Monday, March 19, 2018

[Dissertation] Study of the Cang Jie pian: Past and Present

Christopher Foster




Lost for nearly a millennium, recent manuscript discoveries are bringing back to light a foundational work of Han period “primary education 小學”: the Cang Jie pian 蒼頡篇. This dissertation looks at the study of the Cang Jie pian from two perspectives, that of the past and of the present. It begins with the latter, addressing fundamental methodological issues for modern scholarship on the Cang Jie pian. Chapter One and Chapter Two ask how, despite the fact that the Cang Jie pian failed to be transmitted to the present, we may still identify manuscript evidence with this title. Textual identity is conceived of as a (potentially shifting) pattern of constitutive characteristics, that then serve as criteria for affiliating new text to the Cang Jie pian title with varying degrees of confidence. Chapter One presents a textual history of the Cang Jie pian via received sources; Chapter Two lists all prospective Cang Jie pian manuscript pieces. Perhaps the most important Cang Jie pian manuscript however was not archaeologically excavated, but purchased for Peking University off the antiquities market. Chapter Three investigates the authenticity of this artifact, and concludes that it is indeed genuine, by identifying novel features first seen on the Peking University Cang Jie pian that have since been confirmed in archaeologically recovered data. The dissertation next turns to the role the Cang Jie pian played in the spread of literacy during the Western Han. The nature of the Cang Jie pian as a primer employed in scribal training is discussed in Chapter Four. A case study of the Cang Jie pian manuscript fragments at Yumen Huahai watchtower shows that even conscripted soldiers were copying this text in study. Yet a survey of the Peking University manuscript’s vocabulary, in Chapter Five, reveals that the Cang Jie pian included sophisticated language that was not purely oriented toward government administration or military duty. Not only were scribes equipped with an erudite written vocabulary, through informal education networks like at Yumen Huahai, a broader range of Han society benefited from “trickle down” literacy.

Table of Contents:

Preface: Why I Chose to Study the Cang Jie pian
Chapter One: The Cang Jie pian According to Received Sources
Chapter Two: Newly Discovered Manuscript Evidence of the Cang Jie pian
Chapter Three: On the Authenticity of the Peking University Cang Jie pian
Chapter Four: Learning with the Cang Jie pian
Chapter Five: Vocabulary of the Cang Jie pian

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