2 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Writing Practices in the Era of Bamboo and Wooden Slips: A Study Based on Visual Evidence from the Excavated ManuscriptsMA YiInstitute of HistoryChinese Academy of Social SciencesJuly , 2014
4 The Era of Bamboo Slips and Wooden Tablets in Early China (5-9) The Examples of Visual Evidence for Writings with Bamboo Slips and Wooden Tablets (10-17)Scribes: Gender, Status, Writing Practices (18-21)Writing Positions: Postures, Furniture, Writing Method (22-24)Writing Materials: Bamboo Scroll, Wooden Tablet, Bamboo Slip (25-33)Stationery: Brush, Inkstone, Water Vessel (34-39)Conclusion (40)Afterword (42)
5 The Era of Bamboo Slips and Wooden Tablets in Early China [簡牘時代] There was what one might call an era of bamboo slips and wooden tablets in early China, a long historical period when these were the most popular media for writing.Even though paper was invented during the Han dynasty (206 BCE– 220 CE), it did not replace the bamboo slips and wooden tablets immediately. In fact, they co-existed for hundreds of years until the Eastern Jin dynasty (317– 420) when the bamboo slips and wooden tablets were at last gradually abandoned.So, in this account, bamboo slips and wooden tablets had been in use for more than a millennium.
6 [簡牘出土情況]Since the beginning of the twentieth-century, hoards of bamboos slips and wooden tablets have been excavated one after another throughout mainland China.Today we have tens of thousands of these slips and tablets. They date back to the Warring States (ca. 475– 221 BCE) period to the Six Dynasties (220– 589). The majority of them are from the Qin (221– 206 BCE) and Han dynasties(206 BCE– 220).
7 [簡支、牘板、簡冊]Among them, we have the thinner, more elongated bamboo slips, as well as the wider wooden tablets.Many of the bamboo strips must have been strung together as scrolls originally. In many cases, the strings have been broken, and the bamboo slips are no longer in their original order. In rare cases, the strings have remained unbroken, and the complete original scrolls have been preserved.
8 [簡牘書迹]Examining the writings on these bamboo and wooden slips, we see that the writings are almost always done with brushes and ink, with the characters arranged vertically in lines from right to left. It is the same when paper became the medium for writing.When these bamboo slips and wooden tablets were the primary surfaces for writing, how did people actually write? What were their methods of writing, and how are they different from those of later periods?
9 [視覺資料的重要性]In the extant literary records, we find no information at all on this topic.But among the non-literary, material sources, we can find visual representations of scenes of writing as well as artifacts from writing practices themselves. We can refer to these materials for answers to these questions.
10 On the Bamboo Scroll, 1 [簡冊書寫之一] Figure 1. Eastern Han stone carving.Wu Family Shrine, Jiaxiang County, Shandong ProvinceThe man is holding a bamboo scroll in his left hand and a brush in his right hand. With his wrist suspended, he is apparently writing on the scroll at the moment. The part of the scroll that is open has about more than ten bamboo slips. They are not very long, probably about one chi each (one chi is roughly equivalent to 23.1 centimeter). And we can vaguely make out the two strings that are holding the scroll together. His left hand is shown to lie outside of the scroll, and the part of the scroll that is hanging down must be its right side. The part of the scroll that is visible to us should be its backside. So, we see that the writing was done from right to left of the scroll.
11 On the Bamboo Scroll, 2 [簡冊書寫之二] Figure 2. Eastern Han carved brick.Shifang City, Sichuan ProvinceThe one on the left wears an oversized robe with large sleeves. His left hand is holding a partially opened bamboo scroll. His right hand was holding a brush with his wrist suspended mid-air. He is apparently in the process of writing. The part of the scroll that is open also has about more than ten slips. There seems to be two strings as well. The scribe is facing the front of the scroll, with its right side shown dangling. So, we can conjecture that the writing was done from right to left of the scroll.
12 On the Bamboo Scroll, 3 [簡冊書寫之三] Figure 3. Eastern Han stone carving.Bali Temple, Yanggu County, Shandong ProvinceThe two men on the left are facing each other; the one with the forward leaning pointed hat and the oversized robe is holding a brush with his wrist suspended over a partially opened bamboo scroll. Once again, the part of the scroll that is open has about more than 10 slips. The slips seem to be relatively short and wide, and we can vaguely see the strings that tie the scroll together.
