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On the Graphic Variants of Wei in the Bamboo Slips and Bronze Bells from the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng

談談曾侯乙竹簡、編鐘上不同寫法的“為”字

In: Bamboo and Silk
Author:
Pengwan Cheng Northeast Normal University (東北師範大學) Changchun (長春)

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Abstract

Among the written sources discovered from the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng 曾侯 乙墓, the character wei distinguishes itself for its potential to reflect the difference of scribes/copyists through its graphic variations. This article attempts to use the different variations of wei on bamboo slips and bronze inscriptions to investigate the relationship between scribes/copyists of these two media. This article proposes that the scribes/copyists who produced the same variation of wei on bamboo slips and bronze inscriptions belonged to one school of scribes.

The excavation of the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng 曾侯乙墓 yielded abundant written sources amounting to 12,696 characters.1 Depending on the media, these characters were cast, written, or incised. The excavation report comments on their myriad styles:

The written sources are not only great in quantity but also in characteristics. The writings on the bamboo slips and lacquerware are mostly casual, probably representing daily handwriting. Those incised into stone and on the lacquer hamper are generally more formal. Occasionally, red paint is applied on top of the strokes on the stone inscriptions. Those cast on bronzewares are mostly well-designed with a sense of aesthetics. Many bronze bells have most of their inscriptions inlaid with gold, marking an unprecedented scale of gold-inlaid inscriptions. Bird script (niao zhuan 鳥篆) is seen on some weaponry, some also inlaid with gold. Bird script was an artistic script popular among the southern states of Chu, Wu, Yue, and Cai in the Eastern Zhou period. In sum, this set of sources relatively comprehensively reflects the contemporary writing styles, an aspect that deserves scholarly attention in the study of ancient Chinese paleography.2

Different scribes were responsible for the myriad styles of characters found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng.3 Among all the writing, the character wei is distinguished for its unique and unconventional styles of writing. In this article, I will try to summarize the characteristics of different ways the character wei is written on the bamboo slips and bronze bells in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng as a starting point to discuss further the relationship between the script styles and the scribes.

There are two graphic variations (structurally) of wei on the bamboo slips from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng.

Both the A-type and C-type wei are reduced forms of wei (originally written as a downturned “hand” [] or “claw” [] over “elephant”), replacing the lower part of with =. The A-type wei is comprised of a “mouth” and a reduced , while the C-type wei is comprised of a “claw” and a reduced . The A-type wei is seen only on slip 1, while the C-type appears on slips 142–147, 149–158, 163, 164, 168, 169, 174, 178, and 180–183. The C-type wei is the most frequently seen variant in the Warring States period.

These two types of wei appear on slips of different content. Qiu Xigui 裘錫圭 and Li Jiahao 李家浩 have categorized the bamboo slips from the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng into four types.

Based on its content, this set of bamboo slips can be divided into four types: slips 1–121 are about chariots and chariot weapons; slips 122–141 concern the armor and barding equipment for chariots; slips 142–209 are primarily about the chariot horses; slips 210–215 concern the horses and wooden figurines. In the analysis, we call them types A, B, C, and D respectively. Their order does not necessarily agree with the original order of the bamboo slips.4

It is based on the categorization of Qiu Xigui and Li Jiahao that I term the wei on type A slips as “A-type wei,” and the wei on type C slips as “C-type wei.”

Types A and C slips are not only different in content but also in calligraphy. According to Sun Qican 孫啟燦, “during the investigation, we found that slips 1–141 and 142–214 have very distinct hands. They should have been written by two different scribes.”5

Sun Hui 孫慧 provides a more detailed differentiation of handwriting. Sun believes that there are at least five different hands among the A- and B-types slips in the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng. He writes:

Judging from the images, there seem to be two different scribal hands on the recto of the first slip. From the beginning to the phrase in the first entry youling jian suo cheng dapei 右建所 is the work of the first hand. The rest of the content is written by a second hand that appears more frequently. For example, the first entry (slips 1–4) after the aforementioned phrase and the second entry (slips 4–7) all represent the second hand. The first hand is characterized by the large spacing between characters, and the first and last strokes of characters are often straight. Furthermore, a signature leftward big curved hook appears intermittently in characters bayue =, zhou, and suo . The second hand is characterized by smaller spacing between characters; if the first stroke starts vertically, it is usually written with a quick downward-pressing stroke, and the three previously mentioned characters are written without the leftward curved hook. Furthermore, these two hands have their unique graphic variations, as for example, the suo and the ge components of characters. Therefore, since there are two different hands in the first entry, the previously mentioned assumption [that characters in one entry should have the same calligraphy] does not hold. On top of that, the transverse shrinkage rate (incurred by the tangential shrinkage of bamboo materials) seems to be uneven, hindering further measurement and analysis of the size of the characters. This is obvious from a comparison of slips 17 and 45. For these two slips, the shrinkage at the lower part of the slip is more severe than that of the upper part, resulting in manifestly elongated characters on the lower part. This means that even for one slip, the shrinkage rate can be discernably different. Such inconsistency of shrinkage rate can certainly appear on different slips, therefore creating another obstacle for comparing the calligraphy of two different slips.6

