On the Rhetoric of Early Records in Zhenren Discourse

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.4, 2019


On the Rhetoric of Early Records in Zhenren Discourse



Lin Diandian


If we consider oracle-bone inscriptions in light of literary research, we need to pay attention to their ritual context, the positioning of the inscriptions, the continuity of the form and arrangement of lines, and the intertextual relationship between the inscriptions giving the subject (mingci), the result (zhanci) and the efficacy (yanci) of the divination. These should be regarded as constituent elements of the text and even as rhetorical devices. In the oracle-bone inscriptions, the zhanci and yanci discourse forms reflect the efforts made by the Shang zhenren (court officials) to express approval and disapproval. The main body of the discourse changes shows the advance and retreat of royal power versus theocracy. The transition of the zhenren from the leader of a state to a court officer influenced the structure and as content of the divination text, making the zhanci and yanci more formulaic. The rhetorical devices in zhenren discourse appear as unconventionally inscribed forms and as repetitive and incremental rhetoric, similar to the style found in the later Spring and Autumn Annals. Recording was rhetorical in itself, indirectly highlighting value judgments. This reveals the development of the traditional quintessence of traditional Chinese rhetoric and the distinctive features of its written sources.