Yarrow Stalk Divination in Early China: The Manuscript *Shifa of
the Bamboo Manuscript Collection of Tsinghua University in Beijing
In recent decades, the materiality of texts has increasingly attracted
the attention of scholars working on early Chinese manuscripts (Meyer
2012; Richter 2013). Studies on materiality, broadly conceived, have in
turn generated interest in the texts’ structure and mise-en-page.
Consensus has it that texts are no longer considered as mere “repository
of ideas” and that the material aspect is a crucial element in the
transmission of knowledge in early China and beyond.
This talk examines the complex codicological structure of the
manuscript *Shifa (Guide for Divination with Yarrow Stalks, ca. 350
BCE), belonging to Volume 4 of the bamboo manuscript collection of
Tsinghua University in Beijing. Through the analysis of punctuation,
structural symmetry, and the different ways in which the textual units
are divided, Flaminia Pischedda examines how the structural elements of
the *Shifa might have influenced its divinatory use. This contribution aims
to shed light on the ways in which the content of a specific text-type, which
in this case prominently features elements of repetition and parallelism, is
reflected in the texts’ structure. It shows how the different scribal
strategies adopted respond to the need to order the technical-scientific
knowledge which, by the late fourth century BCE, was spread throughout
every stratum of society (Foster 2023).