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Colour Terms in Shang Oracle Bone Inscriptions1

  • Wang Tao (a1)


Most people are born with the natural ability to see and distinguish the colours of objects and things in everyday life, but to explain in words what colour is, is a more complicated matter. Scientists have generally accepted that, physically, colour is the visual aspect of electromagnetic radiant energy having a spectral composition ranging in wavelength from about 380 to about 720 nanometres. From the psychological point of view, it is a sensation produced on the eye and in the brain by rays of light when resolved by selective reflection. The problems raised by the study of colour use are thus interdisciplinary.



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2 For further discussion on this aspect, see Zollinger, H., ‘Human color vision: an interdisciplinary research problem’. Palette, 40, 1972, 17.

3 Wittgentstein, L., Remarks on colour (Anscombe, G., ed., Oxford, 1978), I, 68.

4 For further philosophical discussion on Wittgenstein's theory of colour, see Westphal, J., Colour: some philosophical problems from Wittgenstein (Oxford, 1987).

5 See Harrison, B., Form and content (Oxford, 1973), 5389; and Wyler, S., Colour and language: colour terms in English (Tübingen: Narr, 1992), esp. 2228.

6 Lewis, L., Social anthropology in perspective: the relevance of social anthropology (Cambridge, 1976), 110.

7 Turner, V., The forest of symbols: aspects of Ndembu ritual (Ithaca and London, 1967), 6971, 89–90.

8 See Sperber, D., Rethinking symbolism (Cambridge, 1975), esp. preface, 110113.

9 Absolute chronologies reconstructed by scholars vary enormously; for a brief guide, see Keightley, D., Sources of Shang history: the oracle-bone inscriptions of Bronze Age China (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978, paperback ed., 1985), 227228.

10 According to the Zhushi jinian : ‘From the time Pan Geng moved to Yin till the Zhou's annihilation, there were altogether 273 years; during this period the Shang did not again move their capital.’ However, the time varies in the different versions of the book; see Shiming, Fang and Wang Xiuling , ed. Guben zhushu jinian jizheng (Shanghai, 1981), 30. The name ‘Yinxu’ (Ruins of Yin) came into use soon after the Zhou conquered the Shang, and it is still conventional to use this name today. For an introduction to the place, see Zuobin, Dong, ‘Yinxu yanke ’. in Zhongyang ynajiuyan lishi yuyan yanjiusuo jikan (Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, abb. BIHP), no. 2, 1930, 224240. (Repr. in Dong Zuobin xueshu lunzhu , Taibei, 1962, 199–215.)

11 For a basic introduction to Shang archaeology, see Ji, Li, Anyang (Seattle, 1977); Chang, K. C., Shang civilization (New Haven, 1980) and Archaeology of China (4th ed., New Haven and London, 1989), 295367.

12 The inscriptions on the ‘dragon bones’ first began to attract scholarly attention in about 1899, nearly 100 years ago, with the first collection of the bone inscriptions Tieyun cang gui compiled and published by Liu Er (1850–1909) in 1903. Within two years, Sun Yirang (1848–1908), an excellent scholar of the Chinese classics and ancient inscriptions, had written the first book on the decipherment of the inscriptions Qiwen juli . Although Sun's decipherment had many mistakes, his basic method became the starting-point for the study of oracle bone inscriptions by all later scholars. For almost a decade in the 1920s, before the scientific excavations at Yinxu started, Luo Zhenyu (1868–1940) and Wang Guowei (1877–1927) made remarkable progress in both the publishing and research of oracle bone inscriptions. Due to their efforts, the inscriptions became one of the most important sources of Shang history. For further information on the history of oracle bones studies, see Yuxin, Wang, Jiaguxue tonglun (Beijing, 1989), 320367.

13 For a detailed introduction of the new method, cf. my thesis, ‘Colour symbolism’, 47a–56.

14 See Xigui, Qiu, Wenzixue gaiyao (Beijing, 1988), 151156.

15 See Xiaoding, Li, ‘Cong liushu de guandian kan jiaguwenzi ’, Nanyang daxue xuebao , no. 2, 1968, 529560. A table given by Li counts a total of 1226 oracle bone graphs, of which 27% are radical-phonetic compounds, 11% are loanwords, 23% are pictographs, 32% are compound ideographs, 2% are abstract symbols, and 6% are difficult to classify.

16 Xingwu, Yu, Jiagu wenzi shilin, (Beijing, 1979), 435443. [This is a revised version of Shuangjianchi Yinqi pianzhi , 3 vols., Beijing, 1940–43.]

