Friday, July 9, 2010
Calligraphy Writing Medium Before the Qin Dynasty 先秦书写载体
Paper existed in China since the 2nd century BC, before the Qin dynasty. Before the use of paper, Chinese texts were carved on tortoise shells, animal bones, bronze wares, jade or stones. Silk was also used by the small class of aristocrats, while bamboo and wood slips by the general public.
The oracle-bone inscriptions were found on tortoise shells and animal bones. They were used in the Shang Dynasty 1600 BC by the priests of the court to communicate with the spirits of the dead, mainly the ancestors of the rulers. Whenever there was a question to be asked, the priests would inscribe it on a shell or animal bone and then have it heated by fire. The shell or bone would become cracked after being heated. The priest would read the signs showing on these cracks. The prediction was then inscribed on the same shell or bone for record and future reference. The word ‘predict’ in Chinese is bu (卜), which looks like a crack.
The inscriptions on bronze were mainly records in commemoration of certain ceremonies in the court or glories of the battle. The inscriptions on stone-drum were records of hunting activities of the Qin kings.
The longer bamboo slips were used to record state laws or important historical events. The shorter bamboo slips were used for text books, while the shortest bamboo slips were used to record biographies.
The wood slips were used only for events of minor importance such as official documents, notices, accounts or inventories, correspondence, etc. The most common sizes in wide used were one Chinese foot slips and the five inch slips. One foot slips were used for writing letters and five inch slips were used as certificates or identities issued by the army authorities or local governments to their soldiers or citizens for passing through the city wall gates and other check-points.