Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Friday, 29 August 2008
Friday, 29 August 2008 18:22

Studying Oracle Bones Inscriptions

The study of oracle bones inscriptions is the basis for understanding how the Chinese system of writing was invented and developed. Recognition of graphs engraved on turtle carapaces or bovine shoulder blades (scapula) as a writing system evolving from divinatory techniques is relatively recent. It dates from around 1898. This year, Fan Shouxuan, an antiquarian of Weixian (Shandong) went to Anyang with some bone fragments bearing unknown inscriptions, which were quickly recognized as very ancient inscriptions. In 1903, the very first catalogue of Oracle Bones inscriptions was published by Luo Zhenyu on the basis of the collections of 5,000 fragments accumulated by Liu E. In this first volume, it is already possible to identify five fakes, which bears witness to the fact that the antiquarians started to make fakes and mix them with the genuine fragments from the very beginning of their trade.

I have been studying oracle bones inscriptions for a good part of my life, and have published two catalogues of fragments preserved in European museums. The book called “Collections of Oracular Inscriptions" that I have presented to the public in August 2008 is a systematic description of 412 catalogues published between 1903 and 2006. It might be of some help for the study of these inscriptions, as it reconstitutes the history of the various collections, identifies the fakes included in some catalogues, assesses the scientific merits of this body of publications, and, more generally, aims at establishing the present body of sources on which to continue the fascinating study of the origins of Chinese writing.
Another book on Oracular Inscriptions by J. Lefeuvre

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