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Changsha Zidanku Chu bo shu 長沙子彈庫楚帛 書 1 (Chu Silk Manuscript) Puglia, Francesca


The Zidanku Silk Manuscript 1, also known as the Chu Silk Manuscript from Zidanku in Changsha (Changsha Zidanku Chu bo shu 長沙子彈庫楚帛書), and commonly referred to as the Chu bo shu 楚帛書 (Chu silk manuscript), is a silk manuscript (47 cm long and 38 cm wide) unearthed by robbers in 1942 from a Warring States tomb in Zidanku, southeast of the former city walls of Changsha. The tomb has been dated by archaeologists as having been closed around 300 BCE. The manuscript, which contains a brief cosmogonic account, is mainly concerned with astronomical and astrological content and is deemed to have been used in divination practice. The Chu bo shu has been buried together with at least two other silk manuscripts, and these three texts represent the only silk manuscripts from Warring States China that have been discovered to date. After having been stolen, the Chu bo shu has been first acquired by an art collector called Cai Jixiang 蔡季襄 (1897–1980). In 1945, he personally published the first examination of the manuscript. Subsequently, the manuscript has been transferred to the United States of America and is now stored at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. The most distinctive feature of this manuscript is that it consists of both text and illustrations. The central part of the silk cloth displays two main texts, that are arranged in opposite directions. These two central texts are surrounded by twelve zoomorphic figures pictured in the peripheral area of the cloth, each of which is accompanied by a brief text. Each figure (with its respective short text) corresponds to one of the twelve months of the year. The three months making up each season are oriented toward a particular direction and each side of the cloth represents a season. There are four colored trees, each drawn in one of the four angles of the cloth. Due to exposure to light, folds, and worn edges, the Chu bo shu is unreadable in several spots. Nevertheless, the division into three main sections is clearly noticeable. Each of the three sections is concerned with some aspects of the lunisolar calendar: the longer one in the central section of the cloth is focused on the year; the shorter one in the central section, with the seasons; the short captions which accompany the twelve figures ringed around the main texts, with the twelve months. The main interest of the author of the Chu bo shu seems to be to avoid catastrophic events by having the calendar used with proper respect and knowledge. The three sections of the Chu bo shu: - The short text: the main subjects of the inner short text are the seasons. This section displays cosmogonical mythologies dealing with gods and with the establishment of natural order, based on the proceeding of the sun, the moon, and the seasons. - The long text: the main subject of the inner long text is sui 歲 (year). This section focuses on the possibility of disrupting the established natural order accounted for in the seasons' section of the manuscript. The main concern is the danger subsequent to a possible disruption of this order and therefore the importance attached to the knowledge and the understanding of the year for the purpose of avoiding this risk. The knowledge of the year is based on the observation of the proceeding of the celestial bodies, and in particular of the sun and the moon. - The twelve short texts: twelve hemerological captions which accompany the same number of zoomorphic figures, understood as gods associated with the twelve months. Each of the twelve texts presents the name of the lunar month (or its spirit), followed by a two-character definition of its functions, and a brief paragraph in which it is stated whether certain actions are permissible or not in a given month, in the guise of the monthly ordinances that we find in the Lüshi Chunqiu 呂氏春秋. The longer text written in the center of the silk cloth is positioned with the three winter months on top, spring months on the right, summer months below, and autumn months on the left, with the shorter text (also written in the middle of the cloth) arranged upside-down on its side. The manuscript’s layout suggests that it is purposely cardinally oriented and probably conceived in such a way to be rotated during its reading and use. The fact that the layout of the Chu bo shu requires its reader or user to rotate it (or to circle around it) suggests that it is related to divination practices. In fact, this mechanism of rotation, together with the concern with the motion of the celestial bodies and the flowing of time, is reminiscent of the function and the working of a divination object known as the shi 式 (cosmograph or diviner’s board), in which a round disk (that represents the sky) rotates upon a square base (that represents the earth).

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