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Written on Bamboo and Silk

The Beginnings of Chinese Books and Inscriptions, Second Edition

Second Edition

Paleography, which often overlaps with archaeology, deciphers ancient inscriptions and modes of writing to reveal the knowledge and workings of earlier societies. In this now-classic paleographic study of China, Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien traces the development of Chinese writing from the earliest inscriptions to the advent of printing, with specific attention to the tools and media used. This edition includes material that treats the many major documents and ancient Chinese artifacts uncovered over the forty years since the book’s first publication, as well as an afterword by Edward L. Shaughnessy.
Written on Bamboo and Silk has long been considered a landmark in its field. Critical in this regard is the excavation of numerous sites throughout China, where hundreds of thousands of documents written on bamboo and silk—as well as other media—were found, including some of the earliest copies of historical, medical, astronomical, military, and religious texts that are now essential to the study of early Chinese literature, history, and philosophy. Discoveries such as these have made the amount of material evidence on the origins and evolution of communication throughout Chinese history exceedingly broad and rich, and yet Tsien succeeds in tackling it all and building on the earlier classic work that changed

320 pages | 26 halftones, 4 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1962, 2004

Art: Ancient and Classical Art, Art Criticism

Asian Studies: East Asia

Library Science and Publishing: Publishing


"Tsien’s study is a triumph of modern sinology. . . . Few, if any, of the purposes, techniques, usages, instruments, and materials of Chinese writing have escaped his attention. The result is a volume which is as definitive as extent research data will permit."

Library Journal

"This admirable monograph covers the whole field of epigraphy and the technique of human communication, including the origins and development of paper and the use of it for writing, down to the time of the invention of printing."

Journal of Asian Studies

"For any student of Chinese, Tsien’s lucid introduction to the development of the book, to the beginnings of calligraphy and the massive archive of historical writing, characteristic of premodern China, is an essential reference work."

Times Literary Supplement

"For scholars wishing to understand how a number of now justly separated palaeographic fields have developed over the past half-century, Tsien’s re-editing of a classic work could not be timelier."

Times Higher Education Supplement

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword to the Second Edition by Li Xueqin
Remarks on the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition

1. Introduction
The Legacy of Early Chinese Records
Communication with the Spirits
Government Documents and Archives
Recorders, Users, and Custodians
Private Writings and Collections
Burning of Books
Restoration of Ancient Works
Popularization of Religious Literature

2. Records on Bones and Shells
Origin and Nature of Bone and Shell Inscriptions
Discovery and Study of Bone Records
Vocabulary and Forms of Shang Writing
Types of Bone Materials and Methods of Inscribing
Content and Arrangement of Oracle Inscriptions
Non-Oracle Bone Records

3. Inscriptions on Metals and Clay
Nature and Types of Bronze Inscriptions
Styles and Usage of Bronze Inscriptions
Mirror Inscriptions
Numismatic Inscriptions
Inscriptions on Seals and Sealing Clay
Inscriptions on Pottery Vessels
Inscriptions on Bricks and Tiles
4. Engravings on Stone and Jade
Stone Drums and Monuments
Stele, Precipice, and Grave Inscriptions
Confucian Classics on Stone
Buddhist and Daoist Writings on Stone
Inscriptions on Jade
Origin and Technique of Ink Squeezes

5. Documents on Bamboo and Wood
Evolution of Book Materials
Bamboo Tablets of the Warring States and Qin Periods
Tablets of Han to Jin Dynasties
Preparation of Bamboo and Wood for Writing
Size and Forms of Ancient Tablets
Columns and Styles of Writing
Units and Kinds of Ancient Documents
System of Binding and Sealing

6. Silk as Writing Material
Origin of Sericulture
Date of Using Silk for Writing
Discoveries of Silk Documents
Ancient Paintings on Silk
Materials and Format of Silk Books
Special Uses of Silk for Writing

7. Paper and Paper Manuscripts
Definition and Origin of Paper
Cai Lun and Papermaking
Popularity and Spread of Paper
Theories of Western Origin of Paper
Discoveries of Early Paper Specimens
Paper Documents from Dunhuang
Materials and Methods of Papermaking
Processing and Treatment of Paper
System of Paper Rolls

8. Implements and Tools for Writing
Origin of the Writing Brush
Forms of the Brush-Pen
Writing Fluid and Pigments
Ink of Lampblack
Lacquer and Mineral Ink
Materials and Forms of Ink-Slabs
Book Knife as Eraser

9. Conclusion
Types of Writing Materials
Transmission of Ancient Literature
Dates of Different Inscriptions
Development of the Chinese Book
Methods of Writing and Duplication
Styles of Chinese Script
Growth of Vocabulary
Order of Chinese Writing
Social and Intellectual Development
Afterword: Paleographic Discoveries in China Since 1960
Edward L. Shaughnessy

Appendix A. Major Archaeological Discoveries, 1899-2000
Appendix B. Chronology of Chinese Culture, Books, and Writing
List of Abbreviations

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