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Nina

Any help with the Seal Script characters?

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Nina

Hi Kent-

I agreed with you about the errors in Wieger, et al. But calling Wieger and Harbaugh "amateurs"? :-) Through my own work, I've come to appreciate how much time and effort it took for any of those people to compile their reference dictionaries. Even the "amateurs" I communicate with today who are researching the etymology of Chinese characters have spent many years sifting through massive reference books, and occasionally coming up with their own creative interpretations of those ancient scrawls. I don't agree with all of them, and do find errors, but their devotion inspires me and I admire them greatly.

Wieger did the best he could with what he had to work with, and he compiled a beautiful book, despite some errors. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water?

No, I don't base my interpretations soleley on Wieger. Thank you for the concern.

As for Shen1, Wieger has a reference on p. 31 to another depiction of Shen1 on p.50 (Lesson 50 C) which explains more about the "lightning" and the "expansion of the two natural powers".

Maybe you can help me with another character: Wu2 "without". I've been having a disagreement with a friend for a long time about the etymology of that character. I prefer the idea that it's a pictograph of a forest that's been cleared of the trees, but my friend sticks by the idea that it was a pictograph of dancing girls. Have you come up with anything definitive about Wu2, and the reasong behind it? Why would two dancing girls (or shamans?) have the meaning "without"?

Thank you-

Nina

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kentsuarez

Nina wrote: "I agreed with you about the errors in Wieger, et al. But calling Wieger and Harbaugh "amateurs"? "

Kent: Absolutely. Neither of them are professional scholars in the field of philology, so they are by definition amateurs, which means non-professionals who do it for the love of it. And by extension, it sometimes (but not necessarily) carries the connotation of not doing as good a job as a professional, since, in general, professionals are better in their fields than are amateurs (and this is certainly true in the difficult area of Chinese etymology). Both the basic definition and the extended connotation are clearly true of both Wieger and Harbaugh.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate their efforts. Like them, I am an amateur in this field. But it didn't take me very long at all to start seeing the errors in their work. If either of them had taken the time to properly study the works of scholars available at the respective times each book was written, the quality of the books would have been dramatically improved. If either of them had submitted the work to professional scholars in this field, they surely could have corrected many of the countless and egregious blunders which now fill their books. I cut Wieger more slack, since he came along so early, but Harbaugh could have done better.

I, too, admire the amount of work Wieger did, and I particularly like how both books are arranged in ways that help us learn characters and the connections between their modern graphic forms. But there's so much that's dead wrong in these books, in terms of etymology, that they simply shouldn't be taken seriously, at least not for the purpose of learning what components really make up the characters, and where they really come from.

If you want to use them for mnemonic purposes, great, I did that too, and enjoyed both books. But SO much has been learned since Wieger's time, due to the oracle bones and a century of scholarship on them that in terms of real character analysis it IS time the book be relegated to the "quaint and outdated" shelf. And Harbaugh SHOULD have done a better job on the etymology, given how much is now available on the topic, and how very accessible it now is (in Chinese).

It's a real shame that no one has produced a good, accessible replacement for Wieger which incorporates modern scholarship. The closest are Wú, Teresa L. (1990). The Origin and Dissemination of Chinese Characters (中國文字只起源與繁衍). Caves Books, Taipei ISBN 957-606-002-8 (but it is out of print); and 謝光輝 Xìe Guānghuī Ed., (1997). The Composition of Common Chinese Characters: An Illustrated Account, Peking (sic) University Press. ISBN 7-301-03329-x. A large softcover book with 652 pp., each showing the evolution of one character, with single, representative OB, bronze, and seal forms, accompanied by a brief paragraph of explanation in English and Mandarin (simplified characters), with illustrations. Despite the cartoons, this is rather more accurate than the books by Tan Huay Peng (as well as Wieger; Wilder, & Ingram; and Harbaugh) and the English explanations are somewhat better written, more accurate and more informative than Wáng Hongyuan’s (Wáng Hóngyuán (1993). 漢字字源入門 The Origins of Chinese Characters, Sinolingua, Beijing, ISBN 7-80052-243-1.). Xie can therefore actually be recommended as an introduction to the topic for the casual reader. However, it still does not have the scholarly rigor to make it a suitable text for the beginning university student or serious amateur sinophile. Nor is it organized into families of graphic components like Harbaugh, or useful lessons like Wieger. But I'd strongly recommend it to you.

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kentsuarez

Nina wrote: "Maybe you can help me with another character: Wu2 "without". I've been having a disagreement with a friend for a long time about the etymology of that character. I prefer the idea that it's a pictograph of a forest that's been cleared of the trees, but my friend sticks by the idea that it was a pictograph of dancing girls. Have you come up with anything definitive about Wu2, and the reasong behind it? Why would two dancing girls (or shamans?) have the meaning "without"?"

--------------------------

Kent: One of the most common mistakes in popular etymology (what you find in most cartoon-illustrated books and similar sources) is to take the modern meaning of a graph, look at the modern or small seal form of the graph, and try to see that meaning in it as a story. This is a mistake for several reasons:

First, vast numbers of graphs have been borrowed to represent homophones, a process called phonetic loan. One must look at the *earliest* attested meanings in order to begin this kind of analysis.

