This is a study of the sociopolitical role of the belief in chen prophecy in early medieval China.
The chen prophecies discussed in this work are not confined to the traditional prophetic-apocryphal texts. Many contemporary prophecies emerged and circulated in association with current events; personal names, reign titles, poems, folk and children’s rhymes, even rumor-rhymes were recognized as heavenly revelations. Although prophetic utterances were used as psychological weapons in politics, it would be wrong to regard chen prophecy as simply political propaganda. Chen prophecies were believed to be genuine prophetic messages at the time.
Chen prophecy was an indispensable part of a symbolic ritual of legitimation of mandate-transfer. It was recognized as a coded revelation that derived its prophetic power from the primitive belief in the magic power of words. The emphasis on winning public acceptance may have been another source of its prophetic power. Social integration, legitimation of dynastic change, and the hopes for a better future in an age of tumult thus depended on the belief in the interaction between Heaven’s mandate and man’s destiny.