17 See Xigui, Qiu, ‘Hanzi xingcheng wenti de chubu tansuo ’, Zhongguo yuwen . 1978, no. 3, 168169.

18 Berlin, B. and Kay, P., Basic color terms: their universality and evolution (Berkeley, 1969). In their appendix, they have also provided an outline of previous studies.

19 ibid., esp. 134–51.

20 In my thesis I examined the inscriptions containing evidence of the use of colour in Shang ritual and discussed the problems in interpreting the colour symbolism in relation to the later Wuxing theory; cf. Wang, T., ‘Colour symbolism’, in particular pp. 135265.

21 Because of a semantic shift, this word usually means ‘naked’ in Modern Chinese (cf. Xiandai hanyu cidian , Beijing, 1988, 145), but it also remains a colour term throughout the classical ages to the present.

22 cf. Jiaguwenbian (ed. Haibo, Sun, Beijing, 1965), 1238.

23 cf. Jinwenbian (ed. Geng, Rong, Zhang Zhenlin and Ma Guoquan , Beijing, 1985), 1664.

24 cf. Jiaguwen jishi (ed. Xiaoding, Li, Taibei. 1965, hereafter: Jishi), 3197. Jishi collected the decipherments by different scholars (before 1965) of each bone character and has served as a major reference for the study of OBI.

25 Shuowen jiezi (Beijing, 1963, hereafter: Shuowen), 212.

26 Several scholarly reconstructed systems of Old Chinese are available now, and among them, the system of Li Fankuei (Li Fanggui) is most widely accepted for its internal coherence. Li's system will be used throughout this study unless otherwise indicated. For Li's theory of Old Chinese, see ‘Shangguyin yanjiu ’, Qinghua xuebao , no. 9, 1–2, 1971, 1–61; and ‘Jige shanggu shengmu wenti ’. Zongtong Jianggong shishi jinian lunwenji (Taibei, 1976), 1143–50; and ‘Archaic Chinese’, in Origins of Chinese civilization (ed. Keightley, D., Berkeley, 1983), 393408. The traditional method, that is, using Chinese characters to indicate the initial and final categories, will be used in this paper. For a brief introduction to the history of Chinese phonology, see Li, Wang, Hanyu yuyinshi (Beijing, 1985), esp. 1781.

27 Shuowen, 213.

28 See Benedict, P., Sino-Tibetan: a conspectus (ed. by Matisoff, J., Cambridge, 1972), who has reconstructed the word ‘red’ in proto-Tibeto-Burman as *tsyak (no. 184, 46); see also Fagao's, Zhou review article in Zhongguo yinyunxue lunwen ji (Hong Kong, 1984), esp. Appendix I, 292, where Zhou provides his own reconstruction of Old Chinese for comparison.

29 The meanings of the phrase qi li bu er in the inscription are not yet entirely clear, and here Yu Xingwu's interpretation has been followed and a tentative translation is provided; see Xingwu, Yu, Shilin, 328329.

30 It is written as a hewen , with an indication of the sex of the horse.

31 This character is found in the Shijing (Maoshi : 298), where Mao Heng's (c. first century B.C.) commentary says that it means ‘a sturdy-looking horse’; Maoshi zhengyi , juan 20.1 (Shisanjing zhushu , Beijing, 1980 [hereafter SSJZS], 610).

32 In Shang inscriptions, there are a number of words referring to the colour of horses' coats, such as bai mai (white horses), li ma (black horses) and bo ma (striped horses); for a further discussion, see Wang Yuxin , ‘Shangdai de ma he yangmaye ’, Zhongguoshi yanjiu , 1980, no. 1, 99–108. A later reference can also be found in the Shijing (Maoshi: 298), where we read that in Zhou royal horse farms there were many horses of various colours; cf. SSJZS, 609–10.

33 A reference found in the Shanhaijing. Dahuang nanjing says that a ‘red horse’ lived in a mythical mountain; cf. Ke, Yuan, Shanhaijing jiao zhu (Shanghai, 1980), 384.

34 This bone graph has multi-functions. In many inscriptions, it is transcribed as you (‘to have’), but in others it is broadly understood as you ‘to sacrifice’, ‘to offer’. For further discussions of the character, see Jishi, 2259–63, and D. Nivison, ‘The pronominal use of the verb yu (GIUG): ’. Early China, no. 3, 1977, 1–17; and K. Takashima, ‘Deciphment of the word yu in the Shang oracle bone inscriptions and in pre-classical Chinese’, Early China, no. 4, 1980, 19–29.

35 For example, Li Pu discussed this inscription and claimed that chi is a method of hunting by setting fire to the forest to drive animals out; cf. Li, , Jiaguwen xuan zhu (Shanghai, 1989), 188194.

