Chapter II The embryo of Chinese characters°™
Section I   The Birth and Discovery of
Inscriptions on Oracle Bones
 
We said earlier, proved by archaeological findings that inscriptions on pottery was the origin of Chinese characters some 6,000 years ago. These inscriptions are also predicessors of inscriptions on oracle bones (ľ◊Ļ«őń in Chinese characters that read “ji®£ g®≥ w®•n”), which is a cultural product of Shang Dynasty (17th—11th centuries BC) when the rulers took auspice with turtle back or animal bones before they made decisions. After divination, the results were carved onto the bones, and such carving are what we call “jia gu wen”.
At late Qing, in a village called Xiaotun, in the city of Anyang of
       
         A portrait of Wang Yirong                                       A sample of Jia Gu Wen
 
Henan province, some farmers found in the fields bone pieces with carvings on them, and thought they were some kind of Chinese medicine called “Dragon Bone”, which could stop bleeding and relieve diarrhoea. So they sold them to the medicine shop after they scraped off the carvings.
Wang Yirong £®Õű‹≤»Ŕ wáng Yíróng£©, who was an official in charge of wine offering at sacrificial ceremonies at the State Directorate of Education, was having a diarrhoea and went to see an old doctor. Wang found in the prescription there was a medicine called “dragon          bone”, he felt odd and asked to see it, but it was already been minced, he then got a whole piece, yet couldn’t figure out what it was.
One day a business man of antique deals came to see him with things he got from Anyang, there was a few pieces of “dragon bones”. Wang pieced some together, which turned out to be a turtle back with some lines carved on it. He removed the mud and soil away and was totally shocked to see those distinctive lines. Were these characters ancestors left? Thanks to his profound knowledge in classic works, he was able to make out such characters as “rain, sun, moon, mountain and water.” He also found names of a few kings of Shang. He then believed that these are the ancient characters before the appearance of seal script. Thus, the earliest Chinese characters were discovered. He later managed to have collected 1,058 pieces. After he passed away, his student, Liu Er (Ńűū  Liú è) wrote a book to describe the discovery, the book is entitled °∂Turtle Shell Collected by Tieyun°∑(Tieyun is another name of Liu Er).   
Up to now, over 150,000 pieces of Jia Gu Wen have been excavated. The word “Ji®£” refers to back and ventral shell of a turtle while “G®≥” refers to animal bones, and “Wén” means language. Among 4,500 single characters found on Jia Gu Wen, 2,000 have been recognized of their meanings. These are the earliest, most precious existing historic relics that recorded social, political, economic and cultural containts from over 3,000 years ago.
 
Extensive reading (1)
Composition of a divination: It is composed of four parts:
Description: records time, place and the diviner.
Question: records what people wished to know.
Results: records the results of the divination.
Testing: records wheter the divination was true.
Example:
Description: On the day of Gengzi, the historian Zheng wished to do the divination.
Question: Tomorrow will be the day of Xinchou, would it be a clear day?
Results: It would rain tonight, on the day of Xinchou, it would be clear.
Testing: There was rain in the evening, the second day, the day of Xinchou was clear.
 
Section II Features of Jia Gu Wen
 
Most characters in Jia Gu Wen are pictographic with a small portion of phono-semantic compounds. They were carved with sharp knifes, some were carved after characters were written down first, and this was found from the spots where knifes pieced through the shell by specialists. The carvers used their knifes in a way similar to a brush pen. We can tell how they maneuvered the “pen”, the layout and compositon of strokes by looking at the characters.
We can also see that they used black color and vermilion in writing, and we presume there must have been some kind of brush pen at that time. The tip of the brush pen was always out when starting, executing or finishing a stroke. You can see strengthful strokes and less strengthful strokes, the two ends of a stroke is often pointed while the middle part remains bold. This can be regarded as the earliest way of using the brush. Some strokes are long, others are short; some were written from left to right, others were from right to the left; some strokes and characters were kept a bit apart, others were closer. This can be regarded as the earliest way of layout. In composition of strokes in Jia Gu Wen, we can find symmetry, well placed center of gravity and proper collocation of strokes. Because knifes were used, there were mostly straight lines and sharp elbows without round turns. The characters look wiry and erect.
 
Extensive reading (2)
Ways of discrimination
1.       For shell or bones: Authentic shell and bones, having been burried underground for a long time, are extremely hard dispite of its coarse and loose appearance. Because they have been transformed into a kind of bio-fossil under constant pressure from above. Their color has turned into purple black from white. The earthern compound on top is as hard as iron. If the top part can be easily romoved and it the top part can be crushed into yelow soil dust by your fingers, the shell or bones must be a fake. Secondly, there is a kind of parch on the real shell and bones, which can not be easily scraped away, and if one layer is removed, the second layer is still parch. It is a fake if the parch is removed and the second layer is white or in some other colors. Thirdly, the color of real ones is thoroughly purple black, sometimes with a little yellow. If the appearance looks old, the color beneath look fresh, it must be a fake. But sometimes, fake was made of shell and bones without inscriptions excavated from Xiaotun, and this can only be distinguished by looking at the way of carving.
2.       For inscription: First of all, new carvings are in a pale color; people may try to make it look older by way of smoking, but if it is washed by boiling alkaline water, the true color will come out. The original color can not be reproduced, because it had been formed in thousands of years of stratum and chemical change. Secondly, configuration of characters, the real ones look natural. No matter how closely the fake ones look like, there ought to be some descripances, in text, for instance, the shell they choose maybe too small for a whole text; in content—some of the things people put down are unlikely in the time of Shang.
 
Section III   Contents in Jia Gu Wen
 
The kings of Shang resulted to divination for everything they did. So the content covers the entire social aspects. From the inscriptions we can learn how slaves and civilians were addressed at; how serf owners and nobelities and their spouses were classified, and what kind of officials were there in the court. We can find out that there were offerings of men at sacrifices. There were descriptions of how rulers of conquered kingdoms became subjects and rendered tribute. The names of various crops were given, so were animals. We can find how the kings were concerned with the weather and how they prayed for a good weather. There were even records on postal the system.
We can find observations of solar and lunar eclipse, the name of different hours; in meteology, there were records on rain, sunny day, hail, thunder, snow and rainbow; in medicine, headache, toothache, nose disease, troubles with limbs were recorded, and expected date of birth was accurately computed.
 
 
** A visit to the Museum of Yin Dynasty Ruins at Xiaotun, Anyang, Henan province is worthwhile, for you can not only see the Jia Gu Wen pieces, but also a collection of bronze wares there.
 
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