Excavated Manuscripts and the Reconstruction of Chinese History
Early History and Religion of Ancient China
The study of excavated manuscripts has always an important
part of Chinese historical and archaeological research. Every time an old
manuscript is found, this brings huge excitement and expectation to the
Bamboo and wood manuscripts remained rare until the early 20th century. When Sir Aurel Stein found a vast amount of wood slips in the abandoned Han dynasty fortifications in Gansu province, they caused a sensation among archaeologists and sinologists. The wood slips he collected on his expeditions (1900-1931) to Chinese Central Asia are now in the British Library, London. Part of the project is to publish those previously unpublished material, with photographs, transcriptions and discussion.
recent years, the modernisation in China has been keeping a remarkable
speed. The downside of this is that many
archaeological sites are destroyed by constructions and in particular by
illegal excavations. Chinese
institutions have to buy back many of the manuscripts from the antique
market. Among several newly formed
collections, the most important ones are in the Shanghai
and Qinghua University. Remarkably, the contents of
the Qinhua bamboo slips proved to be
the long-lost ‘book of documents’, which
provides the first hand evidence for historical research.
The Qinhua research team, led by Li Xueqin, is currently carried out a national research project that is centered on the question of how can these manuscripts being used in the reconstruction of the early history and religion of ancient China. As an invited member of the project, Tao Wang's is exploring the interaction between texts and everyday activities and experiences of the Warring States period China.
The study of ancient bamboo and wood manuscripts is fast becoming an international subject. Its attraction lies first in the immediacy and freshness of the material, and significantly, they shed new light on aspects of everyday life and customs of the contemporary society, often absent from the traditional historiography. Moreover, the study is also a multi-disciplinary subject: archaeologists find it interesting because the written evidence sometimes gives the absolute date of the burial and the site, and together with the silent evidence - such as bones and shards – the slips reveal much about the life of the people in past societies; philosophers can read different and often completely new ideas and interpretations of the ancient sages’ works; even textual critics happily dive into the new copies and editions of ancient texts in order to restore the original readings.
Papers presented at conferences
- “The Day Book and Qin culture”, Wuhan, Wuhan University, Oct. 2010
- “’Text’ and textual analysis”, Beijing, Qinhua University, Dec. 2010.
Publications (since 2007):
- 2007: Unpublished Chinese Wooden Slips in the British Library, Wang Tao, Frances Wood and Hu Pingsheng eds., Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe
- 2007: “Ancient writing: China’s ‘Dead Sea scroll’”, in Brian M. Fagon ed. Discovery! Unerathing the New Treasures of Archaeology, London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 240-241.
- Sino-Fellowship Trust
- CCK Foundation
- China National Research Fund