Second, the graphs had morphed so much by the time of the small seal graphs that they may resemble something different, and you are very likely to be led astray if your analyses are based on them. This is what happened to Xu Shen when he wrote Shuowen. And since Shuowen is THE basis for both Wieger and Harbaugh's writing, they are copying Xu Shen's errors.

In the oracle bones, the graph is not used as 'no, not, don't have'. Rather, it is used as a verb and noun (name of a ritual or ceremony) related to rainmaking. Right there, you can basically assume that it was later borrowed for the abstract meaning 'no'. Also, any time you see a word which is abstract, an empty grammatical particle, or a numeral (except for 1-3), you can safely assume it is a phonetic loan.

The next step in analysis is often to look for compounds which contain this graph, or even graphically unrelated homophones, in an attempt to identify possible original meanings. In this case, there is exactly one obvious candidate, wu3 'to dance', since the OB graph resembles a person (one person, frontal view, gender non-specific) with tassels hanging from the arms, wrists or hands. These tassels might be furry animal tails (since the same component is found in qiu2 'fur pelt; to seek, beg') but could plausibly be ribbons, feathers, etc.

The top scholars like 李孝定 Lĭ Xiàodìng (Li Hsiao-ting - very authoritative scholar; 6:2039) are generally in agreement on this particular graph having the original meaning of 'dance'. Here are three phrases from the OB demonstrating this usage:

貞 (or 鼎)無(=舞)ㄓ(=又 i.e., 有)雨 i.e., 'divination [regarding whether if we] dance have (i.e,. there will be) rain'

王無(=舞) 'the king dances'

貞我無(=舞)雨 'divination [regarding whether if] I-myself [presumably the king, at whose behest the divination is made] dance [there will be] rain.

Thus, apparently even the king sometimes personally got involved in the rain-dance ritual. These oracle bone phrases are easily accessible nowadays. There are two suberb books by Keightley on the topic, in English, as well as several inexpensive and convenient little books in Chinese, written in very easy Chinese which introduces the OB meanings and inscriptions to lay readers like us. I list these at the bottom of this posting.

Clearly, the Shuōwén definition of 亡也 ‘be lost; disappear; no, not have’ is borrowed; or more precisely, the graph 'dance', now pronounced wu3, was borrowed to write the abstract (and therefore hard-to-write) concept wu2 'not have', a phonetic loan. To distinguish the two, 舛 chuan3 ('feet') was later added for the meaning of 'dance'. Thus, the original graph ended up being used only for the loan meaning, a very common occurrence.

So, the graph has nothing to do with clearing forests, nor are there two dancing girls present. But your friend is purty darn close. :)

------------------------------

References:

Keightley, David N. (1978). Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. University of California Press, Berkeley. Large format hardcover, ISBN 0-520-02969 (out of print, widely available online via used book services); A 1985 ppbk 2nd edition is still in print, ISBN 0520054555. Dr. Keightley’s works are superb, scholarly yet readable sources of information in English on the oracle bones, their discovery, context and interpretation. Authoritative, technical, and comprehensive. The main text unfortunately clings to Wade Giles romanization without tone marks, and usually without Chinese characters; however, some appendices and the bibliography do better, adding traditional characters.

Keightley, David N. (2000). The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China (ca. 1200 – 1045 B.C.). China Research Monograph 53, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California – Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-070-9, inexpensive ppbk. Thankfully, switches to pinyin, but still no tone marks. Would have been nicer if he had included OB characters by each divinatory inscription, instead of just the modern 楷 kai3 standard script versions. Inexpensive and highly recommended.

趙誠 Zhào Chéng (1988) 甲骨文簡明詞典 – 卜辭分類讀本. 中華書局, ISBN 7-101-00254-4. VERY inexpensive PRC hardcover book; I ordered it online thru Zhen1ben3 (Bookchinese.com).

劉興隆Liú Xīnglóng (1997). 新編甲骨文字典 (new oracle bone dictionary), 文史者出版社, 台北. Wénshĭzhĕ (Wen-shih-che) Publishing, Taipei. ISBN 957-549-062-2. Inexpensive hardcover.

These latter two let you look up a graph by stroke order, see the oracle bone and bronze forms, the usage (including examples) in the oracle bone divinations, etc., and often compare them to bronze and later usage. Recommended.

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Nina

Thanks for the reply, Kent.

You seem to have much more faith in the abilities of the scholars than I do. I guess it's appropriate to decide which one you want to believe. And you probably have much more education in the etymology of Chinese characrers than I do, so I won't argue the points with you.

As I said, my main research has been with the characters in the Dao De Jing. The discoveries of the Mawangdui and Guodian texts opened up such wonderful new avenues for reading the DDJ.

The books I have that deal with both the Mawangdui and Guodian texts show that the scholars have different opinions as to what the modern characters should be for some of those ancient graphs. Henricks told me that they really don't know what some of those graphs represent, so they have to make educated guesses.

That leads me to believe that when a scholar determines that a specific OB is the forerunner to a modern character, they may also just be making educated guesses. I'm comfortable with accepting that we probably will never know for sure what some of those graphs actually represent, but it seems that some scholars tend to state their case so vehemently, insinuating that they're absolutely positively correct. It's kind of funny in a way. But then, that's science for you!

