Research Project


Divination by the Canon of Change and Varied Prognoses on Monstrous Transformations in Medieval China

Prof. Dr. Hao Chen

This research is based on an excavated manuscript on divination and prognosis that was discovered by Turfan archaeologists in 1997 during excavations of the tomb of an officer of the Gaochang Kingdom under the Kan Family (460-488 CE). According to the archaeological report, this manuscript consists of three sheets of paper that were folded together delicately when found. Apparently, it was intended to provide reading material for the buried officer's afterlife. Preliminary research reveals that this divinatory manuscript contains an intriguing "mixture" of divination by the Canon of Change and varied prognoses on monstrous transformations, the latter of which is less well-known than the former among a modern audience. There were various, complicated ways to produce these prognoses but, in short, they involve using the abnormal behaviors of animals, strange voices and lights from daily objects as monstrous and spiritual signs to predict the future, usually combined with other divinatory methods. The previous scholarship tended to draw an intellectual-social distinction between divination by the Canon of Change and various prognoses on monstrous transformations. They categorized the former as divinatory knowledge and the sphere of the elite and literati, while regarding the latter as belonging to popular religion and being widely accepted by the lower social classes. This manuscript, however, challenges this view, adding a new perspective from which to reconsider other medieval divinatory manuscripts from Turfan.

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