13 On the Wooden Tablet, 1 [牘板書寫之一] Figure 4.Eastern Han wall murals.Han tomb No. 1, Wangdu County, Hebei ProvinceThe man sitting down, with his knees bent, on a wooden bench. He is wearing a forward leaning pointed cap ad an oversized robe with large sleeves. His left hand is holding one wooden tablet. His right hand is holding a brush. With his suspended wrist, he is apparently in the process of writing. The tablet looks to be about one chi long. On the ground in front of the wooden bench, there is a three-legged inkstone and a water vessel.
14 On the Wooden Tablet, 2 [牘板書寫之二] Figure 5. Eastern Han stone carving. Biantangzhen, Jiawang District, Xuzhou City, Jiangsu ProvinceIn the hallway, we see two more larger sized men sitting, with their knees bent, on a wooden bench. Both are wearing the same forward leaning pointed caps and oversized robes. The one in front looks like he is holding a wooden tablet in his left hand, a brush in his right hand, and with his wrist suspended, he is apparently in the process of writing. The tablet also looks to be about one chi long. In front of the bench is a low-standing small table.
15 On the Bamboo Slip [簡支書寫] Figure 6. Easetrn Han stone carvingXiaotangshan Stone TempleChangqing District, Jingnan City, Shandong ProvinceOne of the three men is holding a slip of bamboo just by its lower half. His other hand is holding a brush, in the process of writing. The bamboo slip is about one chi long.
16 Jin dynasty: On the Wooden Tablet, 1 [西晉牘板書寫之一] Figure 7.Scribe figurine.Western Jin tomb from Jinpenling, Changsha City,Hunan ProvinceThe man is kneeling, with the forward leaning pointed cap. The back of the cap is quite elevated. He is wearing a long robe. His left hand is holding a wooden tablet, and his right hand holding a brush with his wrist suspended mid-air in a moment of writing. Because the material is ceramics, the tablet is a bit thicker and shorter.
17 Jin dynasty: On Wooden Tablet, 2 [西晉牘板書寫之二] Figure 8.Facing scribe figurines.Western Jin tomb from Jinpenling, Changsha City, Hunan ProvinceTwo men are kneeling and facing each other. Both are wearing the forward leaning pointed cap, with an elevated backside, and a long robe. One of the figures is holding a wooden tablet in his left hand, and a brush in his right hand. With his wrist suspended mid-air, he is apparently writing on the tablet at the moment. Since this is ceramics, the wooden tablet is relatively thicker and shorter. Between the two men, there is a writing counter.
18 Scribes: Gender [書寫者：性別] We have seen eight examples above, and even though it is a small number, we can roughly speculate on the writing practices of the time. Period-wise, they are drawn from the Eastern Han (25-220) to the Western Jin ( ) dynasty.The scribes are all men; there is not a single female.They all wear the same forward leaning pointed caps (with the exception of the ones that we cannot see clearly in figure #6) and long robes. This is probably the attire of scribes.
19 Scribes: Status [書寫者:身份] At the time, literati often wear the “advancing the worthies” caps (jinxianguan), distinguished by a high, elevated front and a low backside, connected by a “bridge” that indicates the person’s status. With supporting evidence from the literary records, we can be fairly certain that they are all wearing the “advancing the worthies” caps. Literati from that period wore robes or the Confucian garb; the two are similar in style, and the Confucian garb is known for its large sleeves.In figures #7 and #8, even though they are wearing long robes, their sleeves are relatively narrow; they are probably not wearing Confucian garbs, but they are still wearing robes. The difference we see here in the garments is probably due to the sartorial changes that happened under the Western Jin period. It could also be because these are minor officials but not Confucian literati.
20 Writing Practices: Dictations (1) [書寫行為：記錄(一)] In the eight examples, the person who is doing the writing almost always faces a person who is speaking. So, the writings are mostly dictations, but the contexts are not always the same.The scribes in figures #1 and #3 appear to be slightly leaning forward, with a very respectful demeanor. In figures #2 and #5, the scribes appear to have high self-regard; the former seems to be making an interrogation, while the latter a formal address to his subordinates. The scribe in figure #4 is alone; he is writing by himself, not dictating. He was a clerical administrator whose chief responsibility was record-keeping and the management of public records.