You're such a great researcher, maybe you can help me out with something else? I've been trying to find a book that has depictions of the Seal characters used in the actual texts (bamboo slips and silks) of the Mawangdui and Guodian DDJs. All I've been able to find is a couple of photographs of some of the bamboo slips. I believe the original texts are in a museum in Beijing? Do you know if any book (in Chinese or English) has been printed which contains the true graphs of the texts found in those tombs?

Thanks-

Nina

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kentsuarez

Nina wrote: "You seem to have much more faith in the abilities of the scholars than I do. I guess it's appropriate to decide which one you want to believe."

Kent: I'm not a person of faith. I'm a hardcore skeptic and rationalist, and I always question what any scholar writes, examining the evidence provided with a critical eye and comparing his or her logic against that of other scholars. If you take this approach, you'll soon find that certain scholars tend to push their own ideas based on speculation, and lose sight of the healthy skepticism they should be maintaining. But other scholars remain skeptical and rational, keeping an open mind about the work of other scholars, and questioning their own assumptions and theories. They tend to point out, in their own writing, what the evidence is for and against their own ideas, rather than only citing the evidence for. They tend to tell you when other scholars disagree with them. In my opinion, it is this latter group who are true scholars, whose work is worth reading, such as Keightley. And once you establish that a person is such a scholar, you can have a certain level of confidence (if that's what you mean by 'faith') in the information they present. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Hsu Chin-hsiung (James Hsu, Xu Jinxiong), Wieger, and Harbaugh, who never tell you the full evidence, don't tell you that most scholars disagree with them on a particular point, and simply present idiosyncratic and unscientific speculation as if it were fact.

Nina: "The books I have that deal with both the Mawangdui and Guodian texts show that the scholars have different opinions as to what the modern characters should be for some of those ancient graphs. Henricks told me that they really don't know what some of those graphs represent, so they have to make educated guesses. That leads me to believe that when a scholar determines that a specific OB is the forerunner to a modern character, they may also just be making educated guesses. I'm comfortable with accepting that we probably will never know for sure what some of those graphs actually represent, but it seems that some scholars tend to state their case so vehemently, insinuating that they're absolutely positively correct. It's kind of funny in a way. But then, that's science for you! "

Well, first, there are plenty of cases where the scholars generally agree, so you can start by studying those cases, to gain a good understanding. What frustrates me most about Wieger, Harbaugh and James Hsu is that they don't even do this!

Second, there is a group of cases in which there are several good theories based on the facts, and we can probably safely say that the truth is either A or B, and that we may never know the answer. Or that the answer will have to await further archaeological study and discovery. This is quite normal in science, and it is a far better approach than that of Wieger, Harbaugh and James Hsu.

Now, when you get into reading the Shijing Book of Poetry, Stone Drums of Qin and your Mawangdui and Guodian DDJs, scholars will have disagreements about many of the graphs and meanings. The field is still immature in this regard, but the educated guesses of scholars, based on their in-depth knowledge of philology, are still valuable. Far more valuable than the uneducated guesses of amateurs like Wieger and Harbaugh.

Nina: "You're such a great researcher, maybe you can help me out with something else? I've been trying to find a book that has depictions of the Seal characters used in the actual texts (bamboo slips and silks) of the Mawangdui and Guodian DDJs. All I've been able to find is a couple of photographs of some of the bamboo slips. I believe the original texts are in a museum in Beijing? Do you know if any book (in Chinese or English) has been printed which contains the true graphs of the texts found in those tombs? "

Kent: It sounds like you should start with Early China Special Monograph Series No. 5: The Guodian Laozi: Proceedings of the International

Conference, Dartmouth College, May 1998; Edited by Sarah Allan and Crispin Williams; a full descrip is available at

http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/earlychina/publications/ecsms/ecsms5.html

and you can order it for a mere $20 at Amazon and other stores. I've ordered one but it hasn't arrived yet, so I can't comment on whether the text of the Laozi is transcribed manually or photographically reproduced. But email me at (insert my username here)(at) yahoo.com in about 2 weeks and remind me to tell you; or if I remember, I'll come back to this posting and put the info in via 'edit' fxn.

I've also found Guodian Chu jian yan jiu / Zhang Guangyu zhu bian ; Yuan Guohua he bian ; Chen Zhijian, Hong Juan, You Gongbi zhu bian.

郭店楚簡硏究 / 張光裕主編 ; 袁國華合編 ; 陳志堅, 洪娟, 余拱璧助編.

Publisher Taibei Shi : Yi wen yin shu guan, Min guo 88- [1999-

台北市 : 藝文印書館, 民國88- [1999-

But I called the publisher, who said that they still carry this but it does not have a full photo repro, just a partial one, with the full text given in modern graphs instead.

According to

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/laozi/#Bib

"the bamboo texts, written in a Chu script, have been transcribed into standard Chinese and published under the title Guodian Chumu zhujian (Beijing: Wenwu, 1998)". But again, I don't know if it contains complete facsimile, which is what I'd be interested in, since my own area of study is in the evolution of the graphic structures rather than the textual contents.

