Thursday, September 3, 2015

Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing
纸张之外:汉字书写3000年

An exhibit in Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery
From 8 September 2015 to 17 January 2016
Free Entry

This exhibit at the British Library consists of four cases of material to show the different media used for Chinese writing and the different forms of script. The cases show oracle bones, woodslips, silk manuscripts and paper books respectively.

The remains of a house (N.XIV.) dating to the 2nd-4th century AD at the oasis settlement of Cadota (Niya) in the southern Taklamakan. The wooden gift tags described below were discovered here. (Stein is shown mapping the site on his plane table.)
January 1931.
Photo 392/34(155)

Wood

Wood and bamboo were widely used for Chinese texts during the late first millennium BC. Fashioned into narrow slips bearing one or more columns of text, they were joined together with string to form a ‘page’ and then rolled for storage. The strings have mainly disintegrated, leaving a puzzle for scholars to reconstruct the texts from the mixed-up wood slips.

Thousands of slips have been found in tombs in Central China and archaeological ruins on the Chinese northwestern frontier. Wood continued to be used in the first millennium AD in these desert outposts even after the invention of paper.

简牍

木头和竹子在公元前第一个千年的晚期曾被广泛应用于汉字书写。它们被制成细长的薄片,每片书写一列或几列文字,而后用细绳连缀成一‘页’并卷起储存。原本的绳子多已断裂,使学者们不得不面对从混乱的简牍中重构原文的难题。 中原地区的墓葬以及西北边疆的考古遗址中,已经出土了数以千计的简牍。在公元后的第一个千年,这些沙漠哨所仍继续使用木简作为书写材料,尽管纸张此时已被发明。

A Calendar. Ink on wood, 1st century BC to 2nd century AD. Dunhuang, China
日历。木简,公元前1世纪至公元2世纪。中国敦煌
Or.8211/697

The form of Chinese characters — the ‘spelling’ — was standardized in the 3rd century BC and the same standard has been used to the present day (although with different styles of handwriting — different ‘scripts’). However, the form deriving from that used on the oracle bones continued to be used alongside this standard, most especially on seals. It is here shown on part of a calendar inscribed on this unusually shaped piece of wood. This, and the other woodslips shown here, were discovered in ancient military fortifications which guarded the northwest frontier of China with the Silk Road.

汉字的书写形式在公元前3世纪得到标准化并延用至今(尽管手写汉字有不同的字体)。然而,由甲骨文所衍生出的书写形式与标准化的汉字一并继续使用,尤其是作为印章上的铭文。这里展示的是一件日历的一部分,它书写在一件特殊形状的木简上。这件木简同其他展出的简牍均发现于古代军事要塞,它们同丝绸之路一起驻守中国的西北边疆。

Writing Exercise. Ink on wood, AD 14-19. Dunhuang, China
书写练习。木简,公元14至19年。中国敦煌
Or.8211/372

This is written in the standard script from the 3rd century BC which is still used in China. But the style of handwriting in this period is distinctive, with downward diagonal strokes that are thicker at the bottom right. It is clearly shown on this woodslip which contains a writing exercise. The words being practised include (big), (man) and (heaven). A date, corresponding to AD 14-19, is given in the four characters near the bottom.

这件木简以公元前3世纪标准化的汉字写就,这种汉字今天仍被中国人使用。然而这一时代的手写字体非常独特,笔画中的“捺”在结尾处微微变粗。这件木简清晰地展示了其含有一份书写练习。被练习的汉字有“大”,“人”和“天”。木简底部的四个汉字显示了一个日期,相当于公元14至19年。

Medical Prescriptions for People and Horses. Ink on bamboo, 1st century BC to 2nd century AD. Dunhuang, China
为人和马开具的医疗处方。竹简,公元前1世纪至公元2世纪。中国敦煌
Or.8211/524, Or.8211/525, Or.8211/526

These slips contain medical prescriptions and were all found in a Chinese military station north of the frontier town of Dunhuang in the Gobi desert. They are written on bamboo which, although commonly used in Central China, was not locally available on this northwestern borde. It must have been carried in, probably from southwest China.

