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Sarah Allan, Editor of Early China
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Dartmouth College
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Preface to the Database of Early Chinese Manuscripts

Preface to the Database of Early Chinese Manuscripts

By Enno Giele

Last update: 19.02.2001

Proceed to the database

What is this?

This is the full and most updated version of my database that in an abbreviated format accompanies my review article “Early Chinese Manuscripts: Including Addenda and Corrigenda to New Sources of Early Chinese History: An Introduction to the Reading of Inscriptions and Manuscripts,” Early China 23-24 (1998-99), 247-337. It tries to assemble basic information on all known manuscripts – fully published or not – written in Chinese on bamboo, wood, and silk from the pre-imperial to the early imperial period, i.e. roughly from the –3rd to the 3rd c. However, a few other manuscripts written on or inscriptions engraved in stone, bone, or paper from adjacent periods have also been included.

This database is not simply a compilation of others’ efforts in listing these kinds of source materials, although quite a few of such lists have been used to provide a starting point. Rather, the information contained in this database has been directly culled from and/or checked against the original reports and publications that are given at the end of each entry (although it is possible that the reader will find slightly diverging data in these and other publications, because many reports actually contradict each other and I have been at a loss sometimes in determining which version to follow).

What is New?

1. Entries
Work on the database was begun in 1997 and it was completed and submitted together with the article to Early China in September 1998. As the process of publication dragged on, I have tried to stay ahead of the field’s development and updated the files several times adding (or deleting) entries, correcting or augmenting information contained in already existing entries. This practice has been continued even after the article went to the press and will be continued as long and as much my time and resources permit.

New entries (made since 1999) are distinguished by an “a” (or “b,” etc.) added to the numerical code of the site (for which see below). A very few entries have been deleted and this resulted in a gap in the sequence of numerical codes, which should not occasion bewilderment.

Two changes in particular shall deserve mentioning:

The two entries IV.08 and IV.09 that still appear in the print version have been deleted altogether. These two sites have been called text-producing tombs in Wenwu 1993,8:12. However, the recently published full-fledged archaeological report on the cemetery of the area does not confirm this. Instead, it reports on another text-producing tomb from the same area. This has been now been entered as no. V.05b. The name of the area (see also entry no. V.06) is “Gaotai” (correctly given in all reports), but I made a mistake and wrote “Gaotaishan” instead. When I discovered it, the article was already at the press.

The order of the sites Yangtianhu tomb no. 25/167 (formerly III.28, now III.27) and Yangjiawan tomb no. 406 (formerly III.27, now III.28) has been reversed so as to be consistent with the principle of listing geographically close sites together (site III.29 also belongs to the Yangjiawan cemetery).

2. Format

A detailed description of the database is found in the print article. This shall not be repeated here. However, the posting of the database onto the web and the introduction of the full-text search function has made some reformatting inevitable. Also, users with no access to the print version might want an explanation of the numerical code that is given for each site. Except for cases in which it is found misleading (one example being mentioned above), this code has remained and will remain unchanged throughout all updates, whereas the serial numbers introduced in the web-version might change.

This code is still found in the “site” field of the SITES part. It contains a Roman numeral that represents a rough division along chronological, geographical, cultural, and archaeological lines:


Pre-Qin manuscripts from the state of Jin (-597 to –386)


Warring States manuscripts from the state of Zhongshan (-313)


Warring States manuscripts from the cultural sphere of Chu (-500 to –223)


Qin manuscripts (-309 to –207)


Early Former Han tomb manuscripts (-206 to –141)


Middle Former Han to Latter Han tomb manuscripts (-140 to 220)


Han to Jin non-funerary documents (-206 to 420)


Three Kingdoms & Jin tomb documents (221 to 420)


Tang wooden strips (618 to 907)


Finds of uncertain date

The second part of the code represents the sequence within each of these groups. Due to additions and deletions this is no longer an unbroken and purely numerical sequence.

Three new fields have been created for the web version of the database: “Distribution,” “Total pieces,” and “Total graphs.” Principally, none of these contains new information (save for updated data). Instead, these fields have been created to hold information that had been included – somewhat unsystematically – in other fields. “Distribution” now shows where within a tomb or other site the manuscripts have been found. For the archival manuscripts from the Chinese northwest that derive from a multitude of sites scattered over large areas, but have been published together, a compromise solution is still adopted in this database. Rather than according to single sites, these manuscripts are listed according to archaeological campaigns and publications, which is also the format they are usually referred to in secondary literature. In these cases, the “distribution” field tries to make up for the inconsistency by showing how many manuscripts were actually found at which site.