Also check out info at:

http://bamboo.lib.cuhk.edu.hk/

http://www.uni-kiel.de/cgi-bin/webglimpse.sino/www/admin/web-search-sino?query=guodian&whole=on&lines=on

As for the Mawangdui, acc. to http://venus.unive.it/dsao/pregadio/tools/daozang/dz_7.html:

"Definitive reproductions and editions of these mss. are found in vol. 1 (published in 1980) and vol. 4 (1985) of Mawangdui Han mu boshu (The silk mss. of the Han tombs at Mawangdui), edited by the Guojia Wenwuju Gu Wenxian Yanjiushi (Research Group on Ancient Literary Sources of the Chinese Ministry of Education). " Here is the Chinese:

國家文物局古文獻研究室 , ed. 1980 and 1984. 馬王堆漢墓帛書 , vol. 1 and vol. 4. Beijing: Wenwu Chubanshe.

I don't know how to order from this publisher; the book is not listed at my favorite online PRC shop, http://www.bookchinese.com:7751/default.asp.

If I find more on these later I will update this posting.

Kent

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Nina

Hi Kent-

I have the book on the Dartmouth Conference, and I'm sorry to say that it doesn't have the actual ancient text from the Guodian Laozi. The chapters are written in Traditional characters (no pinyin), but there are very interesting notes as to why the scholars chose those particular modern characters to replace the ancient ones. And when the scholars disagreed, sometimes two or three alternates are given for an ancient character with reference to which scholar chose which modern character, and there are some explanations in other parts of the book for their choices.

I also have Robert Henricks' book on the Guodian (he was one of the scholars at the Dartmouth Conference), but the ancient script isn't in his book either. I asked Henricks where I might find a copy of the actual ancient text, but he said he didn't know. Henricks also explains in his book why he chose certain modern characters to use for the ancient ones, and there is a table in the back of his book that shows the Wang Bi, Mawangdui, and Guodian characters for each of the DDJ chapters which appear in the Guodian. Again, those are the modern equivalents, not the original script.

It seems that everyone is transcribing both the Guodian and Mawangdui into modern forms, which makes our quest even more difficult, but please let me know if you come up with anything - I'll do the same.

I'm thinking that if transcribers are able to get ahold of the original texts, they've got to be out there somewhere - maybe only available to those in a university?

The book you mentioned by Xie Guanghui sounds very interesting, but I haven't been able to find a copy on my internet search. Even Peking Press doesn't have it listed at their site. Do you know where I might find a copy of it, or where I might search for it?

I went to bookchinese.com, but it's all written in Chinese! :-) My own limitations are daunting at times, but it's nice to depend on others where I fail.

Thank you-

Nina

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kentsuarez

Hi Nina, Sorry to hear the Dartmouth Conference proceedings don't have the photos or even a manual transcription of their original structures! Given the Qin2-Han4 transitional scripts I've seen, I imagine that one of the reasons is that the originals are very, very hard to read. However, I'm extremely surprised that Robert Henricks said he didn't know where to get facs copies! I would expect a scholar who has actually studied these texts to know more about them, but perhaps that's not the aspect he was focused on.

Nina: "I'm thinking that if transcribers are able to get ahold of the original texts, they've got to be out there somewhere - maybe only available to those in a university? "

I'm sure I can track it down; I have a part-time job at the Academia Sinica in Taibei and know a scholar in the History and Philology Dept. there, too -- there's probably no place more likely to have a copy or know how to get them; just give me a week or two. I'm interested in getting a copy too, but for different reasons than you. I'm studying the seal-clerical script transition right now, and am planning to learn to write early Western Han clerical calligraphy in the zhu2jian3 style. (So far I've only focused on Eastern Han to N. Wei and early Tang stelae, and oracle bones, so this is a major gap I want to fill in.)

I have just searched "Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Loewe, Michael (ed., 1993 -- Early China Special Monograph Series No. 2), Society for the Study of Early China, and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, ISBN 1-55729-043-1) and found the following info:

-------------

Regarding manuscript versions of Laozi, the chapter author Boltz says there are at least 53 Dunhuang (Tun-huang) ms. (manuscripts); 25 are the 'Pelliot' ms., in the Bibliothèque Nationale, but there is no note about repros; 15 are 'Stein' ms., in the Oriental and India Office Collections Div., British Library. These were, as of 1993, being reproduced for publication. Ōfuchi Ninji 大淵忍爾 published annotated photo repros for most of the Dunhuang Laozi in 1978. Jao Tsung-i (Rao Zongyi) 1955 published a full set of photos of good quality of the Suo3 Dan3 (So Tan/Su Tan) 索紞 set of 270 CE which are at Princeton.

As for the Mawangdui, on p. 284 it says complete photographic facsimile repros of the early 2nd century BCE Mawangdui ms. with transcriptions and textual notes are in "Kuo-chia wen-wu chü, Ku wen-hsien yen-chiu shih" (=guo2jia1 wen2wu4ju1, gu3 wen2xian4 yan2jiu1shi4, <> 1980), 國家文物局, 古文獻研究室 , 馬王堆漢幕帛書 vol. 1, Wen wu 文物, Beijing - this publisher has an English website at http://www.wenwu.com/ENGLISH/club.asp

and gives this info:

29 Wusi Dajie, Beijing, P.R. China 100009

---Tel: 86-10-64055059 Fax: 86-10-64010698

---E-mail: [email protected]

I have sent them an email today requesting info on this book, as it did not turn up using the search function on their site. I'll let you know what I hear. The closest thing they listed was 1192-3 马王堆帛书文字编(精) 16 180.00, a slightly different title.

