Divination and tortoise pavilions

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子曰:「藏文仲居蔡,山節藻梲,何如其知也?」
Confucius said: “Zang Wenzhong kept a tortoise in a house featuring pillars patterned with mountains and posts above the rafters decorated with duckweed motifs. What does this say of his wisdom?”

Confucius is not amused with Zang Wenzhong, a high level minister in his home state of Lu, for having the temerity to house his pet tortoise in an elaborate pavilion.

Given that the animals were closely identified with the imperial families of ancient China, Confucius is probably questioning Zang’s sanity for rising above his station by keeping his pet in such luxury.

Tortoise shells were used in the production of so-called oracle bones for ancient divination ceremonies, so Confucius may be possibly be accusing him of being superstitious as well – though given that Confucius himself was said to be a big fan of the Book of Changes (易經/Yìjīng) he would be showing more than a tad of hypocrisy if that were true.

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