The Shape of the Turtle

Myth, Art, and Cosmos in Early China

By Sarah Allan

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791404607, 248 pages, February 1991
Hardcover : 9780791404591, 248 pages, March 1991

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents



I. Introduction to the Shang

II. Sons of Suns

III. From Myth to History

IV. The Shape of the Cosmos

V. Divination and Sacrifice

VI. Art and Meaning

VII. Conclusion


Oracle Bone and Bronze inscription collections cited by an abbreviation

Select Bibliography


Many Chinese philosophic concepts derive from an ancient cosmology. This work is the first reconstructions of the mythic thought of the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1700- 1100 B. C.) which laid the foundation for later Chinese patterns of thought. Allan regards the myth, cosmology, divination, sacrificial ritual, and art of the Shang as different manifestations of a common religious system and each is examined in turn, building up a coherent and consistent picture. Although primarily concerned with the Shang, this work also describes the manner in which Shang thought was transformed in the later textual tradition.

Sarah Allan is Lecturer in Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. Her previous books include The Heir and the Sage: Dynastic Legend in Early China; Legend, Lore and Religion in China: Essays in Honor of Wolfram Eberhard on his Seventieth Birthday (edited with Alvin P. Cohen), and Oracle Bone Collections in Great Britain (with Li Xueqin and Qi Wenxin).


"Allan's study will prove to be as invaluable as it is innovative. " — Harold D. Roth