They also list the following:

0386-6 睡虎地秦墓竹简 8 280.00

1210-5 郭店楚简文字编 16 45.00

But again, I don't know whether these contain full facs repros.

Major western studies and translations of them include Henricks 1980, 1989 (tr.); Lau 1982 (tr.); Boltz 1984. Let me know if you want the references, or those on the other, later ms. listed above.

Nina: "The book you mentioned by Xie Guanghui sounds very interesting, but I haven't been able to find a copy on my internet search. Even Peking Press doesn't have it listed at their site. Do you know where I might find a copy of it, or where I might search for it? "

Did you Google it? It shows up at http://www.chinabooks.com.au/language/lnchar_1.htm

and I have ordered several things from them with no problems.

Nina: "I went to bookchinese.com, but it's all written in Chinese! :-) My own limitations are daunting at times, but it's nice to depend on others where I fail."

Um, if their website is too daunting, I'm afraid you're not going to get much out of a photographic reproduction of 2nd century BCE bamboo slips in archaic script. :)

RU sure you really want them? I'm curious, how will these help you? BTW, do you read any Chinese at all? Just curious.

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Nina

Hi Kent-

As you probably know, the Mawangdui DDJ Text A was written in small seal, and text B was written in clerical script. Even though all of text A isn't available due to deterioration, it would be a wonderful find for you to see those actual texts, wouldn't it?

In response to your questions regarding my lack of ability to read Chinese, may I email you about that?

-Nina

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kentsuarez

Nina wrote: "As you probably know, the Mawangdui DDJ Text A was written in small seal, and text B was written in clerical script. Even though all of text A isn't available due to deterioration, it would be a wonderful find for you to see those actual texts, wouldn't it? In response to your questions regarding my lack of ability to read Chinese, may I email you about that? "

Kent: Yes, I'm very eager to see both scripts. What I'm studying now is the interrelationship of formal Qin small seal, Qin popular script, and the transition to clerical, as well as the relationship between this early transitional clerical (ancient clerical) and mid Western Han clerical. Studying sounds too formal. Groping is more like it. :)

BTW, re: reading Chinese, I certainly didn't mean to sound negative in any way. (Tone of voice is so lacking in emails and postings!) I just was unable to gather from your posting any information on this, and was merely curious. Sure, feel free to email me: [email protected].

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roddy
feel free to email me

I just hope this discussion continues here - I can't claim to understand it, but it's always nice to remind myself how little I know :help

Roddy

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kentsuarez

Hiya Roddy! Feel free to join in the discussion. What aspects are you interested in -- reading the Dao De Jing? Ancient Chinese characters? My own interest is sparked by anything old and mysterious, and both of these are intriguing puzzles, made all the more fascinating (and challenging) by the fog of ages which shrouds them.

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roddy

Oh, I have no hope of joining the discussion. I'll wait till I'm closer to mastering the current characters, i think . . .

Roddy

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Nina

Hi Kent-

I haven't researched clerical script very much, but from what I've read - clerical script was a sort of handwriting? If the Seal and Traditional characters are like block printing, Clerical was a more free-flowing and quicker style of writing? Oliver Moore (Reading the Past: Chinese) says it began with the introduction of brushes being used for writing implements, and it was a more rapid way of copying the other styles of writing when writing long texts. Can you tell me if that's correct?

Also, do you think that Clerical was the first calligrahy? Is there any special reason you chose to investigate Clerical script?

Since Roddy asked that we keep this discussion going at the forum rather than through emails, I'd be happy to oblige. The reason I suggested emails was because I thought we might be boring the socks off the other forum members.

You said:

Um, if their website is too daunting, I'm afraid you're not going to get much out of a photographic reproduction of 2nd century BCE bamboo slips in archaic script. :)

RU sure you really want them? I'm curious, how will these help you? BTW, do you read any Chinese at all? Just curious.

My response:

The truth is, Kent, that I neither have the time nor the desire to learn to read and write Chinese. I have been told that most people who can read and write modern Chinese still have trouble interpreting the Classics. I suppose if I wanted to read what the modern scholars have to say about the Classics I'd learn the modern language, but I'm more interested in discovering the ancient meanings of the characters rather than their modern usage and definitions. I can recognize and read Seal characters much more readily than Traditional or Simplified ones.

Why would I have to learn modern Chinese characters in order to recognize and interpret the ancient ones? I already have the modern transcriptions of the Mawangdui and Guodian DDJ texts. With the help of many dictionaries and online sources as well as Wenlin software, I have compiled a dictionary of all of the characters used in the DDJ including the Seal, Bronze and OB graphs, a breakdown of the components used in each character, some history of ancient China as it relates to the societal and cultural issues surrounding the pictographs used and why they came to have the definitions they do today, etc.

Reading the Chinese Classics IMO involves more than just translating a character into one English word. There were nine negatives used in the DDJ, and most translators use the English definition for bu4 "no, not, doesn't" for all of them. I may be wrong, but I don't think that learning modern Chinese would help me to understand the text of the DDJ any better. It would be like learning Italian in order to understand Latin?