36 For a further discussion of this aspect, see Bingquan, Zhang, ‘Jiaguwen zhong suojian rendi tongming kao ’, Qingzhu Li Ji xiansheng qi shi sui lunwenji , vol. 2, (Taibei, 1967), 687776. Chi is also to be seen in early Zhou bronze inscriptions as a personal name; see Xue zhong Chu fu ; cf. Chengyuan, Ma (ed. in chief), Shang Zhou qingtongqi mingwenxuan (Beijing, 1986–, hereafter Mingwenxuan), no. 823.

37 These four names are mentioned in The Bamboo Annals, which record that the Nine Yi tribes came to the Xia dynasty for worship; cf. Fang's, and Wang's, Zhushu jinian, 9.

38 Jiaguwenbian: 1155.

39 Jishi, 3047.

40 Maoshi zhengyi, juan. 22; (SSJZS, 615). However, in the Zhouli , a different usage ‘xing gang yong niu ’ is found, where the phrase xing gang probably refers not to animals but to a kind of reddish hard soil; cf. Yirang, Sun, Zhouli zhengyi , juan 30 (Beijing, 1987), 1184, where the xing, as Sun pointed out, is perhaps as a loan character for the original character with the ‘earth’ radical.

41 Maoshi zhengyi, juan 20.1; (SSJZS, 609–10).

42 Qiu Xigui has noted the possibility that xing might be read as a hewen in OBI; cf. Xigui, Qiu, Guwenzi lunji (Beijing, 1992), 84.

43 This graph is understood as sheng (‘to ascend’), which probably refers to a sort of ritual; cf. Jishi, 4019–110. However, in his article ‘Shi jiaguwen li de “jiu” ’ (Zhongguo yuwen, 1985, no. 5, 384–8), Zhan Yinxin argues that the character shoud be read as jiu , meaning ‘to brand’.

44 The decipherments of lao (with the ox-element, or with the sheep-element as ) are very different. The traditional explanation is that the former is tai lao ‘the combination of an ox, a sheep and a pig’; and the latter is shao lao ‘the combination of a sheep and a pig’. But, the majority of scholars now agree that they should be understood as ‘penned oxen’ and ‘penned sheep’. Cf. Jishi, 0313–6.

45 Zhongshu, Xu (chief ed.), Jiaguwen zidian (Chengdu, 1988) lists this character as a variation of xing.

46 This character is also used as a place-name in oracle-bone inscriptions; for example, Heji: 1141.

47 There are sometimes exceptions; for example, Heji: 35986 is a very similar inscription to Heji: 36003 in which the ox-element and the sheep-element are, however, split up, as two independent characters.

48 Pulleyblank, E.G., ‘The final consonants of Old Chinese’, Monumenta Serica, 33, 1977/1978, 183187, 202–3.

49 This word probably also had a TB root; in reconstructed proto-TB, ‘red, crimson’ is *kyeng; cf. Benedict, P., Sino-Tibetan, no. 162, p. 45.; also see Fagao, Zhou, Yinynxue lunwenji, 1984, 293.

50 Mingwenxuan: 395.

51 Shanxi wenwu gongzuo weiyuanhui , Houma mengshu (Beijing, 1976), no. 17:1, where the phrase should be read as .

52 Mingwenxuan: 534.

53 Shuowen, 286

54 ibid., 94.

55 Maoshi zhengyi, juan 15.1; (SSJZS. 490). In the Shuowen quotation of the Shijing, the character xing is still written in the old form as . But in the received text of the Maoshi, the xing is written as , where the old phonetic element has been replaced by the new one. In fact, although the -element is employed as the phonetic, the phonetic value of the character xing is not the same as xin. They both share the same initial category, but xin belongs to the zhen final, and is reconstructed as <*hrjin. Phonologically, the zhen and geng final categories are close. Some evidence suggests that the change might have taken place during the Eastern Zhou period. Apart from the literary evidence in the Shijing and on the Qin stone drums, another piece of evidence has been found on a bronze jar of the Eastern Zhou period, the Cheng Xing hu , where the character xing is written as . It is noticeable here that the -element has replaced the -element as the phonetic sign. In this context, it is not entirely impossible that the phrase might be understood as an adjective describing the colour of the horns.

56 cf. Moruo, Guo, ‘Shiguwen yanjiu ’, Guo Moruo quanji — kaogubian , vol. 6 (Beijing, 1982), 3274; [first pub. Shanghai, 1939], in which a good rubbing of the inscription is provided; Guo's transcription is on p. 59. For a further discussion of the inscription, see Mattos, G., The stone drums of Ch'in (Monumenta Serica Monograph Series, no. 19, 1988), 144145.

57 Jiaguwenbian: 0984.

58 Shuowen, 160.

59 cf. Fagoa, Zhou (chief ed.), Jinwen gulin [hereafter Gulin] (Hong Kong, 1974/1975), 4929.

