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Tracing the Origin and Development of the Black Ink Marks Daubed onto the Upper Edges of Bamboo Slips in Warring States, Qin, and Han Manuscripts: With the Term jiang from Slip 118 of Vol. 5 of the Yuelu Qin Slips Serving as a Guide

戰國秦漢簡牘文獻中簡首塗黑源流考——從《岳麓書院藏秦簡(伍)》 118 號簡中的“江”字説起

In: Bamboo and Silk
Author:
Jialiang Lu Center of Bamboo and Silk Manuscripts of Wuhan University, “Paleography and Chinese Civilization Inheritance and Development Program” Collaborative Innovation Platform (武漢,武漢大學簡帛研究中心、 “古文字與中華文明傳承發展 工程”協同攻關創新平台)

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Abstract

The phrase “make wet its upper part” (jiang qi shang 江其上), which appears in the protocol inscribed on slip nos. 117–118 of Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 卒令丙四 in vol. 5 of the Yuelu shuyuan cang Qin jian 岳麓書院藏秦簡 (“Qin Slips Housed at the Yuelu Academy”) as an instruction for the marking of document label slips, should be read as “[inscribe] a plank-mark onto its upper part” (gang qi shang 杠其上). This phrase in the protocol instructs clerks to mark label slips by inscribing a horizontal “plank” mark (heng gang 橫杠) onto the upper part of a rectangular slip (fang ). The marks that were produced by this clerical custom are the visually conspicuous markers modern scholars describe as “blackened bamboo slip tops” (jian shou tu hei 簡首塗黑) that frequently appear in caches of early Chinese textual materials. However, rather than using the phrase “blackened bamboo slip tops,” it would be more precise to refer to these as “horizontal oblong black ink marks” (mo heng 墨橫) or “black ink plank marks” (mo gang 墨杠).

1 Introduction: Bold, Rectangular Text Markers in Early Chinese Manuscripts

1.1 Markers on the Upper Edges of Slips and Their Transcription

In his second expedition to Central Asia (1906–1908), British archeologist Aurel Stein (1862–1943) recovered a cache of textual materials from Dunhuang 敦煌 in present-day Gansu Province that included inscribed slips and boards made from bamboo and wood and dated to the Han (202 BCE–220 CE) and Jin (266–420) periods. A number of individual slips in this cache have a distinct feature: when they were inscribed, their upper edges were daubed with black ink, creating thick square and rectangular markers, as seen in the two examples displayed in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1
Figure 1

Markers inscribed on the upper edges of Dunhuang Slip Nos. 1620 and 2163

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

Scholars who initially catalogued and labelled the items of Stein’s find did not remark on this feature in their description of these slips. French Sinologist Édouard Chavannes (1865–1918) published a catalogue of Stein’s find in 1913, but he does not note these markers in his description and French translation of the text on each item.1 Likewise, in their own catalogue and study of the items in the cache published the following year (1914), Chinese paleographers Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉 (1866–1940) and Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877–1927) do not mention these markers or note them in their transcriptions.2

It was later generations of scholars who would come to observe these markers in their transcriptions of the text inscribed on the slips on which these markers appear. For example, the paleographers of the Gansu Archaeological Research Institute 甘肅文物考古研究所 in their catalogue of inscribed Han period slips recovered from Dunhuang 敦煌, titled Dunhuang Han jian 敦煌漢簡 (“Dunhuang Han Slips”) and published in the last decade of the twentieth century, transcribe the markers on slip nos. 1620 and 2163 using a solid black square: █.3 The key to annotations and symbols (bian li 編例) section of the catalogue explains that this symbol is used exclusively for indicating these square and rectangular markers.

It is not clear when this symbol █ first came to be used in transcriptions, but most likely this convention for representing these markers was developed by Lao Kan (Lao Gan) 勞榦 (1907–2003) when he catalogued and transcribed the cache of slips and boards recovered between 1930 and 1931 from the ruins of the Western Han (202 BCE–9 CE) garrison settlement located at the Juyan 居延 archaeological site that extends from northern Gansu Province into western Inner Mongolia.4 This cache came to be known as the Juyan jiujian 居延 舊簡 (“Old Juyan slips”).

Regardless of its origin, this symbol has come to be commonly used in transcriptions of excavated slip and board manuscripts. Different variations, such as ▆ and ▃, were developed to more precisely represent different degrees of thickness in these markers. These symbols have been used by the editors of several collections of excavated Han slips published over the last seventy years (see figure 2 below). However, as can be seen, the symbol and its variations were not used in a uniform manner, so that the version of this symbol appearing in a transcription did not always precisely correspond to the thickness of the marker it was made to represent:

Figure 2
Figure 2

Symbols used to transcribe markers inscribed on the upper edges of slips in collections of excavated Han textual materials

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

1.2 Analyzing Markers Inscribed above Text in Qin and Han Manuscripts: Initial Progress, New Approaches, Issues, and New Materials

1.2.1 Initial Progress

These rectangular markers that occur often in Qin and Han manuscripts suggest that daubing black ink onto the upper edges of slips and boards to form thick, bold shapes above text was a regular scribal practice in the Qin and Han periods. In fact, such markers occur in a variety of shapes, not just as a square or rectangle. They also served a number of functions in the manuscript contexts in which they appear.

Chinese paleographers Li Junming 李均明 and Liu Jun 劉軍 see these bold markers as belonging (despite the variety of shapes in which they occur) to a single, distinct type of text symbol that they call “signaling markers” 提示符:

Signaling markers are a kind of marker 符號 that appears on manuscripts inscribed on slips and boards. They were frequently used to signal that the text adjacent to them was a title 標題 or subject heading 主題, and so they are called “signaling markers.” They could also signal the beginning of a section, paragraph, or clause, or, in the case of documents that contain numerical quantities, they introduced tallies 小結, combined sums 合計, and other such quantities. Signaling markers most often occur as a solid circle, transcribed as ●. But they also occur in other forms, which include squares █, hour-glass shapes ⧗, triangles ▲, and ovals ⬮. Their presence in the handwritten documents in which they appeared was very conspicuous, and so they called strong attention to the text above which they appeared.5

Li Junming and Liu Jun see the solid circle ● as the primary, definitive form in which signaling markers occur. In their analytical grammar, they include solid square markers █ only as examples of signaling markers that indicate tallies or combined sums. They cite three occurrences of these in the cache of Han slips recovered from the Juyan excavation site between 1972 and 1982, a cache that came to be known as the Juyan xin jian 居延新簡 (“New Juyan slips”): one each from slip nos. EPT51-344, EPT5-172, and EPT17-7 (see figure 3 below).6 However, examples of square and rectangular markers are not listed among the other three categories of signaling markers: (1) those that introduce labeling titles or subject headings; (2) those that introduce the beginning of a section, paragraph, or clause; and (3) those that introduce special items or content.

Figure 3
Figure 3
Solid square and rectangle signaling markers in the “New Juyan slips”

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

1.2.2 New Approaches

Cheng Pengwan 程鵬萬 has amended this picture to lend a fuller account of the codicological function of solid square and rectangular signaling markers. In his general discussion of labeling titles appearing in manuscripts written on slips, boards, and silk scrolls, he observes in slip manuscripts a scribal practice of devoting an entire slip exclusively to a single textual entry 單獨占一簡. He cites two examples of this practice. The first is from the Shi jing 詩經 (“Classic of Odes”) manuscript of the cache of wooden slips and wooden boards excavated in 1977 from Western Han tomb no. 1 at Shuanggudui 雙古堆 in Fuyang 阜陽 County, Anhui Province. The second is slip no. 1814 from the cache of Han slips recovered from Dunhuang. Slip no. 1814 is inscribed with only a single phrase:

右候官簿

█ To the right, military company account book7

This practice of devoting an entire slip exclusively to a single entry of text highlighted that one entry inscribed on the slip. As can be seen, square and rectangular manuscript markers were often a salient feature of this practice, further amplifying its visual effect. It is therefore clear that these text markers were not only used to set off tallies: they also introduced (and thereby called attention to) titles that summarized the textual content of manuscripts.