-Nina

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kentsuarez

Nina wrote: "I haven't researched clerical script very much, but from what I've read - clerical script was a sort of handwriting? If the Seal and Traditional characters are like block printing, Clerical was a more free-flowing and quicker style of writing? Oliver Moore (Reading the Past: Chinese) says it began with the introduction of brushes being used for writing implements, and it was a more rapid way of copying the other styles of writing when writing long texts. Can you tell me if that's correct? "

Kent: Yes and no. Clerical was handwriting, but so are all the other scripts. Moore is dead wrong on the brush, and is blindly parroting a non-sensical old Chinese myth about the writing brush being invented by a Qin general. In fact, Chinese writing has always been done with a brush, since at least the mid Shang dynasty, or around the 15th to 14th centuries BCE. There is evidence of brush strokes on some of the neolithic painted pottery, and brushes are super low-tech, if you think about it; much easier to make than, say, stone tools, so there's no reason to doubt their early origins. Some of the oracle bone writings were written with a brush and not carved; the inks are red, black or brown. Scientific analyses show the red is cinnabar, and the black is carbon-based, probably from soot or ground charcoal if you ask me. Although we don't have any books from the Shang dynasty, the oracle bone graph 冊 ce4 shows slats or slips of bamboo or wood bound together like a venetian blind, just like the books on which the Chinese classics were written; there is also a graph 聿 yu4 showing a hand holding a brush, as for writing. So we can confidently conclude that the Shang were writing with brushes on bamboo or wood book scrolls just like Confucius did many centuries later. This is widely known by real scholars, who have long ago concluded that the "invention" of the writing brush in the Han dynasty is pure myth. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust Moore as a source if his mistakes are this egregious.

I also don’t know what you mean by “seal and traditional characters are like block printing”; block printing (printing with carved wooden blocks) wasn’t invented till the Tang dyn,. and movable type was Song dyn.. Or perhaps you’re referring to the form of handwriting draftsmen use, with all neat caps? In the latter case, I’d caution against making blanket statements about any of these scripts, as each had both formal and casual varieties.

I’d agree that the mature seal script of the 5th to 3rd centuries had the same neatness but it was much more formal and elegant than block handwriting; I’d go a step further and compare it to gothic and blackletter, with serifs and all. However, there was also a tradition of vulgar seal writing at the time (aka popular script) which used the seal structures but wrote in short, straight lines, as this was much quicker. Most people have never heard of it, but you can learn about it and all about the script evolution in the super highly recommended裘錫圭 Qiú Xīguī (2000). Chinese Writing. Translation of 文字學概論 by the late Gilbert L. Mattos (Chairman, Dept. of Asian Studies, Seton Hall University) and Jerry Norman (Professor Emeritus, Asian Languages & Literature Dept., Univ. of Washington). Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-071-7.

It was out of this vulgar seal tradition that ancient clerical (late Warring States to early W. Han) arose, and from that, structurally mature W. Han clerical, then the more stylized and calligraphically developed classic clerical as we see on E. Han stelae (which is what most people think of as “clerical”). All except the last kind were rapid, convenient forms, and yes, these were used in personal letters, copying texts, etc. When the classic form arose, since it was difficult but beautiful, it ended up being used on stelae and for formal purposes, but popular writing remained simpler, evolving into what Qiu calls “neo-clerical”. At the same time, based on the clerical structures there were cursive (what we now call zhang1cao3 or clerical cursive) and semicursive (you might call it clerical semicursive) scripts. Neoclerical and semicursive merged as early standard by the Wei-Jin period, but this was a relatively natural, casual standard script, easy to write, unlike the “mature” standard of the early Tang court calligraphers. Thus, there are both difficult, formal forms and easy, casual forms of each script, small seal, clerical and standard. You could even say that out of each casual tradition arose a later formalized version, and each formal version had ongoing contemporary vulgar forms from which each subsequent casual tradition emerged.

Nina: “Also, do you think that Clerical was the first calligrahy? Is there any special reason you chose to investigate Clerical script?”

Kent: I’d say that the first writers around the 7th to 5th centuries BCE who imbued their script with a strong sense of aesthetics, rounding and elongating the bronze script and giving birth to the Spring and Autumn Qin seal script tradition were practicing calligraphy. But this didn’t give birth to calligraphy in general, because it didn’t become a trend towards self-expression. I think most historians of calligraphy will agree that, as a field of Chinese art, it was really born in the E. Han dynasty, when the mature clerical began to develop into a varied art form, with very distinct calligraphic styles emerging within the script. The chief sources we have of this are late E. Han stelae, but stelae were usually conservative, so this style probably began a bit earlier on paper.

After I became functionally fluent in spoken Chinese, I decided to learn to write, but from the very beginning, wanted to do it under the tutelage of a calligraphy teacher so as to write the graphs beautifully – or at least, I should more honestly admit, to make them less horrid monstrosities. :wall But being a lover of all things archaic, I wanted to learn the oldest forms which are recognizable to the modern reader, so I begain with Northern Wei (funky early standard) stelae, then late E. Han. classic clerical. The reason I’m so keen on these bamboo books is that I want some good sources for learning to write proto-clerical as well. I still don't claim to write beautifully, though. But at least my handwritten characters are reasonably well composed, and sometimes they have a hint of clerical in them, which is neat. I'm also trying to better understand the seal-clerical transition, so this is a key data point.

