Burned Books and Buried Scholars Alive
In the 34thyear (213BC) of the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), Doctor Chun Yuyue proposed that the country should be ruled according to traditional rules. But the Prime Minister Li Si believed that theConfucian bookscould provide scholars a means to "use the past to criticize the present" and that these opinionated scholars would get together to slander the laws and judge each new decree according to their own school of thought to oppose the rule and confuse the people.
Emperor Qin Shihuang (the First Emperor of Qin) agreed on his prime minister's point of view and decided to burn all the books in the empire and to execute those scholars and their familieswho opposed his rule.His command was remarkably efficient, and all historical records but those of the Qin State were burned.
The second year, many scholars were ordered to seek elixir of life, but only to find nothing. In addition, they criticized the emperor and his harsh law. The emperor boiled with anger. He arrested approximately 460 Confucian scholars and buried them alive in Xianyang City, Shaanxi Province.
The First Emperor managed with one blow to virtually destroy all of the present Chinese literature at that time, but totally destroying the Chinese culture was not his original intention. The purpose was probably to give the State firm control over the scholars and the commoners.
Ji Bamboo Books
Ji Bamboo books were discovered in 265 in a Wei Kingdom tomb of the Warring States Period (475-221BC) in Jijun (southwest of Ji County in Henan Province).
In 279, somebody robbed the mausoleum of Wei Xiang Wang (a ruler of the Wei Kingdom) and stole dozens of carts of bamboo books from. These books are calledJi Tomb Books. After being meticulously sorted out, there existed 12 pieces ofAnnals of Bamboo Book, which was namedfor it was written in bamboo strips. The book recorded the history of the Xia (21st-17th century BC), Shang (17th-11st century BC), Western Zhou (11 Century BP-771BC) and Jin Kingdom in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC) and Wei Kingdom in the Warring States Period (475-221). It could rectify the errors inThe Records of the Grand Historian(Shi Ji), compiled by Sima Qian (145-87BC), the father of Chinese historiography. The original edition has been missing. What we have now is the checked and annotated edition by a scholar in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1840) and it serves as important materials for the research of ancient China.
Jiaguwen(Script on Tortoise Shells and Animal Bones)
Jiaguwen(script on tortoise shells and animal bones) is the oldest known form of Chinese written language. According to recent archeological research, it dates back as far as 4,800 years ago. It was used in the Shang Dynasty (1500-1028 BC) and the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100-771BC). The script was carved on tortoise shells and ox scapulas (shoulder blade) bones. In English literature, it is commonly called "oracle bone script", because some of the objects are thought to be used as oracles, though the script language was not just restricted to oracle.
The bones, mostly the shoulder blades of oxen, were used by the Shang rulers for telling the future. Using the shoulder blades of different cattle or the plastron of tortoises, diviners tried to tell the future by creating cracks on the bones. Holding the flat bones over the fire or inserting a hot bronze stick into a hole drilled in the surface of the bones, the diviners were able to tell good or bad by reading the emerged cracks. The inscriptions typically consisted of a preface recording the date and the name of the diviner and the topic of divination, which was often the potential outcome of military campaigns, hunting expeditions, sickness, disasters or agricultural events.
The origins of the Chinese writing system are still somewhat mysterious. In 1899, the marks on some inscribed bones sold as medicinal "dragon bones" in a Beijing pharmacy were recognized as writing. The script is not fixed but line-directed, highly pictographic and combined with simple and complicated graphs.
The preserved bones can give us a lively insight into the daily life of the Shang upper class and its political and leisure time activities. Hence, historians and calligraphers regard oracle bone script as the oldest known form of Chinese written language.
Inscriptions on Bamboo and Wood Slips
In museums of ancient history one often sees bamboo or wood strips written with characters by the writing brush. These slips are called "jian" and the strung-together slips are called "ce". "Ce" was the earliest form of books in China.
The ancient Chinese books made of bamboo slips appeared in the late Shang Dynasty (17-11 century BP). Wood slips were in use at the same time with bamboo slips in ancient China.
To write on bamboo or wood slips was no easy task. Take bamboo slips for example. Bamboos were first cut into sections and then into strips. They were dried by fire to be drained of the moisture of the natural plant in order to prevent rotting and worm infestation in the future. The finished bamboo slips run from 20 to 70 cm long.The brush was used in writing; and in case of mistakes, the wrong characters would be scraped off by means of a small knife to allow the correct ones to be filled in. The knife played the same role as the rubber eraser today.
Heavy and clumsy as they were ancient books of bamboo and wood played an important part in the dissemination of knowledge in various fields. They were in circulation over a long period until gradually replaced by paper that was invented during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).
