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Saturday, April 16, 2016

[Dissertation] Reconstructing Early Chinese Bamboo Manuscripts: Towards a Systematic Approach Including Verso Analysis

Author:
Thies Staack

School:
University of Hamburg

Year:
2015


Abstract:

For scholars studying bamboo and wood manuscripts from pre-imperial and early imperial China re-construction is very basic work. This is due to the fact that these manuscripts usually do not come to us in a complete state, but as disordered collections of individual slips. In almost every case the bind-ing strings that once held together several slips to form independent codicological units do either not exist anymore or only remain as traces on individual slips. With regard to the state of the art in the field of manuscript reconstruction, there are mainly three aspects that deserve further attention. First, even in China there are only few works that try to deal with manuscript reconstruction in a compre-hensive or even systematic way. Typically discussion is confined to the special circumstances of a concrete case, either a certain manuscript or a certain corpus of manuscripts. Second, there are particu-lar problems with regard to manuscript reconstruction, which are often hotly debated but can usually not be satisfactorily solved. They often boil down to the core problem of distinguishing manuscripts that comprise several self-contained textual units—these may be multiple-text manuscripts (MTM) or composite manuscripts—from separate manuscripts with one self-contained textual unit in each (single-text manuscripts, STM). This fundamental problem is often unsolvable. And even if the possi-bility of a multiple-text or composite manuscript is considered, the question of the arrangement of self-contained textual units inside such a manuscript is equally difficult to solve. Third, new manuscript publications since late 2010 have enabled an analysis of the verso of the slips for a considerable amount of bamboo manuscripts. As it turned out, the slips’ verso often contain information that is extremely valuable for the purpose of reconstruction. Especially the so-called verso lines have become a focus of interest during the last few years, because there appears to be a relation between the verso lines and the original sequence of the slips in a manuscript. However, this relation has turned out to be rather complex and calls for further clarification. A second phenomenon that sometimes occurs on the verso of the slips, namely mirror-inverted imprints of writing, has not yet received the attention it ac-tually deserves. Although it has been shown years ago that an analysis of such imprints can provide evidence for manuscript reconstruction, they have thenceforth rarely been used for that purpose.

The present dissertation hopes to fill the mentioned gaps in research and is mainly devoted to two aims. The first is to clarify and illustrate that an analysis of the verso of the slips can be the key to solving remaining problems (e.g. with regard to multiple-text and composite manuscripts) and how exactly the two phenomena verso lines and verso imprints of writing can be utilized for the purpose of manuscript reconstruction; the second is to systematically approach the reconstruction of early Chi-nese bamboo manuscripts and develop both a comprehensive catalogue of criteria as well as guidelines for reconstruction, which take into account possible evidence from the verso of the slips. Although this dissertation is largely confined to the investigation of bamboo manuscripts, some of the findings are equally relevant to the reconstruction of wood manuscripts.

A review of the criteria and methods applied during reconstruction up to the year 2010, when information on the verso of the slips under investigation was generally unavailable, demonstrates that the particular problems of reconstruction mentioned above can in fact usually not be solved with this set of criteria and methods (part 2). Three case studies (parts 3 to 5) and a re-evaluation of the verso line phenomenon (part 6) illustrate how much can be gained from an analysis of the verso of the slips. Verso lines can provide additional evidence for sequencing of the individual slips of a bamboo manu-script—inside certain limits. Verso imprints of writing mostly provide evidence on the three-dimensional structure of a bamboo manuscript. Therefore they can be utilized for sequencing of groups of slips, whose position in the whole codicological unit cannot be determined by an analysis of other material or textual criteria. This means that an analysis of the two phenomena can enable the reconstruction of complete manuscripts, even if this would be impossible without an analysis of the verso of the slips. Provided that both verso lines as well as verso imprints can be found in the corpus of slips under investigation, it is therefore in many cases possible to solve remaining problems. Espe-cially the verso imprints are useful to determine: First, whether a certain manuscript might have con-tained more than one layout, script or type of text; second, whether we are dealing with a multiple-text/composite manuscript or rather separate codicological units; and third—in case of a multiple-text/composite manuscript—what was the sequence of the textual or formerly independent codicologi-cal units in such a manuscript. In conclusion (part 7) it is possible to expand the “traditional” catalogue of criteria and to propose a methodological “roadmap” for reconstruction, which draws on this revised catalogue. Together the two can serve as basis for a comprehensive and systematic approach to manu-script reconstruction.

The analysis of verso lines and verso imprints of writing is not only highly valuable for the purpose of reconstruction but at the same time informing with regard to different aspects of early Chi-nese manuscript culture, e.g. the production and use of bamboo manuscripts. It can be shown with the help of verso imprints that different types of layout (e.g. with/without registers) were used inside the same manuscript, which was probably a method to distinguish different textual units, just like certain segmentation marks. Furthermore, it can be gathered from the pattern of the imprints that two of the manuscripts under investigation in the three case studies were stored in a rolled-up form. That manu-scripts were sometimes stored in folded form has recently been demonstrated on the basis of other patterns of imprints. The re-evaluation of the verso line phenomenon does not only shed new light on the function of the verso lines and show that they were very likely a means to facilitate the production of bamboo manuscripts and to enhance their outer appearance. The investigation of the respective sets of slips, which can be seen as the “codicological sub-units” of bamboo manuscripts similar to the quires of codex manuscripts, also enables conclusions on the diameter of the bamboo culms that were actually used to produce slips.

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