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International Academic Conference on the Changsha Bamboo Documents

Dating to Wu of the Three Kingdom


To Celebrate One Hundred Years of New Discoveries and Research into Bamboo Strips

and Silk Manuscripts, 15th – 19th August 2001




By Vivienne Lo

The four local TV crews that mobbed the participants on their arrival at Changsha airport left us in no doubt about the significance of early Chinese history as a source of contemporary national pride. As we drove to the conference hotel the roadside advertisements celebrating recent success in the Olympic bid fuelled that image of China’s ascent into the international arena as a resilient and enduring force to be reckoned with. As the international expert representing European scholarship, Dr Michael Loewe was therefore given full honours throughout the four days of the conference which was held in the comfortable, air conditioned, environment of a Soviet style hotel in the centre of the city.

The event was a cooperative project administered by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the National Association of History and Changsha Local Government. There were 160 delegates and about one hundred or so papers and reports. The largest number of participants was naturally Chinese, followed by a substantial group of Japanese, many representing two new associations formed especially to study the Zouma lou 走馬樓 manuscripts, and a small delegation of Koreans. Compared to the Beijing meeting in August, 2000 there was a very small turnout from Europe and America with only five participants in all.

Of the 20 or so women participants the most prominent was Zhang Weijue 張偉玦 the mayoress who opened the conference on the Thursday evening claiming Changsha’s pedigree as a seat of learning. She noted wryly that the Yuelu shuyuan 岳麓書院, graced at one time by Zhu Xi was an academy of learning dating to the 10th century, several hundred years before the establishment of Oxford and Cambridge. On the following day senior members of the academic communties of China, Hong Kong, England Japan and Taiwan followed with their opening speeches describing the state of the field in their home countries.

Rao Zongyi 饒宗頤 warned that in our excitement about the new discoveries we should not undervalue the study of transmitted texts and the knowledge that we gain from them about the cultural context of the excavated texts. He raised the example of the meaning of Taiyi 太一 in the Guodian 郭店 bamboo manuscripts. Taiyi in the text Taiyi shengshui 太一生水 ‘Taiyi gives birth to Water’, he argues, cannot be understood as the name of the star, but only in its connection with more abstract ideas about transformation based on yuanqi 元氣 as we know them from transmitted texts. His general point seemed incontravertible and was underlined by Michael Loewe in his keynote speech later in the conference. But Rao Zongyi’s example was unfortunate given Carine Defoort’s argument, later in the conference, that the original Heguanzi most probably did not contain the expression “yuan qi” and hence cannot be used as evidence of this concept prior to the Huainanzi in the Former Han.

池田知久 Ikeda Tomohisa and 漥添慶文 Kubo zoe a representative of Oba Osama 大廷修 spoke on behalf of Japanese scholarship where there are two active research centres devoted to the San Guo (Wu) 三國吳 manuscripts, one based at Tokyo University and the other at Kansai Daigaku, Osaka, Chosha Go Kan Kenkyukai 長沙吳簡研究會.The latter society meets monthly and reports on their research into the Zouma lou finds.

The following day Song Shaohua 宋少華, head of the Changsha wenwu kaogu yanjiu suo, started the day with a report on the preservation and collation of the Sanguo (Wu) texts discovered in Changsha city centre in October, 1996. Of the 711, 225 strips and fragmented strips that were found scattered in an ancient well 9 metres below no 50, Zouma lou street 116,909 strips have gone through the initial processing and a total of 60% of the planned restoration work has been completed. Technology for separating the strips avoiding unecessary destruction, and simultaneously differentiating their original order in the text, is continuously developing and the project has also managed to control the spread of mildew.