Nina: “The truth is, Kent, that I neither have the time nor the desire to learn to read and write Chinese. I have been told that most people who can read and write modern Chinese still have trouble interpreting the Classics. I suppose if I wanted to read what the modern scholars have to say about the Classics I'd learn the modern language, but I'm more interested in discovering the ancient meanings of the characters rather than their modern usage and definitions. I can recognize and read Seal characters much more readily than Traditional or Simplified ones. Why would I have to learn modern Chinese characters in order to recognize and interpret the ancient ones? I already have the modern transcriptions of the Mawangdui and Guodian DDJ texts. With the help of many dictionaries and online sources as well as Wenlin software, I have compiled a dictionary of all of the characters used in the DDJ including the Seal, Bronze and OB graphs, a breakdown of the components used in each character, some history of ancient China as it relates to the societal and cultural issues surrounding the pictographs used and why they came to have the definitions they do today, etc. “

Kent: That’s cool. I totally understand. The only problem is that the best books and dictionaries (that I know of) which identify and explain the pre-modern (ob, bronze and seal) forms are written in modern Chinese. Many of the ones in English are unreliable and inaccurate, like Wieger, Wilder and Ingram, Harbaugh, etc. The biggest problems usually occur in the breakdown of the components, since the seal script graphs involve a fair amount of corrupted forms, so basing your analyses on Shuowen alone will lead you astray quite often. You really have to go back to early usage too. Sounds like you're doing that, though, which is excellent. Anyway, I’d highly recommend Qiu’s book, above, if you want to learn a bit more about this. Also, all the good info on oracle bones and bronze graphs is in Chinese dictionaries. Some of them are in very easy modern Chinese and are inexpensive, like Liu Xinglong's.

Nina: “Reading the Chinese Classics IMO involves more than just translating a character into one English word. There were nine negatives used in the DDJ, and most translators use the English definition for bu4 "no, not, doesn't" for all of them. I may be wrong, but I don't think that learning modern Chinese would help me to understand the text of the DDJ any better. It would be like learning Italian in order to understand Latin? “

Kent: True, unless most or all of the good textbooks and dictionaries on Latin were written by Italians, in Italian. That’s the problem here, you see. But if you feel you’ve found good commentaries and sources, then great!

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Nina

Thanks, Kent, for setting the record straight.

It was my egregious error in stating what Oliver Moore wrote, so please don't hold my misunderstandings against him. He mentioned the legend of Cheng Mao (the Qin general), but also stated that it was impossible to believe that Mao invented the cursive script since it had been in use for decades before Mao was born. He suggested that maybe Mao was the first to put those graphs into some sort of context. I also found in Moore's book a photo of a shard of pottery from the Shang period which was written on with ink and brush. In Moore's bibliography, he cites two of Qui Xigui's books. I hope that I haven't tarnished Moore's reputation by my own negligence. And thank you for pointing me to the correct information.

From now on I should probably start all of my statements with IMO. :-)

I found a couple of references in Henricks' book on the Mawangdui texts in his bibliography:

Ch'ang-sha Ma-wang-tui san-hao Han mu po-shu. Shanghai: 1974

Ma-Wang-tui Han mu po-shu Lao-tzu. Peking: Wen-wu, 1976

The only info I could retreive about those books on the internet was that they are out of print and no longer available. Maybe you could research them at your online bookstore, or somewhere else?

-Nina

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kentsuarez

Don't worry, the sources I cited are later publication dates than the ones you have found to be out of print, so all hope is not yet lost. We might still be able to find good repro's. And as I mentioned, it'll probably take me a couple of weeks to check the Academia Sinica library, but I can't possibly imagine that they wouldn't have copies in the philology library; their institute's collections include the Anyang oracle bones themselves, after all! I'll keep you posted.

As for the good general, there's probably some reason he was credited. For example, when the Grand Scribe 籀 Zhou4 gets credited with inventing the zhou4wen2 "script" around 800 BCE, it's probably just because he compiled the 史籀篇 Shi3 Zhou4 Pian1, which was an authoritative source for this script. The same thing happened with Li3 Si1 in the Qin2 dynasty. And that Han "inventor" of paper did improve its quality and production process, or something like that.

BTW, I've never heard of Moore's book. Would you care to introduce and review it in a separate thread?

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Nina

Hi Kent-

I'll wait and see what you come up with on the original Mawangdui texts - thanks. If it's not too much to ask, could you see if there are any books with the original Guodian texts as well?

I've found photographs of both the Mawangdui silks and the Guodian bamboo slips on the internet, but they're too small and irregular to read. It would be nice to have a transcription of those characters that are more legible.

Oliver Moore's book is very small - only about 70 pages - and it's part of a series of books put out by the University of California Press. Reading the Past... His book is Reading the Past: Chinese. It's just a very brief history of the Chinese language, but there are some nice photos of ancient artifacts and he's given the various ancient scripts for a few of the characters. It was published in 2000.

I'll be saving up my money to buy one of Xie Guanghui's books.

Thanks-

Nina

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kentsuarez

Hi, I did find a full set of black and white photos (following a color sample shot) of what I assume to be the full 甲and 乙 Mawangdui silk texts.

The color looks like the pic on http://faculty.vassar.edu/brvannor/Reader/ddj.html,

but much sharper, more legible, and about 4cm taller.

The Jia (A) has 465 columns, and the Yi (B) 252 上下. The height is about 24 cm, with each graph rather tiny, averaging perhaps 4 mm. The columns in the BW photos are neatly divided and enumerated.