Inscriptions on Bronze Objects
Inscriptions on bronze objects are characters inscribed on ancient bronze ware. It is called Jinwen (literally, script on metal) in Chinese; and as ancient bronze objects are generally referred to Zhongding (bells and tripods), it is also called Zhongdingwen.
Bronze, the alloy of red copper with other chemical elements, is named after its color. The most common bronze is the alloy of copper and tin or copper and lead. Bronze culture of ancient China had special features. The bronze ware of the Shang Dynasty (17th-11th century BC) and Zhou Dynasty (11 century BC-256BC) in particular is well known for its magnificent shape, simple and unsophisticated decorative patterns and well-developed inscription.
Bronze ware has many categories mainly including ritual vessels, basins, instruments, chimes, swords and halberds. Only the nobility often used bronze wares at that time. Ritual vessels like various Dings in particular were regarded as symbols of state power. In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period (770-476BC), if a state was defeated, its ritual vessels must be moved out in order to show the transfer of the state power.
When they had important documents to be preserved or major events to be memorized, the noble ordered to make a bronze article to inscribe them on. At the very beginning, some inscriptions only include dates and names. Later inscriptions were gradually composed of the whole event, such as the famous Maogong Ding, Sanshi Pan and Shise Pan. Inscriptions on bronze ware flourished from the Shang Dynasty to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100BC-771BC). Each piece of bronze ware has its own usage while inscriptions on it record historic events and techniques like books. What's more, each inscription, so elegant and with harmonious rhythm, is a calligraphy masterpiece.
Chinese bronze culture is a treasure of Chinese historical relics and a splendid pearl on the history of fine arts.
Inscriptions Carved on Stones
Inscriptions carved on stones are one of the earliest forms of books in China. According to Chinese historian recordings, stones like bronze ware were also used to bear inscriptions since the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770-476BC). However, little of early-carved stones were preserved. Today, the earliest Chinese script cut on stone is kept in the Palace Museum of Beijing. It is in the form of inscriptions on 10 drum-shaped stone blocks unearthed in Shanxi Province, of 10 poems of 4 character lines with over 600 characters, depicting the ruler of a state on a big hunt.
Carved stones in China include two categories namely materials and books. Before the invention of paper and printing, the best way in China to keep outstanding writings and calligraphic works was to carve them on stones. Those cut on drum shaped blocks are calledShiguwen(stone drum inscriptions); and those cut on steles and tablets are calledBeiwen.
The earliest examples so far discovered are a set of 46 steles engraved with the Confucian classics after the handwriting of the great Eastern Han calligrapher Cai Yong, carved in the reign of Xiping. They are called "Xiping Shijing" (Xiping Classics on Stone). They were placed in front of the lecture halls of the then Imperial College as standard versions for students to read or to copy from.
The carving of the stupendous collection began in the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and concluded about 1644, when the Qing Dynasty replaced the Ming, extending over a thousand years! This rare collection of books on stone is kept in 9 rocky caves on Shijingshan (Stone Scripture Mountain) in Fangshan County, southwest of Beijing.The Thirteen Classicsengraved in the Qing Dynasty (Book of Changes,Book of History,Book of' Songsandthe Analectsetc.), the basic readings required of Confucian scholars of past ages, are real "stone books".
In order to preserve the "stone books" of various periods, scholars in China started as early as 1090 to collect the steles scattered around the country and keep them together at Xi'an. Today in the halls of the "Forest of Steles" are 1,700 tablets of many dynasties from the Han down to the Qing Dynasty.
Invention of the Art of Printing
China's long history has seen many extremely important inventions emerge, among which printing was one of the four ancient great ones. The art of printing is the technology of pressing images or markings onto a surface. It is often used to produce copies of an original. The invention of printing has made tremendous contributions to the development of mankind.
In 105 during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), Cai Lunsuccessfully invented the world's first batch of paper usingplant fiber such as tree bark, bits of rope, rags and worn-out fishnets as raw materials.His invention has had far-reaching impact and provided prerequisites for rubbing and printing.
In the 9thcentury, the production centers of block printing and seal carving gradually emerged in cities of Yangzhou City, Yizhou City (today's Chengdu City, Sichuan Province) and Hangzhou City. In the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907-960), Feng Dao hadNine Classics(Confucian books) block printed as a prime minister, which was the first time that a government published standard books. At the same time, China's block printing passed to Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other Asian countries and places.
On the basis of printing using carved blocks in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Bi Sheng of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) invented movable-type printing in the 1040s, which has a very important position in the history of printing, for all later printing methods such as wooden type, copper type and lead type printing invariably developed on the basis of movable clay types.
In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Wang Zhen printed many books by separating movable types made of wood to set whole books. In the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Hu Zhengyan and Yan Jizu developed printing methods and printedShi Zhu Zhai Book on the Art of Painting(a colored book).