Cheng Pengwan’s analysis reflects the multifunctional purpose that these rectangular markers served. In his discussion of signaling markers that appear in manuscripts written on slips and boards, Cheng Pengwan places signaling markers that introduce titles and tallies into one comprehensive category, and divides these into sub-categories on the basis of physical appearance.8 He proposes that there are three types of signaling markers that introduced titles in Qin and Han slips and boards. These were (1) round dots inscribed in black ink, (2) horizontal oblong black ink marks, or (3) daubs of black ink or vertical black ink lines inscribed above labelling titles. Cheng Pengwan also notes that in slips that display numerical tallies (called “tally slips” 小結簡 by modern scholars), (1) round dot markers or (2) horizontally or vertically oblong markers usually occur above the graphs fan (“all”) or you (“to the right”).

For all the types of signaling markers that Cheng Pengwan observes, he lists more examples than Li Junming and Liu Jun, the time range to which are dated the materials that he cites is broader, and the manuscript items that he cites are more diverse in terms of their textual genre. Cheng Pengwan’s reorganized and expanded treatment of signaling markers reflects a phenomenon clearly seen in the evidence, which is that Qin and Han scribes used solid rectangular manuscript markers not only to call attention to numerical tallies, but also to emphasize document and manuscript titles.

1.2.3 Issues

Cheng Pengwan’s classification is not a total departure from the analytical description of Li Junming and Liu Jun. His method of classification is, like theirs, to parse signaling markers appearing in manuscript items into groups based on their function in the manuscript contexts in which they occurred, and then to sub-divide these groups according to differences in the physical shapes of the markers. This approach to categorization is somewhat misleading, since it assumes that any given occurrence of a signaling marker introduced only one type of textual entry. However, signaling markers sometimes introduced two different types of textual entry at the same time. This is the case for markers that introduced titles and tallies simultaneously.

Slip no. EPT52-84 of the New Juyan cache is an example of a signaling marker that simultaneously introduced two types of textual entry. Inscribed on that slip are two separate entries, both written below a solid black rectangular marker. (See figure 3 above.) The first entry reads, “Nanyang: sacks of personal clothing items” 南陽私衣物橐. The second is a quantity: “one hundred and eleven” 百一十一. The first entry was evidently the title for a physical object (i.e., the name of a physical item that was counted), and the second was the corresponding tally.

There are additional examples of this dual function in slips containing numerical tallies in other caches of slips. These include tally slips among the caches recovered in 1978 from the Warring States tomb of Zeng monarch Zeng Hou Yi 曾侯乙 (c.477–433 BCE) in present-day Hubei and among the tomb inventory rosters 遣策 excavated between 1972 and 1974 from the Han tombs at Mawangdui 馬王堆 in Changsha 長沙, Hunan Province. While the markers that appear on these slips are categorized as “tally signaling markers” 小結提示符, they also simultaneously introduced labeling titles, serving a dual function as in the slip from the New Juyan cache cited above. Instances like these demonstrate the shortcomings of categorizing manuscript markers according to the idea of mutually exclusive groupings based on the type of textual entry that markers introduced.

Despite such shortcomings, Cheng Pengwan’s study examines the usage of these markers created by daubing black ink into upper edges of writing slips in a broad range of manuscript items that are diverse in content and textual genre. The manuscript items included in his study are dated to a range of temporal points that span a relatively wide length of time, which makes it possible to observe the usage of these markers diachronically, tracing change and development through time.

1.2.4 New Materials

In the past two decades, the discovery of new materials has provided more evidence for the study of manuscript markers in early Chinese scribal practices. The recovery in 2002 of a cache of Qin documents from a well at the Liye 里耶 archaeological site in Hunan Province – a cache containing numerous statutes and ordinances 律令 that has come to be known as the Liye Qin jian 里耶秦簡 (“Liye Qin slips”) – has provided an abundance of new materials for the study of manuscript conventions in the Qin period. This filled in what had hitherto been a lack of Qin manuscript materials, as compared to a relative abundance of materials for the Warring States and Han periods. Following the Liye discovery, the acquisition of an additional cache of Qin manuscript items by the Yuelu Academy 嶽麓書院 at Hunan University 湖南大學, purchased in batches from a Hong Kong antique dealer over the course of a number of months in 2007 and 2008, further augmented materials available for the study of Qin scribal practices. In the years following their discovery, both of these caches have become available to scholars in the form of published critical editions.

In light of the availability of new materials, what follows is a re-evaluation of existing accounts of the Qin and Han scribal practice of daubing black ink onto the upper edges of slips and boards to create solid, black square and rectangle text markers that set off the text above which they were written. I attempt to trace changes and developments in this practice over time. Any errors or deficiencies in my analysis are entirely my own. I sincerely welcome comments and constructive criticism aimed at furthering our understanding of this fascinating feature of early Chinese manuscript culture.

2 Relics of a Scribal Practice: An Early Imperial Clerical Protocol Specifying the Marking of Label Slips by “Making Wet Their Upper Part” and Its Connection to Text Markers in Excavated Manuscript Materials Created by Blackening Bamboo Slip Tops

2.1 An Excavated Description of a Scribal Practice: Accessory Ordinance C No. 4 from the Yuelu Academy Collection

Among the documents contained in the some two-thousand slips of the Yuelu Academy collection of Qin slips, there is one titled Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 卒令丙四, catalogued in vol. 5 of the published collection of the cache, Yuelu shuyuan cang Qin jian 岳麓書院藏秦簡. The text of this ordinance is rather lengthy; it comprises eleven (11) slips in total. It sets out detailed regulations for the formatting of three different types of official documents: (1) petitions (qing ), (2) review requests (dui ), and (3) memorials (zou ); it also details requirements for the presentation and binding of the slips and boards on which these documents were inscribed.9 Among the slips of the ordinance, there is a protocol written on slips no. 117–118:

書卻, 上對而復與卻書及 [117/1731] 事俱上者, 繠編之, 過廿牒, 阶(界) 其方,江(空)其上而署之曰:此以右若左若干牒,前對、請若前奏。 [118/1722]10

If a document is rejected, submit it for review and once more provide the rejection notice with [117/1731] all the items that had been submitted [originally]. Gather these together and bind them [into a packet]. If it exceeds twenty slips, make a division with a rectangular [slip], make wet its upper part, and inscribe it [as follows]: For this, accept n number of slips to the right or n number of slips to the left; [this is] the foregoing review request or petition or the foregoing memorial. [118/1722]

This passage describes the details of the binding and labeling of a “rejection notice” (que shu 卻書) being “submitted for review” (shang dui 上對). Judging from the full content of the protocol, the clerical action named in the phrase “if a document is rejected, submit it for review” (shu que shang dui 書卻上對) involved multiple documents. At the very least, it most likely involved three separate layers: (1) the original review request, petition, or memorial; (2) the “rejection notice” (que shu 卻書) that was produced when the original document was rejected; and (3) the revised version of the original document being re-submitted for review. When a document was re-submitted, it was required that these separate layers be “gathered together and bound” (rui bian 繠編). Similarly, slip no. 115 in the same ordinance refers to an official “gathering together the rejected documents” (rui que 繠卻) when rejecting submitted documents, an action that it names as being in tandem with “making a separate report [of judgment]” (biebao 别報).11

Because re-submitting a rejected document for review involved several additional documents (and possibly also duplicated content), if the documents were bound together without any divisions or labels, it likely would have been difficult for the recipient to differentiate one individual document from another or look up particular items of content within the packet. As a result, the protocol required that when such a packet exceeded twenty slips, it was necessary to label the original “review request” , “petition” , or “memorial” – the protocol refers to these in the phrase “the foregoing review request or petition or the foregoing memorial” 前對請若前奏 – and separate it off from the other documents in the packet.

