Written in Stone? Creative Strategies for Struggling with Fate in Chinese Character Divination (cezi 測字)

In: International Journal of Divination and Prognostication
Anne Schmiedl Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg

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This paper analyzes how fate is understood in imperial Chinese anecdotes on character divination (cezi 測字). It demonstrates that character divination, due to its qualities as a script-based method, allows the protagonists of divination anecdotes to intervene creatively in the predictive process. The protagonists use this opportunity to seize agency and attempt to influence or change their fate through different strategies. The paper explores these strategies in detail. To transform the outcome of the predictions, protagonists make use of apotropaism, repetition, mimesis, name changing, and the interpretative techniques of diviners. This paper contributes to the study of the notion of fate in imperial China by proving the unique role of character divination. It shows that in anecdotes on character divination, unlike in many other divinatory methods, fate is presented as determined. Even though protagonists attempt to assume agency over their fate, they ultimately fail. In Chinese character divination, fate is written in stone.

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