One prescription is to treat ‘a persistent cough, nausea in the chest, aching joints and long-standing constipation’ and contains pepper, ginger and cinnamon. Some of the prescriptions are for horses, including those that are wounded or suffering from the heat.

这些竹简写有一些医疗处方,它们均发现于边境城市敦煌以北,戈壁沙漠中的一处中国军事驻地。尽管这些竹简在中原地区被广泛使用,但西北边疆并不出产竹子。这些竹简很可能来自中国西南。 其中一份处方是为了治疗“久咳不止,胸闷,关节疼痛以及长期便秘”,处方中含有胡椒,姜,以及肉桂。其他一些处方是为受伤或中暑的马所开具。

Wooden gift tags. Ink on wood, 2nd to 3rd centuries AD. Niya, China
木质礼品标签。木简,公元2至3世纪。中国尼雅
Or.8211/940, Or.8211/941, Or.8211/942, Or.8211/943, Or.8211/944, Or.8211/945, Or.8211/946

These wooden tags, discovered buried in sand in the hallway of a large ruined house, were used to label gifts of jade presented to the royal family of the kingdom of Jingjue or Cadota in the southern Taklamakan Desert. The front gives details of the gift: ‘Your subject Chengde bows his head to the ground and sincerely presents this rose coloured stone and bows twice in greeting’. The back gives the name of the recipient: ‘the great king’, ‘Princess Chun’, ‘The Royal Wife from Qiemo.’ No jade was found at the long-deserted site: the slips had been left there and survived by being covered by the desert sands.

这些木质标签发现于一座大型房屋废墟内走廊的沙土之中,它们被用作一些玉石礼物的标签,这些礼物要被进献给塔克拉玛干沙漠南部精绝国的王室。标签的正面给出了礼物的细节:“臣承德叩頭謹以玫瑰一再拜致問”。标签的背面注明了收件人信息:“大王”,“春君”,“且末夫人”。在这处久被遗弃的遗址并未发现玉石,只有这些木简被留下并由于被沙土掩埋而保存下来。

A Woodslip Book. Ink on wood with string, 2004
编简成册。木简,细绳,2004年
ORB.MISC.25

This is a modern reproduction of a Chinese woodslip book showing how the slips were fastened together to form a ‘page’. The notches for the string ties can be seen on the original woodslips, shown alongside.

The original woodslips shown here were found in oasis towns and desert fortifications on the Chinese part of the Silk Road. Most of them are probably written on poplar wood which was plentiful in the irrigated settlements. The remains of two thousand year old dessicated trees can still be seen in these long-deserted sites.

这是一件中国木简书的现代仿制品,它展示了木简如何被固定起来形成一个“册页”。为绑细绳用的缺口在旁边的木简原件上清晰可辨。 这里展示的木简原件发现于丝绸之路中国段的绿洲城镇及沙漠要塞。这些木简的大多数当为杨木,它们在有水利灌溉的定居点十分常见。在这些久被遗弃的遗址仍可见到两千年前干枯的古树。

An Almanac for the year 59 BC. Ink on wood. Dunhuang, China
公元前59年年历。木简。中国敦煌
Or.8211/26, Or.8211/28, Or.8211/29, Or.8211/30, Or.8211/31, Or.8211/34, Or.8211/35

These slips, which contain an almanac or calendar for the year 59 BC, would originally have been joined together to form a ‘page’. The notches used to hold the string ties can still be seen – two on the right hand edge of each slip. The characters at the top give the day – ‘eighth day’ 八日, eleventh day’ 十一日etc. Because the form or spelling of Chinese characters was standardized in the third century BC and retained to the present-day, anyone knowing modern Chinese would recognize these characters.

这些木简含有一部公元前59年的年历,它们原本被连缀成一部“册页”。用于固定绳子的缺口仍然可见——它们位于每片木简的右侧边缘。木简顶部的汉字标明了日期——“八日”,“十一日”等等。由于汉字的书写形式在公元前3世纪得到标准化并沿用至今,任何懂得现代汉语的人都可以认出这些汉字。

Thanks to Gao Feichi for the Chinese translation.

感谢译者高菲池

The Chinese character used on the panels at the exhibit at the British Library is the character for wood . It is taken from a Han period woodslips excavated in Juyan in north-western China.

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