60 Wieger, L., Chinese characters: their origin, etymology, history, classification and signification. A thorough study from Chinese documents (New York, 1965, first published in 1915), 223. This theory was based on the works of previous scholars, and evidence was found, as the sun and colour white seemed to be related in the early literature; see Junsheng, Zhu (1788–1858), Shuowen tongxun dingsheng (Beijing, 1984), 464465; and Gulin, 4931–2, 4934–35.

61 Moruo, Guo, Jinwen congkao (Beijing, 1956), 181182.

62 Cheng, Zhao, ‘Benzi tansuo ’, Gudai wenzi yinyun lunwenji (Beijing, 1991), 7879.

63 The character means ‘white silk’ in later literature, but it refers to a place-name in Shang inscriptions; for example, see Heji: 36842.

64 cf. Jiaguwenbian: 0485.

65 The graph is written as , probably depicting a castrated pig. See Jishi, 2985–6; and Yiduo, Wen, Wen Yiduo quanji (Shanghai, 1948), 539544.

66 An alternative transcription of the inscription is provided in Yinxu jiagu keci moshi zongji (Beijing, 1988), 440.

67 The meaning of this graph is uncertain; it was probably a sort of sacrificial rite, which was often performed in hunting; see Cheng, Zhao, Jiaguwen jianming cidian (Beijing, 1988), 244.

68 A number of inscriptions recorded that a larger wild animal, the was often chased and caught on hunting trips expeditions, and the colour of the animal was sometimes mentioned. The interpretation differ as to whether the animal was a wild buffalo or rhinoceros, see Lefeuvre, J. A., ‘Rhinoceros and wild buffaloes in north of the Yellow River at the end of the Shang dynasty’, Monumenta Serica, 39, 1990/1991, 131157.

69 This graph is transcribed as , reading lin . In Chinese tradition, the lin or unicorn is an extremely rare beast and consequently carries great significance. See Zuobin, Dong, ‘Huo bailin jie ’ in Xueshu lunzhu, 217271, in which Dong wrongly identified another graph si as lin; however, he has given a comprehensive discussion of the significance of the ‘unicorn’ in Chinese history. Some of the words in these inscriptions have not yet been fully deciphered, and even the understanding of the phrase bai lin sometimes differs; for instance, Hu Houxuan , in his article ‘Zhongguo nuli shehui de renxun he rensheng ’, Wenwu, 1974, no. 8, p. 63, read the word as a name, ‘Chief Lin’.

70 See Xingwu, Yu, Shilin, 450.

71 Xiaosui, Yao, ‘Shangdai de fulu ’, Guwemi yanjiu , 6, 1981, 378.

72 Jiaguwenbian: 0083.

73 cf. Jishi, 0317–18; also Guowei, Wang, Guantang jili (Beijing, 1959), 287; Wang did not recognize that the character could be an original hewen.

74 cf. Jishi, 322; and a more lengthy discussion in Moruo, Guo, ‘Jiaguwen Yanjiu Guo Moruo quanji: kaogubian, vol. 1, 8392. [Originally Shanghai, 1931]. Later, in his Nulizhi shidai (Beijing, 1956), 7, Guo went on to use this linguistic evidence to illustrate an agricultural aspect, namely, that ploughing by buffalo was common in Shang times. However, oxen were usually used as sacrificial animals in Shang ritual, and there is as yet no evidence of buffalo being used for ploughing in Shang times. See Jinxiong, Xu. ‘Jiaguwen suo biaoxian de niugeng ’. Guwenzi yanjiu, no. 9, 1984, 5374.

75 Shuowen, 30.

76 cf. Hanizi da idian (Chengdu, 19861990), 1805–6.

77 Discounting all the literary records handed down through generations, the earliest example known of the character wu being used in the sense of ‘things’ is found in the inscription on a bronze vessel from Zhongshan State of the Warring States period. It reads: ‘jian yu tianxia zhi wu , Knowing of things under Heaven’ (Mingwenxuan: 880).

78 cf. Jishi, 0318–9.

79 Xigui, Qiu, ‘Shi “wu” “fa” ’, Guwenzi lunji, 7074.

80 Guoyu (Shanghai, 1988), juan 18, 565.

81 Zhouli zhengyi, juan 30, 1182–3.

82 ibid., juan 24, 937. The phrase wu se is still used in modern Chinese, but now only means ‘to choose’.

83 ibid., juan 51.

84 See Sun's commentary; ibid., 2124–5. The Shang already practised the divination method of observing the clouds; there are phrases such as ge yun (Heji: 10405, 10406, 21021, 21022), liu yun (Heji: 33273, Tunnan: 1062) and wu yun (Tunnan: 651) in OBI.