Accordingly, the protocol outlined a number of steps for preparing a rejected document for re-submission. First, a rectangular slip (fang ) was to be used to make a division between the separate documents; this made use of the actual physical medium on which text was inscribed to distinguish between documents. Second, the protocol instructed to “make wet its upper part” (江其上), with the phrase “its upper part” referring to the upper part of the rectangular slip used as a divider. Third, the divider slip was to be inscribed, creating a labeling title naming the document that was being re-submitted – “the foregoing review request or petition or the foregoing memorials” 前對請若前奏 – and indicating a numerical sum (ji jie 計結) that was the number of slips in that document – “for this, accept n number of slips to the right or n number of slips to the left” 此以右若左若干牒; this made use of inscribed text to distinguish between documents.

2.2 Marked Slips that Served as Labels: Excavated Examples

2.2.1 Divisions between Documents

As a complement to the protocol in the Yuelu Academy cache of Qin slips, in the Liye cache of Qin documents, there are items that demonstrate how the text of a submitted document that was rejected was differentiated from the text of the rejection notice 卻書 that was generated when the original document was rejected and returned to its sender.

In item 8-135, the text of the originally submitted document and that of the rejection notice are both written on the recto side of the board. The handwriting in the two documents is identical. Quotation marks (created by diagonal strokes of ink: /) are used to differentiate between them.

This method is in contrast to the format of item 8-157. There, the original document is written on the recto side of the board. However, the rejection notice is written in columns on the right field of the verso side. The handwriting of the rejection notice is different from that of the original document.

Figure 4
Figure 4
Formats for differentiating between a rejected document and its rejection notice (que shu 卻書), as observed in the Liye Qin slips

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

Although the methods differ, in both of these items, care was taken to differentiate the text of the originally submitted document from that of the rejection notice. This strongly resembles the emphasis in Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 on formatting to make clear divisions between documents in combined packets created by “gathering together and binding” 繠編 a rejected document and its rejection notice.

2.2.2 Marked Slips Serving as Labels

The upper edges of a number of slips in the Liye cache of Qin documents were daubed black when they were inscribed, creating markers above the text entries on these slips. The contents of the text entries inscribed below these markers reflect the kind of labeling (i.e., indicating the name of the physical item being labeled and a quantity) that is described in the guidelines of Accessory Ordinance C no. 4. Momiyama Akira 籾山明 has made a systematized index of slips in the Liye Qin cache that fit this profile; he believes that they are closely related to labeling title slips.12 I have selected a few of these marked slips from the Liye Qin cache to illustrate this pattern:

Figure 5
Figure 5
Slips from the Liye cache of Qin documents that have markers on their Upper Edges and are Inscribed with Titles

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

Slip no. 8-35 is possibly a tally for a quantity of grain. The inscriptions on slip nos. 8-22, 8-153, 8-429, 8-434, 8-1242, and 8-1272 do not contain tallies or numerical sums; rather, their inscriptions function like titles, such as no. 8-153, which reads:

御史問直絡裙程書

Document [related to] Chief Prosecutor’s inquiry into standards for the pricing of silk gauze skirts

I, along with the other contributors to Liye Qin jiandu jiaoshi 里耶秦簡牘校釋, suspect that this is the title of the document contained in slip no. 8-159 (not shown here).13

The phrase “rat contract truss” (shu quan shu 鼠券束) that appears on slip no. 8-1242 is possibly the title slip for a contract for the catching of rats.14 Zhang Chunlong 張春龍 in his discussion of the term “truss” (shu ) that appears in the Liye Qin slips, points out that the slips on which this term appears are bound very tightly to the official documents, clothing rosters, and other items that they label. He cites the item of the Liye cache (no. 16-38) inscribed with the phrase “thirtieth year compulsory laborer clothing roster truss” 卅年徒衣籍束 as an example.15 Slips inscribed with this term likely served to label packets consisting of lengthy individual documents or multiple documents bound together.

Slips no. 8-1023, no. 8-1137, and no. 8-1566 in Figure 5 contain both numerical sums and labeling titles. For example, slip no. 8-1023 is inscribed with two text entries. The first entry – “tally of metal cash paid to Bailiff of the Lesser Treasury Qi” 付郪少内金錢計 – is a title, and the second entry that follows it – “cash, sixteen thousand seven hundred ninety-seven” 錢萬六千七百九十七 – is a numerical sum for a specific amount of money.

The content and succinct nature of the text entries inscribed on such slips suggest that these slips served a labeling function. As such, regardless of their specific context, the obvious visual fact that these label slips have been marked with black ink daubed onto their upper edges cannot be ignored.

2.2.3 Marked Label Slips in Tomb Inventory Rosters (qian ce 遣策)

Certain types of Han slip scrolls more closely resemble the formatting guidelines of Accessory Ordinance C no. 4. One such type is scrolls of slips inscribed as tomb inventory rosters 遣策. Several of these rosters were discovered with tally slips functioning as their labels. Such rosters have been found in Han tomb nos. 1 and 3 at Mawangdui (described above) and Han tomb no. 1 at Xiejiaqiao 謝家橋 in Jingzhou 荊州, Hubei Province excavated in 2007. (See figure 6 below.)

Figure 6
Figure 6
Marked tally slips

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

Slip no. 153 of the tomb inventory of Mawangdui tomb no. 1 reads:

右方種五牒,布囊十四

To the right [of this slip], seeds – five slips; cloth sacks – fourteen

Slip no. 38 of the tomb inventory of Xiejiaqiao tomb no. 1 reads:

右方木器卅六牒

To the right [of this slip], wood implements – thirty-six slips

Both of these inscriptions indicate the main content of the book of slips positioned to the right of the slip on which they were written and a numerical sum that is the number of slips in the book. However, it should be observed that these tally slips are all of the same physical dimensions as the slips positioned to their right; they are elongated and thin, not “rectangular” . In contrast, the tally slip attached to the tomb inventory roster of Mawangdui tomb no. 3 is more rectangular in shape, which is consistent with the formatting requirements described in Accessory Ordinance C no. 4. Regardless of their physical dimensions, all three of these slips contain two core aspects: a numerical sum and a title. They have all been daubed with black ink on their upper edges.

