Change and Standardization in Anyang: Writing and Culture in Bronze Age China

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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East Asian Languages & Civilizations
Early China
oracle-bone inscriptions
Asian History
Asian Studies
Indo-European Linguistics and Philology
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This dissertation is particularly concerned with various changes that occurred over roughly the last two centuries of the Shang period, that is, during the Anyang period, which stretches from approximately 1250 BCE to approximately 1050 BCE. This period, which begins just before the earliest evidence for writing in what is now China and stretches until the fall of the last Shang king, contains the entirety of the recorded history of the Shang dynasty. After discussing the dating of Shang oracle-bone inscriptions, I first address changes in Shang writing, demonstrating that it becomes increasingly regularized over the period. The earliest examples of Shang writing, especially those dating from the reign of king Wu Ding, show high levels of graphic and linguistic variation—that is, graphs/words are written differently from one inscription to the next, syntax is sometimes inconsistent, and aspects like text direction vary wildly; additionally, the semantic content of these inscriptions is far more diverse than is the case toward the end of the period. Using this apparent regularization as a backdrop, I address the Shang’s changing relationships with certain non-Shang peoples, especially those known as the fang-countries. Palaeographical materials are primarily drawn from the Shang, but later periods also provide useful examples of the kinds of processes at work, and I pay special attention to early examples of Chinese writing found outside Anyang. I focus on the newest collection of scientifically excavated Shang inscriptions, Yinxu Xiaotun cun zhong cun nan jiagu (Oracle bones from the center and south of Xiaotun village in the Wastes of Yin), published in 2012. Compared to other collections, relatively little work has been done on this one, and it happens to contain many inscriptions especially relevant to some of the questions under discussion, from issues of dating to the Shang’s relationships with other peoples. While other corpora of Shang oracle-bone inscriptions are also essential to this project, this newest collection is its foundation. The second part of this dissertation presents a transcription of the entire collection, together with a full English translation, its first ever into another language.

Victor H. Mair
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