Problematic Text Material

Analysing Early Chinese Inscriptions and Manuscripts
4:00 pm – 5:45 pm
Room 2

  • Organised by Susanne Adamski
  • Joachim Gentz, Chair
  • Susanne Adamski, “‘Drowning’ (chén 沈) Victims during the Late Shāng Dynasty (ca. 13th–11th cc. B.C.): Inscriptional Contexts and Problems”
  • Joern Peter Grundmann, “Virtue in Bronze and Stone: The Early Conceptual History of de 德”
  • Yunxiao Xiao, “Textual Heterogeneity in Multi-Text Manuscripts: Reconstructing the *Zichan 子產 and *Xin shi wei zhong 心是謂中 Manuscript Scroll”
  • Kun You, “Paratext and Textual Coherence: The Case of the Mawangdui Silk Manuscript Text Shiliu jing

Unearthed texts inscribed into bones, cast into bronze or written on bamboo or silk have become essentially important sources for the researcher of early China, reaching from the Shāng (ca. 1600–1045 B.C.) through Western (1045–771 B.C.) and Eastern Zhōu (771–221 B.C.) to the early imperial periods (from 221 B.C.). Problematically, they all pose specific difficulties.
These texts not only represent different stages of palaeographic, linguistic as well as technological development that leave room for further exploration of their form, structure and content, but they can often be understood in more than one way, or sometimes not at all, due to fragmentation, errors in manufacture, or partial destruction or loss of their carriers.
Although these are serious problems for reading (or even deciphering) and analysing the texts and corpora with regard to certain related social or historical phenomena, research is often based on edited transcriptions and versions of text corpora. While these have justly become standard reference works, they are certainly not infallible in every single case. Nevertheless, even specialists of early Chinese inscriptions or manuscripts often need to consult more than one type of textual source for diachronic research.
Due to these standing issues, the panel intends to discuss novel approaches in analysing inscriptions and manuscripts having regard to material problems. Panellists are invited to present new methodological considerations in extracting information from textual corpora or single texts while looking into specific social or historical phenomena of early China.

Susanne Adamski, “’Drowning’ (chén 沈) Victims during the Late Shāng Dynasty (ca. 13th–11th cc. B.C.): Inscriptional Contexts and Problems”

While late Shāng sacrificial practice has been studied in several ways, it is rather seldom treated in detail, and still not really understood. So far, no comprehensive analysis of the oracle-bone inscriptional (OBI) material has been done regarding the practice of “drowning” (chén 沈) victims, which is rather unlikely to yield archaeological remains. Whereas the custom of “wedding” young women to the river god is known from early imperial texts (Shǐjì, Shuǐ jīng zhù), OBI records of drowning animal and sometimes human victims as part of the elite Shāng sacrificial system do not really support current interpretations as an early predecessor.
Following Liú Yuán’s 刘源 (2004) criticism of interpreting OBI verbs as sacrificial names, the present paper explores the question whether chén 沈 should be regarded as a distinct category of sacrifice, determinable as a sacrifice by immersion (Versenkungsopfer), or as the specific killing method used on a variety of sacrificial occasions. In a systematic philological approach, all verbal phrases referring to the practice of “drowning” (chén) in archaeologically excavated OBI corpora will be analysed, focusing on kinds and numbers of victims, different recipients, occasions, as well as other combined methods of killing and/or sacrifice mentioned. Facing fragmentation and other material problems, current transcriptions in standard reference works shall be re-evaluated, and problematic OBI evidence excluded. The aim is to gain further insight into the complex practice of Shāng animal and human sacrifice.

Joern Peter Grundmann, “Virtue in Bronze and Stone: The Early Conceptual History of de 德”

This paper explores a new approach towards understanding the term de 德 (traditionally rendered “virtue”) in literary sources from the Western Zhou and Springs and Autumns periods. Instead of attempting to define this important term through its often vaguely perceived associations with the supernatural, an approach which in the past led to rather arbitrary results, the present paper aims to delineate the generic function(s) of de in context-bound excavated texts inscribed on bronze vessels and stone tablets.
In a first step, I will show that within the period under review, de appears overtly in mid-to-late Western Zhou appointment inscriptions as well as in 5th century BCE covenant texts. In both sources, I argue, de habitually forms part of a larger conceptual field or repertoire of terms employed in commitment formulae uttered either by the recipient of a royal command or by a covenantor in rendering his allegiance to the covenant lord. This find should enable us to define de as an aspect or function of an idea of political organisation, which must have enjoyed some degree of diachronic stability from the 9th to 5th century BCE.
In a second step, I will explore the possibility of applying this idea as a hermeneutical framework for interpreting non-formulaic instances of de which occur in discursive passages concerned with Zhou political theology in both bronze inscriptions and in transmitted texts from the Odes (Shi 詩) and Documents (Shu 書).

Yunxiao Xiao, “Textual Heterogeneity in Multi-Text Manuscripts: Reconstructing the *Zichan 子產 and *Xin shi wei zhong 心是謂中 Manuscript Scroll”

Materiality plays a decisive role in restoring unearthed ancient manuscripts and their texts. Indeed, studies on the physicality of the Warring States manuscripts keep enriching our understanding of book formats, the textual culture, and history of knowledge. These explorations, then, let us rethink the following questions: How should we define “text,” “manuscript,” or “book” in Warring States manuscript culture? What is their basic unit? What principles or criteria were applied in the compilation and organisation of a “book” containing more than one text?
By probing into these questions, this paper aims to elucidate the intricate interplay among text, manuscript, and people. I will first reconstruct a continuous scroll, consisting of two groups of Warring States bamboo slips from the Tsinghua manuscript collection. Their texts, titled *Zichan and *Xin shi wei zhong, respectively, at first sight, appear to be unrelated in their content but share a remarkable consistency in their materiality. Furthermore, a close reading of the text reveals that in spite of their ostensibly different rhetoric, theme, and genre, they share many similarities in their language, structure, and important concepts. Both the resemblance and divergence between *Zichan and *Xin shi wei zhong suggest that, instead of forming a consistent “book” with a clear and strict configuration of “chapters,” the manuscript is a loose compilation with a low degree of consistency. The coexistence of heterogeneity and homogeneity, in both textuality and materiality, appears to be typical of the manuscript culture of the time.

Kun You, “Paratext and Textual Coherence: The Case of the Mawangdui Silk Manuscript Text Shiliu jing

Modern readers are used to encountering texts from early China in the form of compilations containing an often large number of chapters in a more or less systematic arrangement. The growing number of excavated manuscripts from the Classical Period (approx. 5th to 1st c. BCE), however, shows a very different textual culture: texts seem to have circulated in separate bundles of bound bamboo slips containing relatively short texts. The large compilations we encounter today in the form devised by the team around Liu Xiang in the late first century BCE use paratextual devices that were still absent in the pre-imperial period. My research aims to trace developments in book culture that led to extensive, well-ordered arrangements of texts as those compiled by Liu Xiang.
This presentation centres on a text, titled Shiliu jing 十六經, in an early second century BCE silk manuscript. I will show that the manuscript betrays efforts to create a meaningful order of the heterogeneous textual material found in that text. This process includes incorporating textual authority into the text itself, thus making it less dependent on the authority of instructional or ritual contexts in which the texts were originally used.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 2
Analysing Early Chinese Inscriptions and Manuscripts