Textual units in Early Chinese manuscripts: Divisions manifest and hidden within the Cang Jie pian

Dr Chris Foster, Pembroke
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17:00 - 18:30
Merton College
Merton Street
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Fitzjames I

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Lectures and seminars
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What were the basic units that structured text in early China, and how were the divisions between those units marked or otherwise understood? With increasingly numerous caches of wood and bamboo-strip manuscripts at our disposal, we may now move past the abstracted text and analyze its physical manifestation, working with artifacts which were themselves produced and consumed from the Warring States, Qin and Han periods. Among these finds, copies of the Cang Jie pian 蒼頡篇 (the Cang Jie Volumes - a primary education character book evoking the name of the mythic inventor of writing in China) offer an ideal corpus to investigate textual divisions in one specific work during the Western Han. In this talk, I discuss how the description of the Cang Jie pian's textual structure recorded in the Hanshu 漢書 Yiwenzhi 藝文志 (a bibliographic treatise sponsored by the Han imperial court) relates to what we find on our manuscript sources; compare different media and formats for the text, to show how the presentation of the text is impacted; survey the various strategies adopted for signaling divisions in textual units within the Cang Jie pian (whether through punctuation, titles, numbering, character counts, space allocation, rhyming, thematic clustering); and ask both if these strategies are employed with regularity, and also if they correlate well to the material divisions of the respective textual carrier.