The graph used to write the name of the mythical emperor Shun 舜 in received texts is a puzzling one. It is not obvious that any component in the graph, as it appears today, is semantically motivated, nor is there any element well suited to representing the name Shun phonetically. Texts like the Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 preserve an alternate writing of the name under the rubric “guwen 古文,” but this too is hard to analyze in terms of the semantic and phonological motivation of the graph components. Without a clear understanding of why the name Shun is written the way it is, a reliable reconstruction of its Old Chinese pronunciation is difficult, and many of the graphic and phonological associations with “Shun” and related words made by early Chinese script, texts, and commentaries would be opaque.
A graph that is clearly writing the name Shun, seen for the first time in two of the Warring States-period manuscripts from Guodian 郭店, partially resolved these difficulties, and in particular the question of the phonological spelling of the name. This in turn allows a series of interesting textual problems to be resolved. This article presents a selection of these, and discusses their implications for the history of the Chinese script and for textual transmission.