2.2.4 Marked Slips Serving as Labels in Other Types of Manuscript Items

Other items that resemble the formatting guidelines of Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 are label slips in other collections recovered in recent decades. These include (1) the postscript labels (wei ti 尾題) in the Han manuscript of the Shi jing excavated at Shuanggudui (described above), (2) the “report to the earth document” (gao di shu 告地書) of Xiejiaqiao Han tomb no. 1, and (3) the slip reading “to the right [of this slip], exempting document” (you fang chu shu 右方除書) in the textual materials recovered from Han tomb no. 1 at Songbai 松柏 in Jingzhou, Hubei Province in 2004:

Figure 7
Figure 7
Marked slips serving as labels in other types of manuscript items

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

2.2.4.1 Marked Slips Used as Labels in a Poem Anthology

The Shuanggudui Shi jing Han manuscript is an anthology of poems; it is not an administrative document like the items of the Liye and Yuelu collections. A conspicuous feature of the manuscript is its use of postscript labels that mark off individual poems, as noted by scholars Hu Pingsheng 胡平生 and Han Ziqiang 韓自强:

Judging from the slip fragments, after every poem there is a note that reads “herein to the right is such-and-such poem consisting of n number of graphs” 此右某篇若干字, and above the graph “herein” , there is a black marker ▆. Similarly, in the Guo feng 國風 [“Airs of the States”] section, after the poems of every state, there is a note reading “to the right [of this slip], such-and-such state” 右方某國 and above the graph “to the right” , there is also a black marker ▆. None of these inscriptions are part of the text of the poems, and so these slips must have been the result of the practice of “devoting an entire slip exclusively to a single textual entry” 單獨占一簡.16

This is an accurate description of these postscript labels as they appear in the Shuanggudui Shi jing manuscript. Although the manuscript was compiled as a full book volume (as opposed to being prepared as packet of administrative documents), the pattern represented in the postscript labels is no different from the description in Accessory Ordinance C no. 4: the poem labels are written on a single, separate slip; the upper edges of these labeling slips have been daubed with black ink; and the entries inscribed on them consist of a labeling title and a numerical sum.

2.2.4.2 Marked Slips Used as Labels for Booklet and Wood Board Items

The report to the earth document from Xiejiaqiao consists of three slips. As displayed in figure 7 above, the two slips on the left contain the main text of the document. There is currently debate over the nature of the slip on the right that has been daubed with black on its upper edge. Liu Guosheng 劉國勝 believes that it is an appendix (fu jian 附件) to the main text, and that its function is twofold: it contains a name roster of the individuals who are referred to in the main text as “migrating” 徙移, and also (more importantly) serves as a certificate indicating that these individuals are to be exempted from corvée labor and taxation duties.17 Momiyama Akira offers a different interpretation, arguing that this slip is actually the document’s title slip.18

Momiyama’s explanation is perhaps more consistent with other evidence recovered from excavated tombs. The marked slip attached to the Xiejiaqiao report to the earth document resembles individual wood slips 木簡 excavated from the Han tomb at Songbai. The editors of the Songbai collection of textual materials persuasively argue that these ten slips were labels attached to wood board 木牘 items excavated from the same tomb.19 As of this time, images of only one of these slips have been published (see right-most panel of figure 7 above).20 But for this one slip at least, it is clear that its upper edge has been daubed black. The text entry inscribed on the slip reads, “to the right [of this slip], exempting document” 右方除書. The wood board document it labels is most likely the “record of Zhou Yan’s meritorious labor” 周偃的功勞記錄. Judging from the items that have already been published, the wood boards recovered from Songbai are wide and “boxy” (fang ). However, the wood slips that serve as their labels are thinner and elongated, resembling the die (“thin slip”) type of writing slip. This is the opposite of what is commonly observed in such labeling for documents and other manuscripts, where wide, tablet-like slips function as labels to thinner slips.

2.3 Conclusion

The above section has provided an overview of the physical and textual features of Qin and Han writing slips that served as labels. All of these share the following essential characteristics: (1) the medium on which their labeling text entries are inscribed is either a slip or a board ; (2) their labeling text entries occupy only a single slip or board; (3) the upper edges of these slips and boards are daubed with black ink; (4) the content of the text entries inscribed on them consists of a labeling title (in some cases, the labeling title consists of a summary of the main content of the textual item it labels) and a numerical sum, or just a labeling title or numerical sum alone.

Reading Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 in light of these excavated examples of marked label slips, it becomes clear that the following phrase from the protocol contained in the ordinance describes a practice of fashioning labeling title slips:

阶(界)其方,江(空)其上而署之:此以右若左若干牒,前對、請若前奏

make a division with a rectangular [slip], make wet [jiang < *krôŋ ]21 [leave blank: kong < *khôŋ ] its upper part, and inscribe it [as follows]: For this, accept n number of slips to the right or n number of slips to the left; [this is] the foregoing review request or petition or the foregoing memorial

As noted above, the phrase “make a division with a rectangular [slip]” 界其方 means using a thick, rectangular slip to serve as a divider between thin slips; it specifies the physical medium from which the labeling title slip is to be made and indicates that the labeling inscription is to be written on a single, separate slip. The phrases “[f]or this, accept n number of slips to the right or n number of slips to the left” 此以右若左若干牒 and “[this is] the foregoing review request or petition or the foregoing memorial” 前對請若前奏 specify the content of the text item to be written on the labeling title slip. In this context, the phrase jiang qi shang 江其上 (“make wet its upper part”) most likely refers to daubing the upper edge of the labeling slip with black ink. The editors of Yuelu shuyuan cang Qin jian (vol. 5) read the graph jiang < *krôŋ (“make wet”) as kong < *khôŋ (“leave blank”), but this reading is highly implausible.22

3 Interpreting the Meaning of the Graph jiang

Huang Haobo 黃浩波 has proposed that the graph jiang (“make wet”) that appears in the protocol of Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 is possibly a corruption of the graph wu .23 Eastern Han (25–220 CE) scholar Xu Shen’s 許慎 (58–148 CE) Shuowen jiezi 説文解字 (“Discussion of Pictographs and Explanation of Semantographs”) provides the following definition for wu in the section of the Shuowen devoted to the graph shui (“water”) and its derivatives (as organized in Xu Shen’s systemization):

汙,薉也。一曰小池爲汙。一曰涂也。從水,于聲。

Wu. It means weedy. One states that a small pond is a wu. One states that it means to smear. It follows [the graph] “water”. Its sound is *wa.

If jiang is a corruption of wu , it follows that the phrase jiang qi shang 江其上 can be read as wu qi shang 汙其上 (“smear the space above”). This reading certainly fits with the description of the practice of making labeling slips in the protocol of Accessory Ordinance C no. 4; it also is consistent with the physical appearance of unearthed labeling title slips that have been “smeared” with ink in their upper edges to create the distinct square and rectangular markers.

However, in the published photographs of the Yuelu Qin slips, the graph that appears in the protocol is , which is clearly jiang , devoid of any sign of orthographical corruption or variation. This complicates reading this graph as wu . Moreover, understanding this graph as it appears in Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 as referring specifically to the act of daubing black ink onto the upper edges of writing slips would be to privilege an impression based on the modern observation of a phenomenon seen in physical relics (i.e., inscribed markers – created by daubed ink – appearing on the upper edges of excavated slips). It is possible that this understanding based in direct observation might diverge from how scribes and copyists in early imperial China understood the act of marking writing slips in this way. Since it was evidently such a common (and consciously emphasized) practice in Qin scribal culture, the daubing of black ink into the upper edges of labeling title slips (thus creating text markers), should be referred to using an alternative, more precise terminology. For this purpose, I would like to propose that the graph jiang < *krôŋ (“make wet”) that appears in Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 should be read as gang < *krôŋ (“insert a plank”).

3.1 The Words jiang < *krôŋ and gang < *krôŋ as Homophones

In Eastern Han pronunciation, the words jiang and gang – for which the Later Han phonetic reconstructions are *kɔŋ – were homophones, and thus it would have been possible to use them interchangeably in writing. The entry for the graph jiang in the Shuowen, listed in its shui section, reads:

江…工聲。

River waters … Its sound is *koŋ.

