Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Yinqueshan Han Slips

The Yinqueshan Han Slips are ancient Chinese writing tablets, made of bamboo strips and were discovered in 1972. The tablets contain many important writings that were not previously known, and important copies of existing work.

Discovered in 1972 in Tombs no. 1 and 2 at the foot of Yinqueshan , located southeast of the city of Linyi in the province of Shandong. Discovered in Tomb no. 1 were 4942 bamboo strips covered in closely written words and included portions of known texts, as well as a number of previously unknown military and divination texts, some of which were shown to resemble chapters in ''Guanzi'' and ''Mozi''. The occupant had been identified as a military officer bearing the surname Sima.

Tomb no. 2, unearthed the same year, contained 32 strips of bamboo writings which clearly represent sections of a calendar for the year 134 BC.

The time of burial for both tombs had been dated to about 140 BC/134 BC and 118 BC, the texts having been written on the bamboo slips before then. After restoration and arrangement, the slips were organised into a sequential order of nine groups and 154 sections. The first group included 13 fragment chapters from Sunzi's ''The Art of War'', and 5 undetermined chapters; the second group were the 16 chapters of Sun Bin's ''Art of War'', which had been missing for at least 1,400 years; the third included the 7 original and lost chapters from the ''Six Strategies'' ; the fourth and fifth included 5 chapters from the ''Weiliaozi'' and 16 chapters from the ''Yanzi''; the rest of the groups included anonymous writings.


Sword of Goujian

The Sword of is an of the Spring and Autumn Period found in 1965 in . Renowned for its sharpness and resilience to tarnish, it is a historical artifact of the People's Republic of China currently in the possession of Hubei Museum.


In 1965, while an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River in Jingzhou, Hubei, more than fifty ancient tombs of the were found in . The dig started in the middle of October 1965 and ended in January 1966. More than 2000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, the most interesting of which was a bronze sword.

In December, 1965, 7 km away from the ruins of Jinan, an ancient capital of Chu, a casket was discovered in Wangshan site #1. Inside, an ornate sword was found on the left of a human skeleton.

The sword was found sheathed in a wooden black lacquer scabbard. The scabbard had an almost air-tight fit with the sword body. Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over two thousand years. A simple test conducted by the archaeologists showed that the blade could still easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.


On one side of the blade, two columns of text were visible. In total there are eight characters written in an ancient . The script was found to be the one called "鸟虫文" , a variant of that is very difficult to read. Initial analysis of the text deciphered six of the characters, "越王" and "自作用剑" .

The remaining two characters were likely the name of this King of Yue. From its birth in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian, Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, Zhu Gou, etc. The exact identity of this king sparked an active discussion/debate among archeologists and Chinese language scholars. The discussion was carried out mostly in , and it involved famous scholars such as Guo Moruo. After more than two months of exchange, the experts started to form a consensus that the original owner of the sword was none other than Goujian, the King of Yue made famous by his perseverance in time of hardship. So the entirety of the text reads "越王勾践 自作用劍", meaning " King Goujian of Yue, made for personal use".


The Sword of Goujian is 55.6 cm in length, including a 10 cm hilt. The blade is 5 cm wide. In addition to the repeating dark rhombi pattern on both sides of the blade, there are also decorations made of blue crystals and turquoise. The grip of the sword is bound by silk, while the pommel is composed of eleven concentric circles.

Chemical composition

After being in water for two thousand years, the Sword of Goujian still has a sharp blade and shows no signs of tarnish. To solve this mystery, scientists at Fudan University and made use of modern equipment to determine the chemical composition of the sword, as shown in the table below.

Amount of element by percentage

The body of the blade is mainly made of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter; the edges have more tin content, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge; the sulfur decreases the chance of tarnish in the patterns.

Many experts believe that the chemical composition, along with the almost scabbard, explains the exceptional state of preservation of this sword.

Stone Drums of Qin

The Stone Drums of Qín are ten granite boulders bearing the oldest known ''stone'' inscriptions in ancient Chinese . Because these inscribed stones are shaped roughly like drums they have been known as the Stone Drums of Qin since at least the 7th century CE .

Their fame is due to the fact that they are the oldest known stone inscriptions in China, making them a priceless treasure for epigraphers. The stone drums are now kept in the Palace Museum, Beijing. They vary in height from 73 cm to 87.5 cm , and from 56 to 80.1 cm in diameter. The Stone Drums weigh about 400 kg. each.


The ancient inscriptions on them are arranged in accordance with each stone's size and proportions, the largest stone bearing fifteen lines of five characters each, and a smaller one with nine lines of eight graphs each, neatly arranged as if in a grid. The contents are generally four-character rhymed verse in the style of the poems of the , a few lines of which they even paraphrase. The contents generally commemorate royal hunting and fishing activities.