21 Writing Practices: Dictations (2) [書寫行為：記錄（二）] Dictation was a basic function of writing, but it may not have been its function. The fact that in all these examples, writing is presented as a function of dictation may have to do with the fact that they all came from tombs. Figurines and drawings from tombs are often simplistic and exaggerated. Given the diversity of the contexts of each of the examples, they are not sufficient for determining the status of the scribes.
22 Writing Positions: Postures and Furniture (1) [書寫姿勢：坐姿與家具（一）] In the eight examples, the scribes in figures #2 and #3 are both sitting down, while the other six are standing up. For the two that are sitting down, they do so with their knees bent, whether they are sitting on a bench or a mat on the ground.This way of sitting, with bended knees and one’s buttocks resting on both ankles, was the proper way of sitting at the time. Any other position would have been considered inappropriate.
23 Writing Positions: Postures and Furniture (2) [書寫姿勢：坐姿與家具（二）] From pre-Qin to the Western Jin, given the custom of sitting on mats on the floor, furniture was usually low-standing. They typically included sitting mats, beds with short legs, and tables with short legs. Tables were usually narrow and/or low, and not used for writing.I should also point out that even if they were of sufficient dimensions for writing, they were not necessarily suitable for use by scribes who write while kneeling down. Stationeries were spread out on the floor, or placed on top of a lowly, small table.
24 Writing Positions: Method [書寫方法] Since writing was not done on furniture, the scribes’ arms were not rested on any surface. In the examples we have seen, the standing scribes in figures #2 and #3 have their wrists and forearms suspended; it is the same for the scribes who are sitting down in the other examples. They all hold the writing surfaces (e.g. bamboo scrolls, wooden tablets, bamboo slips) in one hand, and hold the brush with the other.This posture is very different from the one in later times, and is a defining feature of writing practices in this era of bamboo and wooden slips. It is consistent with the popular habit of sitting on the floor, low-standing furniture, the particular kneeling posture, and the quality of the hard surfaces of the bamboo slips and wooden tablets. They all had a long history with great impact on the writing methods and practices of the ancients.
25 Writing Materials: Bamboo Scrolls [書寫材品：簡冊] In three out of the eight examples (i.e. figures #1, #2, and #3), the writing medium is a bamboo scroll. These are one chi long bamboo slips strung together by two strings top and bottom. We can see bamboo scrolls like these among the excavated materials.In these images, all three scrolls have about more than 10 slips open to view. Presupposing that these scrolls are half-open, then a complete scroll should have about 30 slips of bamboo. And if each slip has enough room for 30 or so characters, then each scroll can have about a thousand characters. We do not yet know if this is the standard for this type of bamboo scrolls that are pre-strung for dictations.
26 Writing on the Bamboo Scrolls [書於簡冊] When writing on a bamboo scroll, the scribe held a brush in right hand and his left hand held the part of the scroll that was closed —that is, the part that was still rolled up —and wrote on that part. As he completed a strip, he unrolled it from the top of the scroll.
27 Writing Materials: Tablets [書寫材品：牘板] In four out of the eight examples, the writing medium is wooden tablets (i.e. figures #4, #5, #7, and #8). Because figures #7 and #8 are ceramic models, the dimensions of the tablets are distorted. In figures #4 and #5, the length of the tablet is about one chi; the width is not longer than the palms of the scribes. This is consistent with what we see among the excavated artifacts today.In figures #4, #5, and #8, the scribes all hold the lower part of the tables.
28 Writing Materials: Slips [書寫材品：簡支] In the eight examples, only figure #6 shows what might have been a single bamboo slip. But still, we cannot eliminate the possibility that it may just be a very simplistically depicted wooden tablet. But since it is a scene set against a granary in the background, there is a good probability that it is indeed a bamboo slip (i.e. in these drawings of granaries, they could be records of the granaries’ inventories or grain vouchers, both of which were written on slim, long bamboo slips).In figure #6, the bamboo slip also appears to be around one chi long. The scribe is holding it by its lower half.