In all, the A-type and C-type wei belong to slips with different calligraphy. I therefore infer that A- and C-type wei were written by different scribes, since scholars who study graphic variation generally attribute different hands to different scribes. The A-type wei comprised of a and a simplified written on slip 1 belongs to what Sun Hui defines as the “first hand.” The C-type wei is comprised of a and a simplified . There is a total of 165 wei characters on C-type slips, and all of them are C-type wei, without any occurrence of an A-type wei. Nevertheless, although the scribes of A-type and C-type slips gave rise to two structural variants of wei, the A-type wei appears only once on this set of slips. We need more evidence to draw any concrete conclusion.

Let us take a look at the wei character on the bronze bells from the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng. The wei characters on bamboo slips are in simplified form, whereas on bronze bells they are in full form. This is a difference of the informal 俗體 and formal 正體 styles. Correspondingly, I name the wei comprised of as a-type, and the ones comprised of as c-type. Before, I hypothesized that different scribes gave rise to the structural variation of wei; did the same thing happen for bronze inscriptions? There are in general two graphic variations (structurally) of wei, shown below.

A-type wei is seen on bells bottom-I-2 (7), bottom-I-3 (7), bottom-II-1 (5), bottom-II-2 (5), bottom-II-3 (4), bottom-II-4 (7), bottom-II-5 (7), bottom-II-7 (6), bottom-II-8 (4), middle-II-11 (5), while c-type wei is seen on bells middle- III-1-(2), middle-III-2 (3), middle-III-3 (2), middle-III-4 (3), middle-III-5 (2), middle-III-6 (3), middle-III-7 (7), middle-III-8 (6), middle-III-9 (5), middle-III-10 (4).7

A-type wei appears primarily on bells from groups bottom-I and bottom-II (the wei characters on bells from middle-II will be discussed later). These wei have similar hands (except that the first wei on the zheng section of bell bottom-I-2 does not have the component. This could be an error in the casting process). Besides the two wei of type a2, the other wei belong to the a1 type, all in identical hands. The a2-type wei is seen in the inscription on the left and right gu sections of bell Bottom-II-1, as seen in figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Verso (left) and recto (right) of bell bottom-II-1 from the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230036

Figure 2
Figure 2

Inscriptions on the front left and right sides of gu of bell bottom-II-1. The character wei is circled in red. Left: Jicheng 289.6A (Bottom-II-1, front left gu). Right: Jicheng 289.5A (Bottom-II-1, front right gu)

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230036

If we compare the inscriptions on the front two sides of the gu of bell bottom-II-1 and the rest of the inscriptions from bottom-I and bottom-II (for example, bottom-I-2 in Figure 3), we can tell that they have distinct hands. This suggests that there existed different copyists, one who worked on the inscriptions on the front two sides of the gu of bottom-II-1, and another who worked on the rest of the bells in bottom-I and bottom-II. Yet, despite the different copyists, we still regard them as the same calligraphic style for the following reason. The inscriptions on other parts of bell bottom-II-1 (that is, the front zheng section and the back of the bell) have the same hand as the inscriptions on other bells in bottom-I and bottom II. Therefore, I infer that when producing the inscriptions of bells in bottom-I and bottom-II, copyists were using source texts (di ben 底本) written by a single scribe.8 The difference in writing for the front two sides of gu of bottom-II-1 is due to different copyists. To take a step back, even if the source text had been different, the calligraphic style of the inscriptions on the front left and right sides of the gu of bottom-II-1 is very similar to the inscriptions on the rest of the bells in bottom-I and bottom-II. Therefore, it is safe to say that they belong to the same calligraphic style.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Inscription on the front right gu section of Bottom-I-2, Jicheng 287.5A

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230036

C-type wei appears on middle-III bells, and in general, there is not much graphic variation. C1- and c2-type wei are slightly different: c1-type wei is more cursory and is seen in inscriptions on bells middle-III-1 and middle-III-2. Although the inscriptions of these two bells are more cursory than others in middle-III, in general the calligraphic style seems consistent among all the bells in middle-III. Therefore, it is safe to say that all bells in middle-III belong to the same calligraphic style.