85 ibid., juan 53, 2200, where Sun Yirang has also provided a very informative comment on the ‘Nine Flags’ which are distinguished by patterns and colours.

86 A similar account is also found in the Shuowen. However, in Shuowen jiezi zhu (Shanghai, 1981), 453–4, Duan Yucai (1735–1815) noted that the character wu here should be written as ; and in Shuowen shili (Beijing, 1987), 446, Wang Jun (1784–1854) suggested that the phrase wu wu here should be read as cong cong .

87 In the Shuowen, the ancient form of li is written as , (P. 91).

88Qinshi’ (‘’), this particular document has been identified as a later forgery rather than original Zhou writing. See Shangshu zhengyi, , juan 11 (SSJZS, 181), where Kong Yingda noted that li might be better understood as ‘spotted’.

89 Zhanguoce (Shanghai, 1985), juan 3, 85–6, where it is pointed out that the character li is interchangeable with . See also Yixing, Hao (1757–1825), Erya yishu (Beijing, 1982), ‘Shigu diyi –’. 2324.

90 Yinzhi, Wang, Jingyi shuwen (Shanghai, 1936), 266267.

91Dongshanjing’ (‘’), see Ke, Yuan, Shanhaijing jiaozhu, 101. In Shanhaijing jian shu (Chengdu, 1985), juan 4, Hao Yixing cited another reference in his commentary, stating that the character li here means ‘multi-colour’, more precisely ‘a black pattern on a yellowish background’.

92 Lunyu zhu shu , juan 6 (SSJZS, 2478).

93 Jin Xiangheng, ‘Shi wu ’, Zhongguo wenzi , 8, 1968, 2.

94 cf. Jishi, 0321–23.

95 See Xigui, Qiu, ‘Shi “wu” “fa”’, Guwenzi lunji, 7074.

96 This inscription was published by Zhiyu, Shen, ‘Jiagu buci xinhuo ’, Shanghai bowuguan jikan , 3, 1986, 161.

97 Xigui, Qiu, ‚Jiaguwen zhong suojian de Shangdai nongye , Guwenzi lunji, 165, where Qiu argues that in OBI the character wu is often in contrast to the colour word xing , and it probably then refers to a darkish multi-coloured ox.

98 Jiaguwenbian: 1511, where only the second type is printed.

99 cf. Jishi, 0333.

100 See Xingyan, Sun (1753–1818), Shangshu jinguwen zhushu (Beijing, 1986), 154155.

101 Karlgren, B., ‘The Book of Documents’, Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (hereafter BMFEA), no. 22, 1950, 14.

102 Shangshu zhengyi, juan 6 (SSJZS, 148).

103 Xianqian, Wang (18421917), Shiming shu zheng bu (Shanghai, 1984), 18.

104 For example, see Mingwenxuan: 229 (Dou Bi gui ) and 252: (Mian gui ).

105 For different opinions, see Gulin, 7003–18. In his Xi Zhou ceming zhidu yanjiu (Beijing, 1986), 226228, Chen Hanping argues that the character zhi refers to a ‘yellow’ colour in the context.

106 Mingwenxuan: 225.

107 See Shaoming, Lian, ‘Shi Qiang pan yanjiu ’, Guwenzi yanjiu, no. 8, 1983, 3536. E. L. Shaughnessy has annotated and translated this inscription into English and seems to follow Lian's interpretation of these two relevant sentences. The translation reads: ‘Even-horned and redly gleaming, appropriate were his sacrifice.’ Furthermore, Shaughnessy made the following observation of the graph, ‘ perhaps the two hands holding a basin beneath the etymonic compound are intended to imply a mirrorlike brightness’; cf. Sources of Western Zhou history: inscribed bronze vessels (Berkeley, Los Angeles and Oxford, 1991), 183192, esp. 190. A number of articles have been written on the inscriptions of the Qian pan; they include Li Xueqin , ‘Lun “Shi Qiang pan” jiqi yiyi ’, Xinchu qingtongqi yanjiu (Beijing, 1990), 73–82; Xigui, Qiu, ‘“Shi Qiang pan” ming jieshi ’. Guwenzi lunji, 371385; Xingwu, Yu, ‘“Qiang pan” mingwen zhier jie , Guwenzi yanjiu, no. 5, 1981; 116; and Cheng, Zhao, “Qiang pan” mingwen bushi ', Guwenzi yanjiu, 5, 1981, 1726. Since scholars' reading of these sentences vary greatly, other possibilities cannot be ruled out.

108 For example, Heji, 30036, 30037, 32775.

109 For more examples, Heji: 5068, 5165, 1535, 16101, 16102, 16103, 16104, 16105. These are mainly from the early period, namely, the Bin, Li, and Zi diviners' groups.