The entry for the graph gang (“plank”), located in the mu (“wood”) section, is:

床前橫木也。從木,工聲。

A horizontal piece of wood at the front of a couch-bench. It follows [the graph] “wood.” Its sound is *koŋ.

Xu Shen names gong < *koŋ as the pronunciation for both graphs, which suggests that jiang and gang were homophones in Eastern Han pronunciation.

Passages of Han dynasty historiographical texts also contain evidence of a homophonic relationship between the graphs jiang and gang . The graph gang appears in the place name Gangli 杠里 mentioned in an episode in the account of the life and career of Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) founder Liu Bang 劉邦 (256–195 BCE) in the “Gaozu Benji” 高祖本紀 (“Basic Annals of the High Ancestor”) chapter of the Shi ji 史記 (“Records of the Grand Scribe”). Liu Bang was also known as the Duke of Pei 沛公 because of his origins in Pei county, located in what is modern-day Jiangsu Province:

(沛公)乃道碭至成陽,與杠里秦軍夾壁,破魏二軍。24

[The Duke of Pei] thereupon passed through Dang, arriving at Chengyang [located in what is present-day Shandong Province]. He pinned the Qin army at Gangli against the cliffs and broke the two armies of Wei.

The “Gaodi ji” 高帝紀 (“Annals of the High Emperor”) chapter of the Eastern Han work of historiography, the Han shu (“Book of Han”) 漢書, provides an account of this series of events that slightly diverges from the record in the Shi ji but nevertheless also mentions the place name Gangli:

乃道碭至(陽城)[城陽]與杠里,攻秦軍壁,破其二軍。25

[He] thereupon passed through Dang, arriving at Yangcheng [Chengyang] and Gangli. He attacked fortifications of the Qin troops and broke their two armies.

Sui (581–618 CE) and Tang (618–907 CE) dynasty scholar Yan Shigu 顏師古 (581–645 CE) in his annotation of this passage of the Han shu uses jiang – for which the Middle Chinese (MC) pronunciation was *kåŋ – to indicate the pronunciation of gang (also pronounced as *kåŋ in MC):

杠音江。

The sound of is *kåŋ.

Yan Shigu’s medieval gloss of the pronunciation of the graph gang using jiang corroborates Xu Shen’s analysis in which the two graphs are homophones.

3.2 The Word gang and Its Relation to “Slat” (ting ) Table-Benches

The term gang was in currency in the Qin region of the north-central plains zone of early China at least as early as the Western Han. The entry in Western Han scholar Yang Xiong’s 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE) Fang yan 方言 (“Regional Dialects”) for words that refer to a section of wood as part of a chuang (“couch-bench”) names four different, regionally specific locutions:

(牀)其杠,北燕朝鮮之間謂之樹,自關而西秦晉之間謂之杠,南楚之間謂之趙,東齊海岱之間謂之𣘘。

For the gang [of a couch-bench], in North Yan and Chaoxian, it is called a shu . In relation to the Pass: to the west, in Qin and Jin, it is called a gang ; to the south, in Chu, it is called a zhao ; to the east, in Qi and Haidai, it is called a shen 𣘘.

Yang Xiong’s record shows that gang was a word in common use in the Qin region as of the Western Han period. In light of this fact and the strong body of evidence that the word was a homophone of jiang in spoken language during the early imperial period, it is very likely that the graph jiang < *krôŋ was used as a phonetic replacement for gang < *krôŋ in the context of Qin administrative documents.

Evidence in a number of sources suggest a meaning of the graph gang that is consistent with the definition given by the Shuowen (i.e. “a horizontal piece of wood at the front of a couch-bench” 床前橫木). The Ji jiu pian 急就篇 (“Quick Learning Tract”), a grammar book traditionally attributed to Western Han courtier Shi You 史游 (fl. mid-1st century BCE), in its third scroll contains a sequence of words that includes the nouns “pillow,” “couch-bench,” and “plank”: “slave, concubine, private servant, pillow, couch-bench, plank” 奴婢私隸枕牀杠. Yan Shigu’s annotation to this cluster of terms in the Ji jiu pian explains a pillow as “that which supports the head”, a couch-bench as “that which is sat or laid upon”, and a plank as “a couch-bench’s horizontal piece of wood, also called a zhao牀之橫木也亦謂之兆. That the word plank occurs beside pillow and couch-bench in this cluster of terms in the text of the Ji jiu pian suggests that plank and couch-bench were closely related terms.

Southern Tang dynasty (937–975 CE) scholar Xu Kai’s 徐鍇 (920–974 CE) commentary to the Shuowen, titled Shuowen jiezi xi zhuan 説文解字繫傳 (“Discussion of Pictographs and Explanation of Semantographs Bound Tradition”), explains the term gang as it appears in the Shuowen as being “precisely what people today call a ‘couch-bench slat’” 即今人謂之牀桯也. The Shuowen describes a “slat” (ting ) as a “a stand at the front of a couch-bench” 牀前几.

Qing dynasty (1644–1911) philologist Duan Yucai’s 段玉裁 (1735–1815) in his commentary to the Shuowen jiezi entry for slat proposes a conceptual view of the type of furniture referred to by this term in ancient China:

古者坐於牀而隱於几,孟子隱几而臥,內則少者執牀與坐,御者舉几是也. 此牀前之几,與席前之几不同。謂之桯者,言其平也。《考工記》“蓋桯,則謂直杠。”

People of antiquity sat on couch-benches and leaned on stands . [The Mengzi 孟子 (“Master Meng”) records that] “Master Meng leaned on a stand and then laid down.” The “Neize” 内則 [“Norms for Inside (the Home),” a chapter of the Li ji 禮記 (“Record of Rites”)] observes that “the younger [members of a family] should bring over a couch-bench for [the parents] to sit on, and an attendant should lift over a stand.” These stands are different from stands placed at the front of a mat. Calling it a “slat” (ting ) was to say that it was a level surface. The Kao gong ji 考工記 [“Record of the Examination of Crafts”] records, “slat: this refers to a straight plank.”26

Sun Ji 孫機 has shown how in the Han period there was in use a type of long stand 長几 called a slat that was placed at the front of a couch-bench; these were fitted with parapeted, rounded legs; while they were used primarily as an elevated surface for sitting on, food and drink were also often placed on top of them, so that they were a kind of cross between a bench and table.27 In the Han period tombs featuring stone relief carvings at Dahuting 打虎亭 in Mi County 密縣, Henan Province, there is preserved a mural that depicts the scene of a lively banquet in which one of these slat table-benches appears:

Figure 8
Figure 8

Han mural depicting a “slat” (ting ) table-bench in a banquet scene

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

The table-bench is right at the center of the mural, and one of the banqueters sits on top of it next to a platter of food. Sun Ji presents this as a visual example of slat table-benches. Sun Ji also reconstructs the portion of the mural that depicts the table-bench and the canopied dais it adjoins:

Figure 9
Figure 9

Reconstructed image of a “slat” (ting ) table-bench adjoining a canopied dais Note: Sun Ji, Han dai wuzhi wenhua ziliao tushuo, 227.

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

In the reconstructed image, the surface of the table-bench is a long, relatively narrow board of wood. The table-bench has been placed horizontally against the dais to hold food items, allowing the one seated at the dais to sit at the dais’ edge. The long, narrow shape of the wooden board section of the slat table-bench strongly resembles the shape of the horizontal oblong black ink marks that is the form in which so many of these markers that have been daubed onto the upper edges of writing slips in excavated manuscript materials appear: ▃. This resemblance between the wooden board surface of slat – i.e., plank – table-benches and the shape of these markers suggests that in Qin and Han times, the term plank denoted a horizontal oblong board-like shape, whether it be for a piece of furniture or a marker to be inscribed onto writing slips to serve as a text symbol. The text markers that appear in recovered manuscript materials are thus a manifestation of this visual concept of a plank.

