11 July 2012


Enno Giele

Prof Dr Enno Giele,
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Writing Materials, Formats, and Textual Units in the Early Chinese Manuscript Culture

As is well known and undoubted, early Chinese manuscripts were mostly written with brush and ink onto bamboo, wood, or silk. But there is ongoing contention about the question how long this practice is actually reaching back in time. One often encountered argument claims that some terms for the physical appearance or format of manuscripts such as cè (bamboo or wood strips bound together with strings) were already used in high antiquity. Unfortunately, however, it cannot be shown with satisfying certainty that the semantics of this and other terms for manuscript formats remained stable over such long periods of time. In other words, we cannot be sure what a cè in most archaic times actually looked like or even what it was, even if the graph was the same as the one used for bound strips in later times. What is more, the same difficulties of definition also persist with terms for textual units such as zhang, pian, juan, etc., all of which may be (and have been) roughly translated as "chapter", even though they are probably characterized by differences in writing materials and formats, i.e., by different physical properties. At the same time, however, differences between these three types of textual units may also be text- or content-based, i.e., not physical. The paper will be offering some observations, theories, and concrete examples, that shall serve to throw some light on the mutual dependence and interrelationship between material, format, and text, which, in turn, will hopefully lead to better solutions to the definition problems.