110 Qiu Xigui, ‘Shuo jiagu buci zhong “zhi” zi de yizhong yongfa ’, Guwenzi luji, 111116.

111 Xingwu, Yu, Shilin, 182184.

112 There are several examples containing the phrase zhi and niu together, but unfortunately most of them are too fragmentary to be used as hard evidence. For example, Heji: 8969, 15761, 16229 and 23000, in which the character zhi is likely to be a name or a verb rather than an adjective.

113 The number of inscriptions including ri you zhi is great (for example, Heji: 33696–704, 27388, 29697–9, White: 1371); and the majority of the inscriptions are from the Li and Wuming groups, Tunnan: 726 reads: ‘yue you zhi’ in which it relates to the moon.

114 Moruo, Guo, Yinqi cuibian (Beijing, 1956), 13.

115 Mengjia, Chen, Yinxu buci zongshu (Beijing, 1956), 240.

116 See Shaofeng, Wen and Yan Tingdong , Yinxu buci yanjiu-kexue jishu pian (Chengdu, 1983), 2931; and Liang, Zhang, ‘Xin chutu de “yue you zhi” bukao , Zhongguo tianwenshi yanjiu 1, 1984, 119128.

117 Ito Michiharu, ‘Zhi zi kao ’ (unpublished paper presented at the Conference of the Xia-Shang Culture Studies, Luoyang, 1991).

118 As mentioned earlier, Luo Zhenyu was the first to decipher it as a colour term, and he transcribed the graph as .

119 There is an earlier Wuming-group inscription, Heji: 30718, in which the character zhi was used as an adjective, but the inscription is too fragmentary to be certain. Also, in the Huang-group, zhi is still used in a way referring to the ritual sacrifice; for example, Heji: 38115, but an epigraphic distinction has been made to it, written as .

120 The translation of huang xiang as ‘a bronze vessel’ is very tentative; see Guo Moruo's ‘Zai Feng gu keci ’; cf. Guo Moruo quanji–kaogu bian, vol. 1, 405–10.

121 See Deming, Lu (c. 550–630), Jingdian shiwen (Shanghai, 1985), 683, 759, where he notes that zhi and te are interchangeable in the Liji text.

122 Zhouli zhengyi, juan 62, 2613.

121 Shuowen, 29.

124 Yucai, Duan, Shuowen jiezi zhu, 50.

125 Shangshu zhengyi, juan 3 (SSJZS, 127); see Kong Yingda's commentary.

126 Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhengyi , juan 35 (SSJZS, 1974); see Du Yu (222–284)'s commentary.

127 Guoyu, juan 8, 286; see Wei Zhao (204–273)'s commetary.

128 ibid., juan 18, 564–5; Wei Zhao commentary.

129 Liji zhengyi , juan 25 (SSJZS, 1444).

130 See Tang Lan , ‘Maogong ding “zhu fu, congheng, yuhuan, yu tu” xinjie , Guanming ribao , 9 May, 1961, where he argues that the pictographic form of the character is perhaps a religious person such as a shaman.

131 See Xigui, Qiu, ‘Shuo buci de fen wu wang yu zuo tu long ’, Guwenzi lunji, 218.

132 Jiaguwenbian: 1606.

133 Xinwu, Yu, Shilin, 227230.

134 This is probably a pictograph of a bier , but whether it is used here in its original meaning is uncertain; see Cheng, Zhao, Jiaguwen cidian, 224.

135 See Yun, Yan, ‘Shangdai buci zhong de yezhu shiliao ’, Kaogu, 1973, no. 5, 299.

136 Jinwenbian: 2207.

137 Guo also argues that the graph depicts a man wearing an archaic jade pendant; cf. Jinwen congkao, 174–86.

138 Mingwenxuan: 201, 471; Maoshi: 172, 246 and 302.

139 See Yixing, Hao, Erya yishu, 2325.

140 Mingwenxuan: 301.

141 See Chusheng, Chen, Jinwen changyong cidian (Xi'an, 1987), 11071108. Other phrases such as Huang di (‘Yellow lord’) and huang zhong (‘Yellow tune’) can be found on the late Zhou bronzes.

142 Shuowen, 211.

143 This form occurs in several early Zhou bronzes. As Chen Zhaorong argued recently, the bone graph cannot be linked directly to the later character hei and the characters may have different origins. Chen also discussed the problem of the confusion between huang and hei. See Zhaorong, Chen, ‘Guwenzi zhong de [ ] ji cong [ ] zhu zi , Hanxue yanjiu , 6.2, 1988, 135173.