3.3 The Word gang and Horizontality

That a notion of horizontality was implied by the word plank in Qin and Han times has been observed by pre-modern philologists and is corroborated by medieval sources. Qing scholar Wang Niansun 王念孫 (1744–1832) in his study Guangya shuzheng 廣雅疏證 (“Scrutinizing Assessment of the ‘Extended Correct Expressions’”) – which points out anachronisms and inaccuracies in the third century BCE dictionary Guangya 廣雅 (“Extended Correct Expressions”) – observes, “for objects referred to using the word gang , it generally indicated that which was positioned horizontal to and crosswise over [something else]. A stone bridge was called a gang . It is close in meaning to the word chuang gang 牀杠 [couch-bench plank]”. Corroborating Wang Niansun’s explication is the wood section of the Yu pian 玉篇 (“Jade Tract”), a dictionary composed by Liang (502–557 CE) and Chen (557–589 CE) dynasty scholar Gu Yewang 顧野王 (519–581 CE), which observes that the words gang and shi gang 石杠 (“stone plank”) are “what are today called ‘stone bridges’”.

The term gang used in the “Li Lou” 離婁 (“Leaving the Harvester”) chapter of the Mengzi, has been understood as referring to footbridges: “in the eleventh month of the year, the footway gang [planks] are completed” 歲十一月徒杠成. Qing dynasty scholar Jiao Xun 焦循 (1763–1820) in his Zheng yi 正義 (“Correct Meanings”) commentary to the Mengzi explicates the term gang as it appears in this sentence of the Mengzi with the observation that, in the Warring States period, “usually, a single [log of] wood was called a gang [plank]. That which was formed when wood [logs] were joined together was called a qiao [bridge].”

According to these philological explications, bridges were called gang , because the term, as Wang Niansun points out, “indicated that which was positioned horizontal to and crosswise over [something else].” Therefore, the term “horizontal oblong black ink marks” (mo heng 墨橫) that modern scholars use to describe black ink markers daubed onto the upper edges of labeling title slips is, incidentally, a formulation that is roughly synonymous with the term that was, judging from Accessory Ordinance C no. 4, current in Qin and Han administrative parlance to describe the practice of inscribing these markers onto label slips.

In summary, I believe that the phrase “make wet its upper part” (jiang qi shang 江其上) in Accessory Ordinance C no. 4 should be read as “inscribe a plank onto its upper part” (gang qi shang 杠其上), and that this phrase directed its readers to inscribe horizontal plank-shaped marks onto the upper section of rectangular slips. These “plank” marks had a compelling visual effect, as is seen in the frequently observed pattern in which the upper edges of labeling title slips have been daubed with black ink.

4 Origin and Development of the Scribal Practice of Using Plank Markers as Text Symbols

4.1 The Use of Horizontal Oblong Black Ink Marks in the Warring States Period and Their Function

4.1.1 Horizontal Oblong Black Ink Marks as Text Dividers and Variations in Their Physical Shape

Other than setting off labeling titles, another use of horizontal oblong black ink marks – perhaps it would be preferable if these were called “black ink plank markers” (mo gang 墨杠) – in Qin and Han manuscripts was to mark off separate documents or separate items in the same text. This appears to be one of the basic functions of these horizontal ink marks when used as text symbols.

This practice of using horizontal oblong black ink marks to indicate divisions between discrete items of text appears to predate Qin and Han scribal practices. There is evidence that this practice was in use during the Warring States period (c.480–221 BCE), as is seen in the cache of bamboo slips inscribed with Chu script recovered in 1986 from tomb no. 2 at Baoshan 包山 in Jingmen 荊門, Hubei Province. Horizontal black ink marks occur frequently in the document titled Suo dou 所䛠 (“That Which Was Assigned”), a task roster (see figure 10 below). Cheng Pengwan points out that the one who made this roster used these marks to distinguish between events that occurred at different times.28 However, a more precise description would be that these marks distinguish between recorded items corresponding to separate months, as these marks were generally inserted above graphs naming the different months.

The cache of bamboo slips inscribed with Chu script recovered in 1957 from Xinyang 信陽 in Henan Province includes a tomb inventory roster in which these marks also appear as division markers. Slips no. 2–12 of the roster contain a record that inventories kitchen implements. Within this inventory, the section that follows a horizontal oblong black ink mark was exclusively devoted to what are titled in the inventory as “wood utensils” 木器. The mark obviously indicated a division between wood utensils and the rest of the kitchen implements that were inventoried in the preceding text. Just above the mark, between the mark and the graph “seven” above it, there is a small, horizontal dash mark: -. The dash mark and the thicker, elongated plank mark ▃ occur adjacent to each other on the slip (see figure 10 below), but unless they were a redundancy, they evidently served different functions. To make a reasoned conjecture, the dash mark most likely represented a stop or completion, and the plank mark served the function of indicating divisions between the separate sections that contained discrete categories of objects.

In connection with this plank mark in the tomb inventory roster of the Xinyang cache, in the cache of bamboo slips inscribed with Chu script recovered in 1953 from the Yangtianhu 仰天湖 archaeological site in Changsha 長沙, Hunan Province, slip no. 12 contains a horizontal oblong black ink mark (see figure 10 below). The lower section of the slip has been broken off, and so it is not possible to confirm whether or not there were graphs inscribed on the slip below the mark. Zhu Dexi 朱德熙 (1920–1992) and Qiu Xigui 裘錫圭 believe that the mark indicated the end of a sentence.29 Li Junming and Liu Jun, however, believe that it signaled a division between sections of text.30 Viewing the mark on Yangtianhu slip no. 12 alongside the plank mark that occurs in the tomb inventory roster of the Xinyang cache, the latter view is more likely.

These horizontal oblong black ink marks also occur in many of what modern scholars label as the “book” or “documentary” (shu ) texts contained in slips inscribed with Chu script. However, among scholars there are still differing options about what their function was. The view of Zhu Dexi and Qiu Xigui regarding the function of the mark that occurs on slip no. 12 of the Yangtianhu cache has evidently exerted an influence. For example, Cheng Pengwan argues that the horizontal oblong black ink marks that appear in the cache of bamboo slips inscribed with Chu script recovered in 1993 from tomb no. 1 at Guodian 郭店 in Jingmen, Hubei and in the slips of the Shanghai Museum collection inscribed with Chu script that were acquired in 1994 merely indicated the ends of the different sections of a text.31 In contrast to this view, the editors of the Shanghai Museum collection, using slip no. 1 of the manuscript Cheng wang ji bang 成王既邦 (“King Cheng Brings the State to Completion”) as an example, propose that horizontal oblong black ink marks like the one seen on that slip indicate a division between different sections of text that adjoined one another.32 We believe that the view of the editors of the Shanghai Museum is more persuasive.

