Term Paper: Oracle Bone and Traditional China

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[. . .] Today, geologists learn about the earth's history mainly from clues left by forces that have sculpted the face of the earth such as volcanoes and earthquakes. Scientists are often able to reconstruct geological events that happened millions of years ago from reading the geological records, from the layers of sediment containing ancient fossils to the geochemistry of lavas. However, for a number of phenomena that occurred during the last three or four thousand years, there exists another source of information through the written records left by ancient culture. Because the majority of the reports of these events were written long after 1120 B.C., Kevin Pang from JPL, and Hung Hsiang Chou, a professor of Chinese language and culture at the University of California at Los Angeles, turned to the only written record from that time, the oracle bones. Chou sifted through over 100,000 pieces of oracle bones, noting all the questions potentially relevant to volcanos. Many of the oracle bones dated to around 1120 B.C. And alluded to a year without harvest when the seedlings died and the Chi, the sacrificial ceremony, was performed throughout the country. Pang believes the sacrifices were made to appease the gods during bad weather and on the basis of this archaeological evidence, concluded that the radiocarbon date of the eruption should be refined to 1100 B.C. which is more in tune with the ice core data. The oracle bones helped the researchers to pinpoint a more precise date and verify and quantify eruptions.

According to ancient texts such as Xunzi and Lushichunqiu, one Cangjie, who lived during the time of the Yellow Emperor, 3000 B.C., was the inventor of Chinese characters.

However, numerous inscriptions found on oracle bones associated with the Shang site of Yinxu, and the highly developed writing system consisting of some five thousand characters, conclude that the evolution of Chinese writing must have begun much earlier, in fact the accepted six rules of Chinese character formation are already evident in the Shang writing system.

Oracle bones from the Shang sites of the Erlingang Period are consistently found polished, burned and drilled, a treatment common to the area and era and are generally associated with the Chinese elite. There are no exact counterpart to these polished and drilled oracle bones in the Central Plain until later in history, as with other late Neolithic sites from the same period that used oracle bones, therefore, it is possible that this activity was developed outside the Central Plain.

Social factors had a major impact on early writing systems and the writing systems had an impact on societies, thus, a writing system allows insights into a specific culture. Oracle bones found by archaeologists at a site in Henan province, date to approximately 6500-5500 B.C. Each piece was inscribed with characters that are found in later Chinese writing, leading many to believe these oracle bones to be the earliest writing. However, most scholars believe that true first writing began sometime around 2500 B.C.

In the book, 'Classical Chinese Literature' the editors present several chapters devoted to oracle bones and bronze inscriptions, followed by several chapters discussing the myths and legends of ancient China. In Amy Tan's novel, 'The Bonesetter's Daughter,' the author explores her family heritage, including the use of oracle bones to speak with the gods.

The Royal Ontario Museum is home to the largest collection of Shang dynasty oracle bones in the West. Moreover, there has been an exhibit of nineteenth and twentieth century Chinese painting depicting oracle bones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Works Cited

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Division of the Library of Congress. 1987; Pp. http://unx1.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/China1.html.(accessed 12-01-2003).

Falkenhausen, Lothar Von. "On the historiographical orientation of Chinese archaeology." Antiquity. December 01, 1993; Pp.

Kleeman, Terry F. "Mountain deities in China: the domestication of the mountain god and the subjugation of the margins." The Journal of the American Oriental Society. April 01, 1994; Pp.

Li, Xueqin Harbottle. "The earliest writing? Sign use in the seventh millennium

BC at Jiahu, Henan Province, China." Antiquity. March 01, 2003; Pp.

Linduff, Katheryn M. "Zhukaigou, steppe culture and the rise of Chinese civilization." Antiquity. March 01, 1995; Pp.

Oracle Bones." The Columbia Encyclopedia. Sixth Edition. July 01, 2003; Pp.

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Peterson, I. "Oracle bone shows a once-shorter day." Science News. June 17

1989; Pp.

Postgate, Nicholas Wang. "The evidence for early writing: utilitarian or ceremonial?" Antiquity. September 01, 1995; Pp.

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Tang, Jigen Jing. "The largest walled Shang City located in Anyang, China."

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Weisburd, Stefi. "Excavating words: a geological tool; human histories unravel geological mysteries." Science News. February 09, 1985; Pp.

Early China." Excerpted from China: A Country Study. Federal Research

Division of the Library of Congress. 1987.

Oracle Bones." The Columbia Encyclopedia. Sixth Edition. July 01, 2003; Pp.

Shang, Zhou and the Classics. http://www.san.beck.org/EC13-Chou.html.

Peterson, I. "Oracle bone shows a once-shorter day." Science News. June 17

1989; Pp

Raphals, Lisa. "Fate, fortune, chance, and luck in Chinese and Greek: a comparative semantic history." Philosophy East and West. October 01, 2003; Pp

Tang, Jigen Jing. "The largest walled Shang City located in Anyang, China."

Antiquity. September 01-2000; Pp.

Falkenhausen, Lothar Von. "On the historiographical orientation of Chinese archaeology." Antiquity. December 01, 1993; Pp.

Kleeman, Terry F. "Mountain deities in China: the domestication of the mountain god and the subjugation of the margins." The Journal of the American Oriental Society. April 01, 1994; Pp.

Weisburd, Stefi. "Excavating words: a geological tool; human histories unravel geological mysteries." Science News. February 09, 1985; Pp.

Li, Xueqin Harbottle. "The earliest writing? Sign use in the seventh millennium

BC at Jiahu, Henan Province, China." Antiquity. March 01, 2003; Pp.

Linduff, Katheryn M. "Zhukaigou, steppe culture and the rise of Chinese civilization." Antiquity. March 01, 1995; Pp.

Postgate, Nicholas Wang. "The evidence for early writing: utilitarian or ceremonial?" Antiquity. September 01, 1995; Pp

The Oracles of the Clouds and the Winds." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 1988 pp. 515.

Chen, Ning. "The Problem of Theodicy in Ancient China." Journal of Chinese

Religions. 1994; pp. 54.

Dean, Kitty Chen. "Review: Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology." Library

Journal. November 15, 2000; Pp.

Cujec, Carol. "Review:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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