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Tsinghua Bamboo Slips

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Title: Tsinghua Bamboo Slips  
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Subject: Chu (state), Book of Documents, Guodian Chu Slips, Yi Yin, Bamboo and wooden slips, Chu Silk Manuscript
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Tsinghua Bamboo Slips

The Tsinghua Bamboo Slips (simplified Chinese: 清华简; traditional Chinese: 清華簡; pinyin: Qīnghuá jiăn) refers to a collection of Chinese texts dating to the Warring States period and written in ink on strips of bamboo, that were acquired in 2008 by Tsinghua University, China. The texts originated through illegal excavation, probably of a tomb in the area of Hubei or Hunan province, and were acquired and donated to the university by an alumnus. The very large size of the collection and the significance of the texts for scholarship make it one of the most important discoveries of early Chinese texts ever.[1][2]

Discovery, conservation and publication

The Tsinghua Bamboo Slips (TBS), were deposited at Tsinghua University in July 2008 by a donor, an alumnus of the university. The precise location(s) and date(s) of the illicit excavation that yielded the slips remain unknown. An article in the Guangming Daily named the donor as Zhao Weiguo (赵伟国), stating that the texts were bought at "a foreign auction",[3] but without naming either an auction house, a location or a sum. The director of the conservation and research project, Prof. Li Xueqin, has stated that the wishes of the alumnus to conceal his identity will be respected.[4]

Similarities with previous discoveries, such as the manuscripts from the Guodian tomb, indicate that the TBS came from a mid-to-late Warring States Period (480–221BC) tomb in the region of China culturally dominated at that time by the Chu state. A single radiocarbon date (305±30BC) and the style of ornament on the accompanying box are in keeping with this conclusion. By the time they had reached the university, the slips were badly afflicted with mold. Conservation work on the slips was carried out, and a Center for Excavated Texts Research and Preservation was established at Tsinghua on April 25, 2009. There are 2388 slips altogether in the collection, including a number of fragments.[5][6]

A series of articles discussing the TBS, intended for an educated but non-specialist Chinese audience, appeared in the Guangming Daily during late 2008 and 2009. The first volume of texts (photographic reproductions, transcriptions, and commentary) was published by the Tsinghua team in 2010.[7]

A 2013 article in The New York Times reported on the TBS's importance to understanding the Chinese classics.[8] Sarah Allan, a sinologist at Dartmouth College, stressed the significance of the circa 305 BC date when the bamboo manuscripts were buried, about 100 years before Qin Shi Huang conducted a "literary holocaust" with the (213–210 BC) burning of books and burying of scholars. By predating that textual censorship, Professor Allan said: "These manuscripts speak directly to the core issues of the Chinese intellectual tradition and were recorded at the height of the formative period." "The classics are all political", said Li Xueqin, "It would be like finding the original Bible or the 'original' classics. It enables us to look at the classics before they were turned into 'classics.' The questions now include, what were they in the beginning, and how did they become what they became?"

The texts

Several of the TBS texts are similar to the received Shang Shu, a miscellany of documents from various dates in the first millennium BC that were transmitted as a canonical collection since the Han dynasty. In some cases a TBS text can be found in the received Shang Shu, with only variations in wording, title or orthography. Such examples include versions of the "Jin Teng" (金滕), "Kang Gao" (康誥) and "Gu Ming" (顧命) chapters of the Shang Shu. The majority of Shang Shu-style TBS texts, however, are not found in the received Shang Shu, either having been "lost" in the process of transmission, or else never having been incorporated into the canonical collection.

An annalistic history (編年體史書) recording events from the beginning of the Western Zhou (mid-11th century BC) through to the early Warring States period (mid-5th century) is said to be similar in form and content to the received Bamboo Annals.[9]

Another text running across 14 slips recounts a celebratory gathering of the Zhou elite in the 8th year of the reign of King Wu of Zhou, prior to their conquest of the Shang dynasty. The gathering takes place in the ancestral temple to King Wen of Zhou, King Wu's father, and incorporates beer drinking and the recitation of hymns in the style of the received Shi Jing.[10]

The Admonition of Protection

Among the TBS texts in the style of the received Shang Shu, is one that has been titled "The Admonition of Protection" ("Bao Xun" 保訓). This was the first text for which anything approaching a complete description and transcription was published. The text purports to be a record of a deathbed admonition by the Zhou king Wen Wang to his son and heir, Wu Wang. Although the team working on the text refers to it as "The Admonition of Protection" (or "Protector's Admonition", 保训), their transcription of the text refers to a "Precious Admonition" (Bao Xun) and that may be the more appropriate editorial title.[11] The content of the king's speech revolves around a concept of The Middle (Zhong 中) which seems to refer to an avoidance of extremes and an ability to consider diverse points of view. The king narrates a story of the sage-king Shun acquiring The Middle by living a modest, thoughtful life, and a more puzzling second tale which describes the Shang ancestor Wei (微) "borrowing The Middle from the River."[12][13][14]

See also



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