Originally thought to bear about 700 characters in all, the Stone Drums were already damaged by the time they are mentioned in the poetry of . The drums had only 501 graphs by the , when the best rubbings now surviving were made . They have been further damaged through rough handling and repeated rubbings in the years since, and one was even converted into a mortar, destroying a third of it. A mere 272 characters are visible on the stones today. In the best rubbing, only 470 of the 501 characters are legible, or about 68% ; after omitting repeated graphs, this leaves us with a treasury of 265 different graphs, 49 of which are known from no other source . Even among recognizable graphs, scores of them are used in ways unattested elsewhere, leading to great difficulty and disagreement in their interpretation, a situation common to inscriptions .


The Stone Drums are mentioned in the 7th century CE, and may have been found within the preceding century. There exists no record of their actual discovery, so the date and location thereof are unsettled, and are a matter of extensive scholarly controversy. Wagner speculates that the original location of the drums’ discovery may have been the Qin royal tombs or an associated ritual complex in Fèngxiáng County , Shaanxi Province , but also mentions another potentially relevant location: a mountain named Shígǔshān , or Stone Drum Mt., in Chéncāng , about 25 km. SW of Yong , the Qín capital from 677 to 383 BCE. Yong’s city walls have been found in Fengxiang, and the Qín royal tombs lie about 11 km. to the south. .


Like their discovery, the details of their origin have also long been subject to debate. While most now agree that they were made at the behest of a Duke of the , the century of their creation is still uncertain; Mattos tentatively places them in the 5th century BCE. Chén Zhāoróng points out that the style of the Stone Drums script is extremely close to that of the inscriptions on both the Qín Gōng gu? and a stone qìng , both belonging to Qin Duke J?ng , who ruled from 576 to 537 BCE. She states that it is very likely that these artifacts date to the same period, and thus dates the Stone Drums to the late Spring and Autumn period.


It was the writing of the pre-dynastic Qín state which would later be imposed as the unified standard for all of China, so the Stone Drum inscriptions are an invaluable piece of the still fragmentary puzzle which is the family tree of the Chinese script.

For a comprehensive and detailed study of the Stone Drums, the story of their discovery, preservation, study and interpretation, as well as reproduction of the best rubbings, see ''The Stone Drums of Ch'in'' by Gilbert L. Mattos, 1988.

Spear of Fuchai

The Spear of Fuchai is purportedly the spear used by the of , the arch-rival of of . It was unearthed in Jiangling, Hubei in November 1983.

Pig dragon

A pig dragon or zhulong is a type of jade artifact from neolithic China. Zhulong are zoomorphic forms with a piglike head and elongated limbless body coiled around to the head in the manner of an ouroboros. Early pig dragons are thick and stubby; later examples have more graceful, snakelike bodies.

Pig dragons were produced by the Hongshan culture, and often featured as grave goods. For example see . Pig bones have been found interred alongside humans at Hongshan burial sites, suggesting that the animal had some ritual significance.

There is some speculation that the pig dragon is the first representation of the Chinese dragon. The character for "dragon" in the earliest has a similar coiled form, as do later jade dragon amulets from the Shang period.

Mawangdui Silk Texts

The Mawangdui Silk Texts are texts of philosophical and medical works written on silk and found at Mawangdui in China in 1973. They include the earliest attested manuscripts of existing texts such as the ''I Ching'', two copies of the ''Tao Te Ching'', one similar copy of ''Strategies of the Warring States'' and a similar school of works of Gan De and Shi Shen. Scholars arranged them in to silk books of 28 kinds. Together they amount to some 120,000 words covering military strategy, mathematics, cartography and the six classical arts of ritual, music, archery, horsemanship, writing and arithmetic.

The texts were buried in Tomb no. 3 at Mawangdui, dating from 168 BC, and lay hidden in for over 2000 years. Some of the texts were only previously known by title; some are previously unknown commentaries on the I Ching attributed to Confucius. In general, they follow the same sequence as the various received versions; versions that have been passed down by copying and recopying from generation to generation from texts collected and collated during the 5th century. However, they are, in some important respects, notably different from the sundry received texts known before their discovery.

The Chinese characters found in the silk texts are often only fragments of the characters used in the versions that tradition has handed down. Many Chinese characters are formed by combining two simpler Chinese characters, one to indicate a general category of meaning, and one to give an indication of pronunciation. Where the traditional texts have both components, the silk texts frequently give only the phonetic half of the intended character. There are several hypotheses that might explain this fact:
* The copyist may have been simply too lazy to write the full form of many of the characters.
* Perhaps the earlier of the two silk texts was simply the result of someone taking dictation in the fastest way that s/he could write. The scribe wrote down the part of each character that indicates its pronunciation with the idea that s/he could later recopy the text with the appropriate meaning components for those abbreviated characters.
* In English, the word "dog" can have two apparently unrelated meanings: "a kind of carnivorous mammal" or "to pursue with unflagging patience." We hardly ever bother to write something like "dog ", even when we write something like, "The feral dog dogged the human invaders of its territory until they eventually left the area." Perhaps the same kind of thing was going on in these ancient writings, and people felt that they did not need to add a meaning component to these characters to make their meaning clear.
* Or, it could be a jargon system. Similar writings can be found in ancient Chinese music scores. Partial characters also provide building blocks for the writing systems of some historical languages and modern languages.