As evidence in support of the latter view, a similar marker on slip no. 4 of the document Ji zhu 集箸 (“Collected Registers”) from the Baoshan Chu slips serves to demarcate a division between two discrete sections of text in the document. The marker occurs as an hour-glass shape: . Chen Wei 陳偉 points out that markers of this same shape occur on a number of individual slips in the Baoshan cache, and that these markers indicated divisions between separate texts or separate sections of the same text.33 Cheng Pengwan also categorizes these markers as “division markers” (jie ge fu 界隔符).34 Similarly, in his overview of the slips recovered in 1993 from Qin tomb no. 15 at Wangjiatai 王家臺 in Jingzhou, Hubei, Wang Mingqin 王明欽 describes how markers in the Wangjiatai slips occurring in a bowtie shape ⧓ indicated divisions between sections of text or mark separations between individual sentences.35 These markers ⧓ are identical to the hour-glass markers that occur in the Baoshan slips , with the only difference being that they are positioned in what is a 90º rotation compared to the markers in the Baoshan slips. These text symbols in the Wangjiatai slips also served as indicators of divisions between separate texts or separate sections of the same text. It is thus reasonable to understand them as division markers.

In fact, I suspect that these two shapes ( and ⧓) actually depict the same physical object as the horizontal oblong “plank” ink marks (▃): the wooden board surface of a “couch-bench slat” 牀桯. Sun Ji’s study of early Chinese material culture has shown how in early China, the wooden board surfaces of stand pieces of furniture were long and rectangular.36 He also points out that in the Western Han period, ping ji 慿几 (“stands for leaning on”) – furniture implements consisting of a surface elevated on legs that functioned like an armrest, designed to support a seated or reclining body leaning on it, with the weight of the body resting on an arm – were slightly concave and curved downward, and thus resembled patterns seen in Warring States furniture items.37 This way of shaping furniture in a downwardly concave pattern or with sides parabolically sloping inward like an hour-glass is frequently seen not only in ji (“stand”) items of the Warring States and early Han periods, but in zu (“meat tray”) and an (“table”) items as well. (See figure 11 below.)

Figure 10
Figure 10
Text markers appearing in Warring States manuscript items

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

Figure 11
Figure 11
Concave and parabolic forms in excavated Warring States and Han furniture items

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

In summary, the horizontal oblong black ink marks inscribed on Qin and Han labeling title slips also appear in Chu slips inscribed during the Warring States period. In Warring States manuscripts, the primary function of these marks was to serve as dividing markers. They divided different sections (zhang ) of the same text from one another, marked off entirely separate texts (pian ), and were used to distinguish between separate administrative documents. These marks occur most often as a horizontal rectangle ▃.

4.1.2 Horizontal Oblong Black Ink Marks Came to Emphasize Text Entries and Titles

The practice of inserting these horizontal oblong black ink marks onto the upper edges of slips can also be traced back to Warring States period, as seen in items such as the “tally slips” 小結簡 (slip nos. 120, 148, 159, 204, etc.) recovered from the Zeng Hou Yi tomb. These slips also displayed titles, and horizontal oblong black ink marks were inscribed on these slips’ upper edges. Cheng Pengwan has assessed these in his analysis of manuscript items.38

While the primary function of these horizontal oblong black ink marks as they were used in the Zeng Hou Yi tally slips (and as they were used in the Warring States period in general) was to serve as text division markers, inserting a text division marker into the upper edges of labeling title slips that were already exclusively devoted to a single text entry (as in the case of the Zeng Hou Yi tally slips) further enhanced the highlighting visual effect of their text entries’ isolation on otherwise empty slips, making the text entries displayed on these marked slips all the more noticeable. It is thus clear that these bold, horizontal oblong black ink marks that indicated text divisions also had a strong visual effect on their own. This is likely the reason why horizontal oblong black ink marks, hitherto used primarily to mark textual divisions, began to be used in the late Warring States period as signaling markers for the specific purpose of introducing labeling titles. For example, these markers appear above the labeling titles for subsections of chapters in the daybook (rishu 日書) manuscripts of the Qin slips unearthed in 1975 from Shuihudi 睡虎地 in Hubei. The same use is also seen in other caches of Qin slips.

4.2 Post-Warring States Developments in the Use of Horizontal Oblong Black Ink Marks

4.2.1 Rectangular Markers Inscribed on the Upper Edges of Slips Exclusively Devoted to a Single Title Were Derived from Horizontal Oblong Black Ink Marks Used as Text Dividers

Roughly around the time of the Qin unification in 221 BCE, the practice of inscribing these horizontal oblong black ink marks onto slips exclusively devoted to a single title came into widespread use. These markers frequently occur in the shape of a rectangle extended along a vertical axis ▊, though this version was not used universally (see figure 12 below):

Figure 12
Figure 12
Qin period labeling title slips

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

The black ink marks daubed onto the upper edges of slips that appear in these items, setting of the titles inscribed on these slips, were actually an evolved version of the horizontal oblong black ink marks that served as division markers in Warring States manuscripts. Stylistic changes amplified the already striking visual effect of the original version, resulting in even bolder shapes.

4.2.2 Black Ink Marks Daubed onto the Upper Edges of Hamper Plaques

It was likely owing to the influence of the scribal practice of daubing black ink marks onto the upper edges of labeling title slips that the Qin and Han custom of marking with daubed black ink the upper edges of plaques attached to bamboo hampers came into use. Referred to as si pai 笥牌 (“hamper plaques”) or mu jie 木楬 (“wood marker posts”), these plaques were inscribed with text that inventoried the contents of the hampers to which they were attached.

4.2.3 Black Ink Marks Daubed onto the Upper Edges of Full-Length Documents that Recorded Numerical Sums

In addition to informing later practices of setting off titles and marking hamper plaques with daubed black ink marks, the Warring States practice of daubing black ink marks onto the upper edges of title slips that displayed numerical sums (as seen in the Zeng Hou Yi tally slips) most likely also influenced later practices for creating full-length documents that served a similar purpose of recording numerical sums. In the cache of Qin slips recovered from Liye, there are a number of individual documents that contained numerical sums in which the upper edge of the slip or board on which the document was inscribed was daubed with black ink (see figure 13 below). However, it is obvious that these items were not simply title boards:

Figure 13
Figure 13
Full-length documents marked with black ink daubed onto their upper edges (from the Liye cache of Qin slips)

Citation: Bamboo and Silk 6, 2 (2023) ; 10.1163/24689246-20230034

Item nos. 8-1143+8-1631 and 10-1157 were both monthly account books (yue bu 月簿) contained in account books for the fulfillment of compulsory labor (zuo tu bu 作徒簿). Item no. 8-1143+8-1631 records sums related to Erchun Distric 貳春鄉. Item no. 10-1170 records sums related to a warehouse (cang ) in Qianling County 遷陵縣.

We now know that monthly account books were aggregated from the contents of daily account books (ri bu 日簿).39 Marking monthly account books by daubing black ink into the upper edges of the slips on which they were inscribed was apparently with the intent of indicating that the essential function of these monthly account books was to record aggregated numerical sums. This stands in obvious contrast to the daily account books, which are not marked in this way. For example, item no. 8-145+9-2294 is a daily account book that divides contents into separate categories and lists tallied sums, but these tallies are only for a single day, and so their edges have not been daubed with black ink. Black ink marks daubed onto the edges of account books were thus connected to monthly aggregate tallies.

The section in item no. 8-454 titled with the phrase “copy of finances submitted for evaluation” 課上金布副 is possibly also such an aggregate tally. The document lists over ten items that are part of a bureaucratic service evaluation (kao ke 考課). The section “copy of finances submitted for evaluation” is most likely an aggregate record of the numerical content of all of the items listed in the document. Daubing the upper edges of the slips of the document with black ink is most likely an extension of the use of these marks in labeling title slips, but here rather than setting off a labelling title, the mark indicates that the document contains an aggregate tally. Thus, even though they were not labeling title slips per se, documents that contained aggregate summaries or tallies that were total sums were sometimes marked with black ink daubed onto their upper edges.