Bell inscriptions in bottom-I and bottom-II are evidently different from those in middle-III, and they reflect different hands. I believe that the different writing in the bell inscriptions is due to different hands on the original source text that the copyist used.

From the above analysis, we can conclude that for bronze bells from the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng, scribes were using different graphic variations of the character wei.

However, one problem remains unsolved. That is, the wei from middle-II-11. The inscriptions of middle-II-11 have the same calligraphic style as the inscriptions of all middle-III bells, which means that the wei from middle-II-11 should be categorized as c-type. But in fact, this wei belongs to a-type. The wei characters from middle-II-11 are shown below, each row from left to right representing photographs, rubbings, and tracings.9

The inscriptions on bell middle-II-11 and those on other bells in middle-III share a similar hand, and therefore were likely produced based on source texts written by the same scribe. There are in total 37 wei on the ten bells in middle-III, and they are all comprised of and ; yet strangely, only the wei on bell middle-II-11 is comprised of and . Based on this observation, I infer that the manuscript for middle-II-11 and those for bells from bottom-I and bottom-II were written by the same scribe. Furthermore, the copyist of middle-II-11 was the scribe who produced the source text for middle-III bells, and the scribe who produced the manuscripts for middle-III bells also served as the copyist for those inscriptions. This explains why the wei from middle-II-11 is individuated and has a calligraphic style different from other a-type wei. Nevertheless, this is just a hypothesis and needs further evidence.

Last but not least, the above analyses allow us to discuss the relationship between the scribes for the bamboo slips and those for the bronze inscriptions. Based on the graphic variation of wei, A-type wei from the bamboo slips is closely related to the a-type wei from the bronze inscriptions, suggesting a close relationship among the scribes. The same thing can be said about the C-type wei from the slips and c-type wei from the bronze inscriptions. While it would be too arbitrary to say that the A-type and a-type wei were produced by one person, and the C-type and c-type wei were produced by a different person, one might say that the A- and a-type wei were produced by one school of scribes while C- and c-type wei were produced by another school. When they were writing on bamboo slips and bronzes, they strictly obeyed their unique calligraphic rules and exemplified their distinct training tradition, a case similar to the production of oracle bone inscriptions. If this is the case, we are fortunate to witness what the Marquis Yi of Zeng’s “library” reveals to us as the work of the same school of scribes on different media.

Acknowledgements

Translated by Yuwei Zhou 周毓苇.

References

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  • Li Feng 李峰, Qingtongqi he jinwen shuti yanjiu 青銅器和金文書體研究 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji, 2018).

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  • Shi Anrui 石安瑞 (Ondřej Škrabal), “Zhuming zhiqian de shuxie: lun Xizhou qingtongqi zhizuo shiyong de xieben鑄銘之前的書寫:論西周青銅器銘文製作使用的寫本, Chutu wenxian 出土文獻 2021.1, 125153.

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  • Qiu Xigui 裘錫圭 and Li Jiahao 李家浩, “Zeng hou yi mu zhujian shiwen yu kaoshi曾侯乙墓竹簡釋文與考釋, in Hubei sheng bowuguan 湖北省博物館 ed., Zeng hou Yi mu 曾侯乙墓 (Beijing: Wenwu, 1989), 487531.

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1

Hubei sheng bowuguan 湖北省博物館 ed., Zeng hou Yi mu 曾侯乙墓 (Beijing: Wenwu, 1989), 483.

2

Zeng hou yi mu, 484.

3

According to Matthias Richter, “if there are reasons to believe that a text is copied from an exemplar, I will use the term ‘copyist’. If there is no way to confirm the actual process of writing, that is, copying either from a written or an oral model or from memory, I will use the term ‘scribe.’” See Li Mengtao 李孟濤 [Matthias Richter], “Shi tan shuxiezhe de shizi nengli ji qi dui liuchuan wenben de yingxiang” 試探書寫者的識字能力及其對流傳文本的影響, Jianbo 簡帛 4 (2009), 395, n. 1.

