How To Do A Works Cited Page For Chicago Style Bamboo Origin of Vertical Chinese Writing

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Bamboo Origin of Vertical Chinese Writing

In China, in parks, mountains and villages, you can find Chinese characters or other symbols carved into live bamboo. People simply act naturally, on the smooth surface, picking up a stone with sharp points. This simple and natural way of writing could have been practiced thousands of years ago and have to do with the origin of Chinese writing.

Vertical carvings on living bamboos predated bamboos

Writing horizontally is natural to the eyes. Although not with a natural direction, Chinese writing had been fixed in vertical columns until the last century. There should be a cause. Tsien [1] he attributed the verticality of Chinese writing to the bamboo strip and brush. However, the bamboo strips can also be arranged in a horizontal direction for writing. It seems that horizontal writings have never been discovered on bamboo strips from ancient times. As for the origin of the verticality of the Chinese writing on bamboo, three scenarios could be given. In the first case, the scribes chose the vertical direction without attempting horizontal. In the second case, writing was practiced both vertically and horizontally, but later horizontality was abandoned. In the third case, the vertical direction was already established before bamboo strips were used. The first case is unlikely, since scribes can know which direction is more advantageous after trying each. The second case means that the vertical arrangement is advantageous over the horizontal arrangement in the competition. We do not support this case as we believe that horizontal writing is suitable for reading, so it should not fail the competition. Let’s talk about the third case.

To find writings before bamboo strips, we focus on two things: writing material and writing instrument. Again, we found bamboo. But this time it’s live bamboo. Undoubtedly, as a native plant in China, bamboo is abundant, with a smooth surface and thin skin. It is easy and convenient to carve bamboo. The carvings are clear to read and remain so for the life of the bamboo. These conditions are met: writable, readable and relatively maintainable. Sharp pointed stones can be the tool. In prehistoric society, perhaps nothing was more suitable for developing writing than bamboo and living stone. It is natural to write in vertical columns on the round, narrow surface of upright growing stems.

Living bamboos may be prime candidates for writing. One question is: did people start writing on them before the bamboo leaves that were cut into them? It is quite possible that our ancestors started using stone tools for carving early on, long before the advent of ink and brush. That is the simplest form of writing in its broadest sense. In the early days, people could plant bamboo in front of their houses for a variety of uses. People also carved symbols into them for drawing and engraving. Later, people discovered that writings can be migrated to bamboo ballots. Carvings on living bamboos at that time could be abundant. It is difficult to know the amount of texts and their complexity. They should already be vertically sequenced. Before falling into bamboo, there should at least be “sentences” written on living bamboos. Later writings on bamboo and book inherited the verticality.

Living bamboos and bamboo slips led to the lost origin of Chinese writing

However, the symbols of the living bamboo cannot last until our generation. Many materials cannot be preserved for such a long time. Research into the history of writing is usually based on archaeological finds and written records. Ancient pre-bamboo carvings seem never to have been mentioned. It is possible that writing had already migrated to bamboo before the first records. It is often difficult to create written works (recorded, etc.) with long-lasting material and method. But it’s okay that most writings only last for years/decades rather than hundreds of years or millennia. For most people, preservation for more than a hundred years was not desirable in most cases. Even today, with advanced preservation techniques, most published works would not be found a millennium later, not to mention personal writings.

Oracle bone writing is the undisputed oldest real writing system in China dating back to the Shang Dynasty. The oracle bones were mainly for divining the royal house. Given their special purpose, the relative scarcity of bones and shells and the relative difficulty in making the scripts, they should not have been the most used writing material at that time. The script was already fully developed, with no apparent predecessor. True writing in China may have existed much earlier. Records from other surviving media indicate that bamboo slips existed as early as the oracle bone script period. There are Neolithic signs dating back a few millennia. In these millennia, there were possibly many writings on bamboos or living bamboos, in which Chinese writing developed.

Conclusion

Living bamboo carvings with stone tools could have given rise to Chinese writing. They fixed the Chinese system in the vertical direction which was later inherited by bamboo, paper books, etc.

References

[1], Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien. Written in bamboo and silk: The beginnings of Chinese books and inscriptions. Second edition. University of Chicago Press. 2004. Page 204.

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