The script is very neat, squared graphs which are mostly rectilinear, definitely an early clerical script, with a few flared diagonals foreshadowing the later, classic style. It's clearly a very functional, efficient script.

I still don't know how one will be able to get any of the essence of the Laozi out of just gazing at them, but if you're into old things, then like me you'll probably find it pretty neat just to have a look at it. As far as anyone out there into calligraphy, these characters are so tiny that you'd have trouble using them as a model, and the small size also prevents them from really displaying any details of brush technique like 起筆 and 收筆 (although I don't know whether the techniques were really developed until the E. Han period). But you could blow the graphs WAY up, and use them to develop a very unique style, perhaps adding more mature technique and blending that with their unique, archaic style.

The publisher was indeed Wenwu, as aforementioned: 馬王堆漢墓帛書 v.1, 1980, 文物出版社, 北京 54大街, 29號 / 新華書店/ 統一書號 7068.380, $34.00元

The remainder of the book was apparently commentary; I only had a minute or two to look at it before rushing off to an appointment, and I couldn't find a section transcribing the texts in any format I could recognize, but that might just be due to my haste.

I did write Wenwu (in English two weeks ago, then Chinese last week), but have not heard back from them.

I was afraid it might be OOP. But then the library informed me that they have also ordered a new copy, printed in 2004, which is not on the shelf yet. So this raises hopes that it is still IP. For my purposes, though, an enlarged photocopy of the photos is all I need (as a calligraphy model). So I'm just going to copy a page or two to take home and try writing, to see whether it's really of interest as a model. It's going to be hard to use, though, as many of the graphs are difficult to identify, and many are fragmentary. Really, it's too small, too. For clerical, the late E. Han stelae are ideal in size. But the early clerical is very interesting.

I'll check on the Guodian next (I can barely squeeze in half an hour at the library between jobs), but remember that they will assuredly not written in the 秦 Qin2 system script. The Qin script is the one ancestral to modern Chinese. Instead, the Guodian are from pre-unification Hubei, i.e., 楚 Chu3, meaning that they are virtually certain to be written in late Warring States Chu script. Even people able to read a fair amount of Qin seal script could expect to stumble over a good bit of the Chu graphs. But if you're simply enjoying their archaic beauty, I'm sure they'll do!

If Wenwu doesn't answer my email, I'm afraid I won't be able to help you find out how to purchase one. Perhaps you can find a forum fellow who's in Beijing and ask him or her to help you order one through Xinhua bookstore or Wenwu Publishing. Usually you can ask the store for a total including shipping, then wire the money to them, then fax or email them the wire info along with your address, and they'll mail the book to you.

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Nina

Thanks, Kent, for all the effort you put into it, especially with your busy schedule.

You did give me an idea. Maybe I'll make a trip up to the UCLA Asian Studies library. I've been there before when I was researching obscure articles on the Tai Ping Ching, and they were really helpful. Going to a university and fotocopying the text? Great idea!

Being a Daoist, I've learned that when the time is right for something to happen, it will. When it's the right time for me to find the Mawangdui and Guodian texts, they'll fall into my lap like sweet rain after a draught. It's always happened that way in the past.

I don't know how to explain my interest in viewing those ancient texts. Maybe I haven't found them because there's nothing they might have to offer. Maybe the reason they're not readily available is because there are so few people who actually want to look at them, especially in this modern technological world we live in. It all races by like so many cars on the freeway without knowing where they are going.

-Nina

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kentsuarez

Hi Nina,

I found the Guodian Laozi this morning, also by Wenwu. 郭店楚墓竹簡老子, which comes in two booklets, subtitled 甲 jia (A) and 乙,丙 yi3, bing3 (B&C) respectively. Unlike the relatively expensive hardcover Mawangdui book described above, which reprints the graphs in roughly original size and has lots of commentary you wouldn't want, these Guodian booklets are short, cheaper but well-printed paperback versions with one original 8mm-wide strip on each page, plus a very nice enlargement of it to 20mm-wide, so it's much clearer than the MWD one. Plus alongside the enlarged graphs is a running transcription into modern graphs or their theoretical li4ding4 equivalents as applicable. Beyond the two booklets, there are others in the series, each representing different texts from the same source.

The script is, as I had predicted, the Warring States Chu3 script, which means that the structure of characters (i.e., which elements make up the graph) will often differ from those in the Qin script (these two being cousins, if you will, both having descended from the W. Zhou script, but taking divergent paths). Aside from structure, the calligraphic style is also radically different, but very hard to describe; the strokes go from wire-thin to broad ribbons, curving in unusual ways, and the only words that come to mind are eccentrically archaic (I could imagine writing like this accompanying funky modern Chinese art).

The books give the website as wenwu.com, and the titles are

7501013667 郭店楚墓竹简·甲 Guo1dian4 Chu3mu4 Zhu2jian3 (Lao3zi Jia3ben3) 12.00

7501013675 郭店楚墓竹简·老子乙丙 Guodian Chumu Zhujian (Lao3zi Yi3, Bing3 ben3) 8.00.

I added the pinyin. I have written the publisher *again*, but have not yet received any responses from them.

I hope you can find these, either at a University Asian Studies Library, or through a forum fellow in Beijing. I'll let you know if I hear from the publisher.

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