Within only two years of cooperation with Wenwu publishing house, the project has published the two volume Changsha Sanguo Wujian: Jiahe Limin Tianjia Bie 長沙三國吳簡:嘉禾吏民田家別, containing the excavation report and transcription of 2,141 strips excavated from Well 22 at Zoumalou, complete with photographs of the text. The manuscripts include wooden and bamboo strips and bamboo tablets. From the physical shape of the texts they seem to include standard record books, registers, shu (documents), ci 刺 ‘letters of introduction’ and labels, similar to those excavated from Qin and Han times from all over China. But on closer examination it seems that many of the record books and registers, and most of those written on the wooden tablets, are linked together into a larger document, collectively called bie. The bie published in Jiahe Limin Tianjia Bie is of this kind of composite form. Most documents are around 48/49cms long with the longest being about 56 cms. The normal or regular length of strips used for these purposes is 23 cms or less. This is the unique character of the Zouma lou finds.

The nature and function of bie is the focus of most scholarly attention paid to the Zouma lou texts. A number of papers delivered during the conference were concerned with this topic. Bie seems to be a kind of contractual deed for administering the payment of tax. It has relevance for our understanding of the degree and types of tax exemption, in particular the status of a sector of the populace known as fumin 复(復)民; the nature of taxation payments in grain/cloth; the measuring and division of land between minor officials and the ordinary population; systems of registering the population etc.

Other interesting treatments of the Zouma lou material included Gao Dalun 高大論 and Wang Zijin’s 王子今 interpretation of the records of an investigation into the official Xu Di 許迪, who was charged with exchanging surplus salt for grain leaving a portion unaccounted and possibly for private use. There was some discussion of the relative value of salt and grain. For the study of the development of scripts, the Zouma lou texts offer a variety of forms interwoven, including zhuan, li, kai xing and cao. Collectively they reflect a stage in the transition between li and kai. On the other hand much of the script is continuous, and there is apparently a greater degree of stability emerging, if compared to Han beike stone inscriptions.

In his position as Director of the Centre for the Study of Silk, Bamboo and Wooden Manuscripts, Xie Guihua 謝桂華 emphasised how one hundred years of research by of archaeologists, philologists and historians, had made excavated manuscripts into a substantial, modern field of scholarship. He gave a comprehensive overview of the manuscripts excavated at each find according to period and set the scene for the regional reports of research which followed. Xie’s own field in Han documents from Juyan in the north-western territories, modern Gansu province, was well represented during the conference with papers given on the nature of commercial activities within the garrison troops, details of changing official appointments as well as critical studies of the transcription of individual graphs and new theories for dating undated strips.

Reports of finds in the northwest continued with Zhang Defang 張德芳 of Gansusheng wenwu kaogusuo who described the 1990-93 excavation of the Han site at Xuanquan 懸泉, in the Hexi corridor, Gansu province. The Xuanquan site is the most perfectly preserved outpost of the Han and Wei period postal services. A total of 35,000 strips were found with 23,000 containing script, as well as 3,000 other items. Currently the work of recording and numbering the documents, examination of the script and the collation and classification of the objects is basically complete and can soon be made public.

17,803 bamboo and wooden strips have been collated (4,000 are illegible and therefore not included) of which 1,900 bear an exact date. The script is fairly clear. The earliest date to the 6th year of Wudi Yuanding 武帝元鼎 (-111) and the latest to the 1st year of Andi Yongchu 安帝永初 (+107). They mainly reflect these two hundred years of history and restore to us imperial decrees, legal ordinances, despatches, technical products, criminal records, record books, tallies, calendrical tables, numerological calculations and medical remedies. This material has given sudden impetus to studies of the postal system and builds on the material found at the Qin Shuihudi 睡虎地 site in Yunmeng which can be used for comparative studies. A paper given by Zhang Defangdetailed the postal districts along with figures for the number of postal staff at postal stations, foot postman, post horses and carriages. Also contained among the texts are records of attempts to ÒprotectÓ, control and organise the northwestern Qiang 羌 peoples, including personnel who were specfically entrusted with this responsiblity.

Other papers of interest to studies of the north-west included a paper by Xing Yitian 邢義

Last Updated: 9/28/11