144 For example, Heji: 10170, 10181, 10187, 10184. All these inscriptions bear the character hei, but are written differently. By not recognizing that this is no more than a variation, many scholars here misread this character; for example:

Cuibian: 551: use/jin-black/ox

Here, Guo Moruo read it as loanword of the character jin , meaning ‘red’; see Cuibian kaoshi, 20. Tsung-Tung Chang and Serruys read it literally as a pictograph ‘to burn a hunchback on fire’ or ‘to use (as victim) a hunchback’; see Chang, , Der Kult der Shang-Dynastie: im Spiegel der Orakelinschriften (Wiesbaden, 1970) 249; and Serruys's ‘Language of Shang oracle bone inscriptions’, Toung Pao 60, 1–3, 1974, 1050, n. 32.

145 Jinwenbian: 1662.

146 See Lan, Tang, ‘Shaanxisheng Qishan Dongjiacun xin chu Xi Zhou zhongyao tongqi mingci de shiwen he zhushi ’, Wenwu, 1976, no. 5, 63.

147 In the Shuowen (p. 290), it is written as , and also as , meaning ‘a clay soil’; and its guwen form is written as . In Zhou bronze inscriptions, jin is sometimes used attributively to modify a jade tablet, e.g. jin zhang , in which the character jin is also understood as jin ‘a kind of precious stone’; see Mingwen xuan: 434 (Song ding ), 435 (Song gui ), 436 (Song hu ). But, it is not entirely impossible that the character jin there should be read as a term referring to dark or black colour. Many surviving archaic jade zhang-tablets are black.

148 Lan, Tang, Yinxu wenzi ji (Beijing, 1981, first pub. 1934), 8286.

149 Xingwu, Yu, Shilin, 229230.

150 The later phonetic-compounds which bear the jin-element as their phonetic element also clearly divide into two different categories, for example: (a) and (b) . In the (a) category, the characters mostly have velar initials and wen <*-∂n or zhen <*-in final categories; the (b) category have various initials such as ni <*n-, xiao <*h- and tou <*th-, and their finals are mostly the same, yuan , <*-an. The evidence here seems to suggest that there was a movement from the central vowel -∂- to the low vowel -a- in that period; and that the palatization caused by the -j- and -r- may have been an important factor in such a transition. Tang Lan has once suggested that the zhen and yuan categories are interrelated in proto-Chinese; see Yinxu wenzi ji, 79–81, 86.

151 Jiaguwen bian: 0533.

152 Shuowen, 84.

153 cf. Gulin, 2481–3.

154 Shuowen, 84.

155 See Hu Houxuan, ‘Shi “ziyong” “zi yu” , BIHP, 8.3, 1940, 467–84.

156 It is sometimes interchangeable with the character zi ‘black’; cf. Shuowen, 84.

157 In the inscription on the Zhongshanwang Cuo ding , you is written as a , this shows that the phonetic value of and are the same; cf. Mingwenxuan: 880.

158 In his doctoral thesis, ‘Yin Zhou guwen tongyuan fenhua xianxiang tansuo ’ (Jilin Daxue , 1991), 180, Wang Yunzhi argues that these characters can be traced back stage by stage to the same Shang root <*?j∂u.

159 For example, Mingwenxuan: 826: Zhugong Jing zhong , 827: Zhugong Hua zhong .

160 ibid., 538: Wuwang Guang jian .

161 For example, see Mingwenxuan: 201: Shi Wangfu ding , 202: Shi Cai ding .

162 ibid., 416: Liu ding ; in this attributive phrase the character you is sometimes interchangeable with cong , for example, see also Maogong ding .

163 Hanping, Chen, Ceming zhidu, 286293.

164 See Maoshi zhengyi, juan 15:2 and 15:3 (SSJZS, 495, 501).

165 See Guying, Chen, Laozi zhu yi ji pingjie (Beijing, 1984), 85.

166 cf. Hanyu da zidian, 280–81, 1094–5.

167 For example, in the Zhaohun (‘’): ‘Souls, please return! Stop your descent to that Dark Capital’; in the same chapter, we read: ‘Flying fire is rising continually; the dark-red face turns steaming red.’ The youdu is known to be the underworld, and the phrase xuanyan ‘dark-red face’ refers, as Wang Yi (c. A.D. second century), pointed out, to heaven. See Xingzu, Hong (c. A.D. twelfth century), Chuci buzhu (Beijing, 1983), 201, 213–14.

168 The Greek word for ‘fire’ (pyr) and the Latin word burrus meaning ‘fiery red’ derived from the same ancestral form. This led to Romance forms meaning ‘dark red’ (Provençal burel meant ‘brownish red’) and Old French buire (variant bure), meaning ‘dark brown’. Cf. Bolinger, D. and Sears, D., Aspects of language (New York, 1981), 266.