29 Comparison between Writing on the Bamboo Scroll, Bamboo Slip, and Wooden Tablet [簡冊、牘板、簡支書寫之比較] Scroll Tablet Slip
30 Examples of How Papers were Held and Rolled up in a Scroll in the Early CenturiesWhen Papers were a Writing Medium [紙時代早期之書寫示例]Admonitions Scroll Northern Qi Scholars Collating the Classicsby Gu Kaizhi, Eastern Jin (317– 420) by Yang Zihua, Northern Qi (550—577).
31 Example of Scroll [簡冊示例] 居延漢簡“永元器物簿”冊，東漢（25—220），共77枚簡，由4個簡冊編連而成，行序從右向左The Han scroll from Juyan Site, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Reg
32 Examples of Tablets and Slips [牘板、簡支示例] 1.Banboo slips, Warring States Wooden tablet, Qin Dynasty Wooden Slips and tablet, Han Dynasty
33 Stationery: Brushes, Inkstones, and Water Vessels [文具：筆、硯、水器] Brushes were used to write in all the examples we have looked at. They appear to be about the same length as the bamboo scrolls, wooden tablets, and bamboo slips, i.e. about one chi. This is consistent with the excavated artifacts. When writing, the scribes hold the brush around its mid-way point.In figure #4, we see a three-legged round inkstone and a water vessel. Inside the inkstone, there is an ink stick. The water vessel is supported by a stand. Inkstones that are three-legged and round are common among the Han inkstones. They are relatively sizeable and are known to be sturdy. Many of them have survived.Water vessels are also a stable stationery of that time.
34 Examples of Brushes [毛筆示例] The Han brush from Juyan Site, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
35 Examples of Three-legged, Round Inkstones [三足圓形硯示例] Inkstones, Han Dynasty
36 Examples of Water Vessels [水器示例] Northern Qi Scholars Collating the Classics, by Yang Zihua, Northern Qi.
37 Stationery: Writing Counters [文具：書案] In figures #5 and #8, we see examples of writing counters. At that time, they were usually and mostly used 10 to 20 centimeters tall, mostly used for holding small objects.In figure #5, the writing counter in front of the speaker is even lower than the bench that he was sitting on.In figure #8, the writing counter is also very low-standing. It is placed between the two kneeling minor officials. On top of it is a small box, a brush holder, brushes, etc.
38 Example of Writing Counter [書案示例] Tomb murals, Eastern Han, from Luoyang City, Henan Province
39 Conclusion [結語]This paper has studied many examples of visual evidence for writings with bamboo slips and wooden tablets. The meaningful representations and rich imageries of the scribes, writing positions, writing materials, and stationery in these sources have given us a lot of details that invite and deserve a great deal of attention.In some cases, what they tell us is consistent with what the literary records have already told us. In some other cases, they give us information that is available only through these vivid and immediate visual sources. These are all valuable sources that deserve our attention.
41 AfterwordThis PPT document was presented at the panel titled “Excavated Texts and Early Chinese Empires” during the conference of AAS-in-Asia, July 18th, 2014, Singapore. The author wants to express appreciation to Dr. Vincent S. Leung from the University of Pittsburgh for his great help in translating the original work.The initial content of the presentation was published at The Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the China Han Dynasty Painting Research Association, Jining, Shandong, July The original title was “Writing practices in the era of bamboo and wooden slips”. The revised version was published in March 2014 atIn terms of the research on the writing methods of ancient China, the author recommends these further readings: MA Yi,"Searching the roots of writing practice of early China”, 文史 vol.3, pp , published by 中華書局 in 2013; MA Yi,“Writing postures of ancient Chinese and the evolution: a study from the images", pp , 形象史學研究 (2013) published by 人民出版社 in This article is also accessible atMA YiSeptember, 2014
42 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences MA YiResearch FellowInstitute of HistoryChinese Academy of Social SciencesAdd: 5 Jianguomennei Dajie, Beijing , China馬怡 研究員中國社會科學院 歷史研究所地址：北京 建國門內大街5號郵編： 中國