4.2.4 Summary

In summary, because such marks had a striking visual effect that called attention to the physical space onto which they were inscribed, the practice of marking title slips by daubing black ink marks (i.e., horizontal oblong black ink marks) into their upper edges was gradually extended to other manuscript types and contexts. Black ink daubed onto the upper edges of slips and boards became a feature of administrative and full-length document labeling titles, hamper plaques, and administrative documents that recorded numerical sums.

4.3 Changes in the Physical Appearance of Horizontal Oblong Black Ink Marks over Time and the Acquired Primacy of Their Signaling Function

Over time, the physical shapes in which these horizontal oblong black ink marks appeared also underwent significant changes. In Han slips, the shapes of the marks created by daubing black ink into the upper edges of slips included a range of several different versions: ▃, ▆, █, ▊, etc. This followed a developmental pattern of evolving from slight, horizontally elongated but vertically compressed forms to thicker, vertically extended forms. Over the course of this development, the signifying power of horizontal oblong black ink marks, if they appeared alone, gradually weakened, and the signifying power instilled in marking the upper edges of slips with black ink became gradually stronger.

In reading these markers, what handlers of the inscribed items on which they appeared experienced first and foremost was their signaling function. When handlers laid eyes on these markers, they knew right away that they were signaling the presence of a labeling title, numerical sum, etc. What was originally signified by these markers became unimportant. As an extreme manifestation of this trend, in the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE), there appeared markers referred to as a “vertical black ink line” (shu mo xian 豎墨綫) markers (these can perhaps best be transcribed using the symbol ▍).

According to Cheng Pengwan’s study, these vertical markers indicated an ordering of items of content (cengci fu 層次符). He cites occurrences in the type-2 slips of the Han medical slip manuscripts unearthed in 1972 at Hantanpo 旱灘坡 in Wuwei 武威, Gansu Province.40 However, careful examination of the Hantanpo medical manuscripts reveals that Cheng Pengwan’s description is imprecise. These markers as they appear in these manuscripts were most often used to introduce the names of medical therapies, and they were generally inserted into the upper edges of the slips of the manuscript: indeed, they signal the presence of labeling titles. In other Eastern Han manuscripts, these vertical markers also appear in labeling title slips and tally slips, with the most typical examples being those that appear in the Eastern Han manuscript Yongyuan qi wu bu 永元器物簿 (“Yongyuan Implements Account Book”), unearthed in 1930 by the Swedish archeologist Hans Folke Bergman (1902–1946) at Juyan.41

5 Final Conclusions

The present study is a preliminary survey of the significance and origin of the Warring States, Qin, and Han practice of daubing black ink into the upper edges of writing slips to create manuscript text markers. It has discussed the following points:

The term “daubing black ink onto the upper edges of writing slips 簡首塗黑 is merely a general description and is not precise. In Qin dynasty clerical nomenclature, the act of “daubing black ink onto the upper edges of writing slips” was described as “inscribing a [plank] mark onto its [i.e., the slip’s] upper part” 江[杠]其上. The “plank” referred to inscribing a horizontal “plank” shape onto a rectangular slip. This created a marker that appeared to anyone looking at the slips on which “plank” markers were inscribed as black ink marks daubed onto the upper edges of writing slips. However, it would be more precise to describe these markers as horizontal oblong black ink marks or plank black ink marks.

The protocol inscribed onto slip nos. 117–118 of the Yuelu cache of Qin slips describes the method by which slips displaying numerical sums that were inserted into longer books of slips were fashioned. This method of fashioning slips displaying numerical sums can be traced back at least as early as Warring States slip manuscripts, with examples that include items in the cache of slips unearthed from the tomb of Zeng Hou Yi (dated to the 5th century BCE) in which wagons (che ) and horses (ma ) were divided into separate categories and tallied.

The essential physical appearance of horizontal oblong black ink marks / plank black ink marks can perhaps most accurately be thought of as being an elongated rectangle: ▃. The different versions in which these marks appear (▆, █, ▊, ▍, , ⧓) are the variants that arose over time as these text symbols were used. These symbols depict the physical shape of the board surfaces of “slat” table-benches.

Horizontal oblong black ink marks / plank black ink marks served two basic functions: (1) indicating divisions between texts and (2) calling attention to text inscribed below them. They had already begun to serve these two functions in Warring States slip manuscripts. With regard to the first function, in the slips of the Baoshan, Xinyang, Guodian, and Shanghai Museum caches (among others), these marks made divisions between different sections of the same text or between entirely separate texts, documents, or physical items. With regard to the second function of calling attention to text inscribed below them, horizontal oblong black ink marks occur on the upper edges of slips displaying numerical sums in the cache from the Zeng Hou Yi tomb; these highlighted the text entries that were written on those slips.

In all of these instances of their use in manuscript contexts, horizontal oblong marks simultaneously served both functions of marking divisions and calling attention to text inscribed below them. However, in the Baoshan, Xinyang, Guodian, and Shanghai Museum caches, the intention of the scribe making the marker to indicate text divisions is more visibly apparent.42 In contrast, in the Zeng Hou Yi cache, these markers appear on the upper edges of slips devoted exclusively to a single textual entry; their visual effect of calling attention to text inscribed below them is thus comparatively more pronounced. In slips and boards inscribed in the Qin period, the function of horizontal oblong black ink marks calling attention to text became more emphasized. As a result, the practice of daubing black ink onto the upper edges of writing media to create signaling markers became used in a wide array of manuscript types, including labelling title slips, hamper plaques, and documents that served to record numerical sums. The reason for this use of horizontal oblong black ink marks / plank black ink marks in such a wide array of manuscript types is directly related to the development of their function as signaling markers.

There are numerous types of punctuation marks in Warring States, Qin, and Han slip and board manuscripts, and these occur in a complex variety of shapes and forms. What their earliest forms were, what they originally signified as symbols, and how they developed through time are questions that have only just begun to be discussed and studied in depth. In the past, because a greater emphasis was on understanding the function of punctuation marks and text symbols in the manuscript contexts in which they appeared and on categorizing them based on the visual forms in which they occurred, questions about what they originally signified as text symbols and how they developed were neglected. The publishing of relevant materials among the legal manuscripts in the Yuelu Qin slips (like the protocol for the formatting of label slips in Accessory Ordinance C no. 4) has provided us with new clues for addressing these questions. In the study of text symbols and punctuation marks that appear in early Chinese slip and board manuscripts, analysis should be carried out with an extended temporal view that includes the Warring States, Qin, and Han periods and that traces the relationships between punctuation marks and text symbols from a perspective that tracks development and change over time.

Acknowledgments

This article was translated into English from the original Chinese by David Hogue, Doctoral Candidate in the University of Chicago Department for East Asian Languages and Civilizations. It is an interim result of the project “A Study of the Qin Dynasty County System as Viewed through the Liye Qin Slips” 里耶秦簡所見秦代縣制研究 (19VJX007), which is funded by the 2019 “Undervalued Profound Scholarship, History of Nations, and Other Specialized Research Projects” 冷門絕學和國別史等研究專項 grant provided by the National Social Science Fund 國家社會科學基金. In writing this article, I have benefited greatly from the help of Lei Hailong 雷海龍, Wu Jining 吴紀寧, and Huang Haobo 黄浩波 (among others) and from the conversation of the students and fellow scholars who participated in the seminar Qin Han chutu wenxian yandu 秦漢出土文獻研讀, which was held from March to June of 2018. I would like to take the opportunity here to express to these individuals my sincere thanks and gratitude!

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