169 For a further discussion on the attributive phrases in Shang inscriptions, see Takashima, K., ‘Noun phrases in the oracle-bone inscriptions’. Monumenta Serica, 36, 1984/1985, esp. 263267.

170 Evans-Pritchard, E. E., The Nuer: a description of the modes of livehood and political institutions of a Nilotic people (Oxford, 1940), esp. 4148.

171 Turton, D., ‘There's no such beast: cattle and colour naming among the Mursi’, Man, 15, 1980, 230238.

172 In the 1940s, Hu Puan tried to reconstruct the evolutionary history of Chinese colour terms. His starting-point was that the evolution of the colour vocabulary was associated with the evolution of human society; therefore his reconstruction is as follow: bai-‘white’ came first; it is a pictograph of a man's face, indicating the recognition of man himself; second is chi-‘red’, which is associated with ‘fire’; it probably emerged in the hunting stage; third huang-‘yellow’ derived from the ‘soil’, indicating the development of agriculture; and fourth hei-‘black’ came with a settled and civilized society, the form of the character representing cooking ‘smoke’. See Hu Puan, ‘Cong wenzixue shang kaojian gudai bianse benneng yu ranee jishu ’, Xuelin , 3, 1941, 53–67. However, while this kind of view reflects early academic interest in the study of colour terms, it has little value for a real understanding of colour terms and colour categorization, for it is too simplistic to account for any social or linguistic evolution.

173 Berlin and Kay's theory since has been modified; see Kay, P. and McDaniel, C. K., ‘The linguistic significance of meanings of basic color terms’, Language 54, 1978, 610646.

174 Baxter, W., ‘A look at the history of Chinese color terminology’, Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, XVIII, 2, 1983, 125. Here, Baxter lists the character zhu as one of the early basic terms. Although the form can be found in OBI, it is never used as a colour term. It is, however, used as the colour term representing red in Zhou bronze inscriptions.

175 See Baines, J., ‘Color terminology and color classification: ancient Egyptian color terminology and polychromy’, American Anthropologist, 87, 1985, 282297.

176 Conklin, H., ‘Hanunoo color categories’. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 11/4, 1955, 339344.

177 Shuowen, 291.

178 In his study of the semantic system of Shang language, Zhao Cheng noted that the colour terms may cover domains much broader than their modern lexicography; he thinks that in OBI hei-‘black’ covers darkish grey, bai-‘white’ covers light grey and yellow, huang-‘yellow’ covers brown and chi-‘red’ covers bright yellow or orange. See Cheng, Zhao, ‘Jiaguwen ciyi xitong tansuo ’, Lunwenji, 101102.

179 For further discussion, see Conklin, H., ‘Color categorization’, American Anthropologist, 75, 1973, 931942.

180 cf. Jishi, 1739, where Li Xiaoding argues that the character appears in one inscription in which it was probably used as qing-‘green’, but evidence shows that it should be read as nan ‘south’, rather than qing-‘green’.

181 Many scholars have read the qing as a loan character for jing ‘silent’, and translated the phrase as ‘the silent and mysterious ancestors’; for example, see Li Xueqin, ‘Lun “Shi Qiang pan” jiqi yiyi’ (see n. 167 above).

182 See Shimizi Shigeru , ‘Shuo qing ’, Wang Li xiansheng jinian wenji (ed. Xianggang yuwen xuehui , Hong Kong, 1987), 141–62.

183 Maoshi zhengyi, juan 3.2: (SSJZS, 321).

184 ibid., juan 15.3 (SSJZS, 501).

185 ibid., juan 4.1; (SSJZS, 330).

186 ibid., juan 6.4; (SSJZS, 373).

187 Guo Qingfan (1844–1896), Zhuanzi jishi (Beijing, 1961), 4, 14.

188 Baxter, W., ‘Chinese colour terminology’, 1718.

189 De-k'un, Cheng, ‘The T’u-lu colour-container of the Shang-Chou period’, BMFEA, 37, 1965, 239250. The name ‘T’u-lu’ was taken from an inscription inscribed on one of the containers.

190 The specimen was analysed by the Research Laboratory for Archaeology at the University of Oxford. A report was included in Cheng's paper.

1 This paper was originally a section of my doctoral thesis ‘Colour symbolism in Late Shang China’ (University of London, 1993). During the writing of the thesis I received help from Professor S. Allan, Dr. P. Thompson, Professor Qiu Xigui and Professor Li Xueqin, and two travel grants from the Central Research Fund, University of London and the Sino-British Fellowship Trust. I would like to express my gratitude to all of them.

Colour Terms in Shang Oracle Bone Inscriptions1

  • Wang Tao (a1)


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