In addition to the "partial" characters mentioned above, the two silk texts sometimes use characters that are different from the ones present in the texts that have come down to us through consecutive publications of this text. In cases where different traditional versions of the text have characters with different meanings at the same point in the text, the newly found text can sometimes give us additional evidence. Suppose that we had two received texts, and one said: "She flowered the table," but the other text said: "She floured the table." Did she sprinkle flowers on the table? Or did she sprinkle flour on the table? If a "silk" text were to be discovered, it might say: "She powdered the table," or it might say, "She blossomed the table." The students of this text would now have an independent opinion, from much nearer in the history of this book, as to what the original meaning was.

Tao Te Ching

Some people believe that the silk texts of the Tao Te Ching are the real book, and that the texts that have come down to us generation by generation are wrong wherever they disagree with these two earlier versions. Other people point out that the silk texts are not particularly good -- in the sense that people often would not be able to make sense of them unless they had access to the texts written with the full forms of the characters. They add that Wang Bi, and other very early scholars who edited the texts that are the ancestors of the ones that came down to us by tradition, had access to many early versions of the Tao Te Ching and so were able to correct many mistakes by comparing the several versions available to them.

Most of the time the received versions of the Tao Te Ching are in substantial agreement with each other, and most of the time the text is simple and straightforward. Occasionally, however, two received versions will write homonyms with entirely different meanings at some point in a chapter. In such cases, much help can be received from a silk text that gives a third character that has a different pronunciation but is a synonym for one of the two in the received text.

In recent years several scholars have made new translations of the Tao Te Ching that are based on the silk text and ignore the received texts entirely or almost entirely. These include works by D. C. Lau, and by Robert G. Henricks. Henricks' translation does compare received versions of the Tao Te Ching with the text found in the tomb.



Jade burial suit

A Jade burial suit is a ceremonial suit made of pieces of jade in which some in Han Dynasty China were buried. The Chinese believed that jade had magical properties and would prevent the decay of the body.

Structure of a jade burial suit

Of the jade suits that have been found, the pieces of jade are mostly or rectangular in shape, though triangular, trapezoid and rhomboid plaques have also been found. Plaques are often joined by means of wire, threaded through small holes drilled near the corners of each piece. The composition of the wire varies, and several suits have been found joined with either gold or silver. Other suits, such as that of the King of Nanyue, were joined using silk thread, or silk ribbon that overlapped the edges of the plaques. In some instances, additional pieces of jade have been found beneath the head covering, including shaped plaques to cover the eyes, and plugs to fit the ears and nose.

According to the ''Book of Later Han'', the type of wire used was dependent on the station of the person buried. The jade burial suits of emperors used gold thread; princes, princesses, dukes, and marquises, silver thread; sons or daughters of those given silver thread, copper thread; and lesser aristocrats, silk thread, with all others being forbidden to be buried in jade burial suits. Examination of the known suits, such as the two found in Mancheng, has revealed that these rules were not always followed. Considering the vast size of the country, and the relatively slow means of disseminating information, it is not surprising that the materials and techniques use in a jade burial suit occasionally differed from the official guidelines.

A jade burial suit was extremely expensive to create, and only wealthy aristocrats could afford to be buried in them. Additionally, the process of manufacturing a suit was labor intensive and is estimated to have required several years to complete a single suit.


Archaeologists found no or little remains in discovered suits, and the known well-preserved person in Han dynasty was Xinzhui of Mawangdui, the wife of an official. The emperor and empress bodies did not decay when Chimei rebels dig them, and such as empress Lu Zhi were humiliated.

For many years, many archaeologists believed that jade burial suits did not really exist and were only s or legends. The discovery in 1968 of two complete jade suits in the tombs of Liu Sheng and Dou Wan in Man-ch'eng, Hebei, finally proved their existence. The jade suits of Liu Sheng and Dou Wan consisted of 2,498 plates of solid jade connected with two and a half pounds of gold wires.

In 1973, a jade burial suit belonging to Prince of the Western Han Dynasty was discovered in Dingxian, Hebei. It consisted of 1,203 pieces of jade and 2,580 grams of gold thread .

In 1983, a jade suit was found in the tomb of Zhao Mo, the second king of Southern Yue, in Guangzhou. The red silk thread used to bind the 2,291 jade plates represented Zhao Mo's immersion into Nam Viet culture. It is exhibited in the local Museum of the Tomb of the King of Southern Yue in Western Han Dynasty. .

It is now believed that jade burial suits were actually relatively common among the wealthiest aristocrats of the Han Dynasty, but that over the years most have been lost due to the activities of grave robbers.