In the MANUSCRIPTS part, users are urged to pay attention to the newly created “remarks” field. The reformatting of the database has forced me to use clear-cut expression and values in most other fields. Often the information in the archaeological reports is not so clear-cut, however, and the “remarks” field draws attention to moot points. High and round numerical values, like the amount of pieces or graphs, should be considered approximate, anyway.

Generally, where no data were found, fields have been left blank. I have done my best—and continue to do so—to provide every bit of information that is accessible. But sometimes, my determination may have faltered and I chose not to hunt for that tiny detail in those 1,000 pp. reports. Therefore, I do not guarantee completeness in every aspect. This database is supposed to be a research tool, making it easier to review and find information on manuscript sources; any further research effort should go back to the first-hand “reports” and “reproductions/transcriptions.”

What is next?

The format of the database as it is presented now is a step forward, especially because it is searchable. But it is still not ideal. For the future, I envision several changes that could include:

  • the inclusion of Chinese graphs
  • a more user-friendly search tool with lists of clickable search terms and options and a display that is easier to the eye
  • the inclusion of more bibliographical data that are now buried in the print article
  • the connection of the data to a digitised map in GIS-format

in this order of importance. However, these changes, if possible at all, may take some time and for some of them I depend on the kind technical assistance of others. The ultimate move would be to make full transcriptions and images of the manuscripts (and the sites) available online and connect them to this database. But this touches upon copyright issues and I am in no position to harbour much hopes in this direction let alone make any promises. Let me state for the record, however, that if any institution (or individual) that (who) possesses copyrights for particular manuscripts would be willing to cooperate on this matter, this would be highly welcome.

Further References:
A flood of recent publications, bibliographies, and compilations of manuscript finds makes it ever harder for a single person to stay ahead of the news in all subfields into which the study of these sources has been rapidly diversifying. The web is offering a way to publish and look for related news much more quickly and comprehensively than was hithereto possible. This database is only part of it. If you want to follow the latest news on the excavation and interpretation of new finds, you should visit the site Jianbo yanjiu 簡帛研究 ( by the International Center for Research on Bamboo and Silk Documents (Beijing), which also publishes a newsletter in print form. This has so far focussed particularly on Warring States bamboo strips like those from Guodian or the Shanghai Museum strips, but has the format to cover other materials as well. For the strips from the Three Kingdoms state of Wu (wujian 吳簡) found at the Changsha Zouma Building site, you will find two related subsections at the Xiangyata 象牙塔 website ( [link no longer active]) managed by the Institute of History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. By far the most comprehensive fulltext-database of published transcriptions of manuscript texts as well as of related bibliographical items is still found at the website of the Wenwu tuxiang yanjiushi 文物圖象研究室 at the Institute for History and Philology, Academia Sinica ( Note that this is not a database for browsing complete texts, but only for searching for particular keywords that are then displayed in their immediate context (like a single strip or paragraph). Only the newest finds have not yet been included there. This gap can partly be filled by the Guodian Chujian 郭店楚簡 website ( at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. All these websites require Chinese browser capabilities. An independent bibliography of related research with short German descriptions of the sites and finds has been compiled by Joachim Gentz (


Many more friends and friendly persons than I can enumerate and even remember have helped me over the years with numerous details. These include (in alphabetic order of family name): Chen Wei 陳偉, Ulrich Lau, Lin Suqing 林素清, Luo Shijie 羅仕杰 (Luo Shih-chieh), Peng Hao 彭浩, Matthias Richter, and Tomiya Itaru 富谷至. The following deserve special mention: My teacher Xing Yitian 邢義田 (Hsing I-tien) initially asked me to compile a (Chinese) list of excavated early Chinese manuscripts for a seminar at the Academia Sinica. This became the prototype of this database. Donald Haper invited me to contribute an article on the topic and with this as well as his continued support acted as midwife to the English version. My friend Wang Ding 王丁 sent in a dozen pages of comments and corrections not only for the Chinese prototype but also for the English version in letters from Berlin. Finally, David Sena and Charles Blair have put in their expertise and much time and energy to reformat the file (including the creation of new fields) and make the whole thing work on the web. None of those mentioned is responsible for the contents of the database and of this introduction, for which I alone have to take the blame.

I welcome criticism and suggestions for the improvement of this site.

Enno Giele (紀安諾)

Last Updated: 9/28/11