 Tsin dared not, at the moment, accept the battle challenge of Tsu, because the particular day was a dies nefas, being the last day of the moon. Meanwhile the spies of the Ts'u army discerned that the Tsin leaders were consulting the oracles before the tablets of their ancestors in the field tent. In 535 the Ts'in administration consulted its own astrologer upon the point: "Will the state of Ch'en survive?" The answer was: "When it secures Ts'i, it will perish." As just explained, a scion of the Ch'en house did practically obtain Ts'i in 481 B.C., and the very next year Ch'en was annexed by Ts'u. In 510 the Tsin astrologer prophesied the destruction of Wu by Yiieh within forty years, and also the predominancy of the Lu private family so intimately connected with Confucius' troubles. There were not lacking sensible men, even in those days, who ridiculed the science of astrology: for instance, Shuh Hiang of Tsin - the man who so strongly disapproved Tsz-ch'an's written laws, and the man who discussed with the Ts'i envoy, the philosopher Yen-tsz, the worthlessness of their respective dukes - said on one occasion when the "course of the heavens towards north-west" was supposed to indicate a success for Tsin: "The course of the heavens, as that of our success, lies in the qualities of the prince, and not in the situation of the stars."

Tsz-ch'an of Cheng himself pooh-poohed oracular warnings, and said that he preferred to do his best, and leave omens to do their worst. On one occasion, outside the south gate of the Cheng capital, two snakes (one from the city, one from outside) were observed fighting; the one from the inside was defeated. Sure enough! the exiled duke six years after that returned to his own. So, in the state of Lu, the children sang: "When the thrushes come and make their nests, the ruler will go to a place on the Tsin frontier; when the thrushes settle here, the duke will be abroad" - in allusion to the future ejecting of the reigning prince by the powerful family above referred to. And, again (480 B.C.), in the state of Sung, whose terrestrial position was supposed to be "invaded" by the then peculiar celestial position of the planet Mars: it was suggested, however, to the ruling prince that he might "pass on" the threatened disaster to his ministers, to his people, or to their harvests - a solution the duke declined to avail himself of. 'Yours are indeed the words of a sage,' said the astrologer.

We now come to the semi-civilized state of Ts'u, which seems to have had its oracles with the best of them, at all events after 560 B.C. At that date it was explained to the King that "the ancient emperors would at times consult the oracles for five years before deciding upon an expedition, or fixing the date of it; they were content to await patiently the decrees of Heaven." In 537 the Ts'u king, having a prince of Wu in his power, sent to ask him ironically if he had duly consulted the oracles. "Yes," said the prince, "every ruler has his tortoise, and it is easy to demonstrate by our oracles how injurious it will be for you if any harm comes to me." This presence of mind saved his life. In 528 a Ts'u usurper invited a man who had once assisted him to name any post he would like. The man chose that of diviner, which, it appears, was an office of the first rank. The father of this king had secretly arranged with a concubine, notwithstanding the Ts'u rule (or possibly in accordance with it) that one of the youngest sons should succeed, to "sacrifice from a distance to the gods in general, and ask of them which of five sons should sacrifice to the spirits of the land"; then he buried a jade symbol of rule in the ancestral temple, and ordered the five sons to enter after proper purification; the three sons who happened to touch the spot reigned one after the other. In 489 the King of Ts'u, then engaged in assisting the orthodox state of Ch'en against the attacks of Wu, interrogated the imperial astrologer (who must have been there on a visit): "What is the meaning of that halo, like a bird's wings, on each side of the sun?" The astrologer replied: "It presages calamity, but you can transfer it to your generals." The generals then offered to consult the gods themselves, and even to sacrifice their own persons if necessary; but the King declined (on the same ground as the Duke of Sung above mentioned) because "my generals are my own limbs." It was then proposed to transfer the calamity to the Yellow River. "No, the Yellow River has never played me false: ever since we received our fief, we have never at full moon sacrificed beyond the River Han and Yang-tsz." Confucius registered his approval of this answer. It will be remembered that just at this time Confucius was hanging about Ch'Uen and coquetting with Ts'u, so that possibly this approval had something to do with his own prospects.