The writing on the bamboo slips from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng belongs to what Li Songru 李松儒 calls “personal writing” (zi shu xing biji 自述型筆跡). ‘Personal writing’ refers to the natural handwriting of an individual. This type of handwriting is not affected by external constraints and is a fair reflection of the habitual linguistic preference and body movement.” (Original chapter cites Li Wen 李文, Biji jianding xue 筆記鑒定學 [Beijing: Zhongguo renmin gong’an daxue, 2008], 106). The excavated Warring States materials pertaining to divination, sacrificial prayer, and tomb inventories, as well as non-transcribed administrative documents, belong to ‘personal writing.’ They include the Wangshan slips, Xiyangpo slips, Baoshan slips, Xincai slips, and Xinyang slips (except the parts about ancient texts), etc. See Li Songru 李松儒, Zhanguo jianbo ziji yanjiu: yi shangbo jian wei zhongxin 戰國簡帛字跡研究——以上博簡為中心 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji, 2015), 106.

With regards to bronze inscriptions, Li Feng 李峰 argues that “bronze inscriptions do not reflect the original writings (which should be found on the ‘inscription models’ 銘文模 used to make ‘inscription blocks’ 銘文范 or on the ‘fake inner mold’ 假內范, the original text cites Li Feng 李峰, “Xizhou qingtongqi mingwen zhizuo fangfa shiyi” 西周青銅器銘文製作方法釋疑, Kaogu 考古 2015.9, 86). Instead, he argues that bronze inscriptions are traces resulting from molding and casting. We can only rarely see any direct traces of writing left by the scribe. In the situation where the original writer is difficult to identify, in general, we can only analyze on the level of calligraphy (shu ti 書體). Furthermore, strictly speaking, during the production of bronze inscriptions, the contents written on the clay model were works of copyists, who transcribed the texts from their original medium, possibly wooden slips or silk.” See Li Feng 李峰, Qingtongqi he jinwen shuti yanjiu 青銅器和金文書體研究 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji, 2018), 4. Following Li Feng’s viewpoint, we believe that the bronze inscriptions were “transcribed,” and the manuscript on the original medium was “written.”

4

Qiu and Li, “Zeng hou yi mu zhujian shiwen yu kaoshi,” 487.

5

Sun Qican 孫啟燦, “Zeng hou yi jian zhaji er ze” 曾侯乙簡札記二則, Jianbo 簡帛 16 (2018), 45.

6

Sun Hui 孫慧, “Zeng hou yi mu chutu A, B liang lei zhujian jubu jianxu zai shangque” 曾侯乙墓出土 AB 兩類竹簡局部簡序再商榷, Wu Wenling 鄔文玲 and Dai Weihong 戴衛紅 ed., Jianbo yanjiu 2019 (qiu dong juan) 簡帛研究二〇一九(秋冬卷) (Guizhou: Guangxi shifan daxue, 2020), 61–2.

7

The numbers within the parenthesis indicate the number of appearances of wei. For example, Bottom-I-2 (7) means that there are seven wei on the second bell on the lower level of the southern shelf.

8

See Shi Anrui 石安瑞 [Ondřej Škrabal], “Zhuming zhiqian de shuxie: lun Xizhou qingtongqi zhizuo shiyong de xieben 鑄銘之前的書寫:論西周青銅器銘文製作使用的寫本,” Chutu wenxian 出土文獻 2021.3, 127–128. “Scholars generally agree that prior to casting, a draft of the intended inscription was prepared in written form, presumably on a perishable writing support, such as wooden or bamboo tablets or strips. Such an assumption seems reasonable, as the sole reliance on oral transmission of the draft would require its memorization by several individuals, which would clearly be inefficient, particularly with longer texts. Moreover, the use of written exemplars is implied by the occasional occurrence of fission (fen shu 分書), a scribal error where two or more components of a single graph are written divided as separate graphs.” The original citation goes, “for several instances of fission in Western and Eastern Zhou bronze inscriptions, see Sun Zhichu 孫稚雛, ‘Jinwen shidu zhong yi xie wenti de shangtao’ 金文釋讀中一些問題的商討, Zhongshan daxue xuebao 中山大學學報 1979.3, 57; Sun Zhichu 孫稚雛, ‘Jinwen shidu zhong yi xie wenti de tantao (xu)’ 金文釋讀中一些問題的探討(), Guwenzi yanjiu 古文字研究 9 (1984), 409–10.”

9

Images are taken from Zou Heng and Tan Weisi ed., Zeng hou Yi bianzhong.

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