Intro to China Midterm - 1 March 10, 2008 Asian212 Midterm...

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1 March 10, 2008 Asian212 Midterm Communication was one of the most essential aspects of ancient Chinese society. After the establishment of language, people were able to unify and exchange ideas and begin to express complex beliefs and opinions. With the formation of an alphabet and written language, people began to record and store these ideas for future generations. These ancient recordings allowed for preservation of a unique culture and provided a basis for which those of that period and future periods could model their lives and prevent the mistakes of the past from reoccurring. Today, the writings provide a distinct view into the beginnings of Chinese society, facilitating a modern understanding of the beliefs and practices of an ancient people that could not have otherwise been inferred through archaeological artifacts and relics. The earliest records of Chinese writing date back to the late Shang Dynasty over three thousand years ago. This most primitive form of writing comes inscribed on cattle bones and turtle shells with characters that are thought to be the derivatives of the later evolved Chinese alphabet. Archaeologists and historians have uncovered over 150,000 fragments of these oracle- bones, named for their ritualistic inscriptions of divinations and offerings to the spiritual forces and the high god of the Shang, Di. It is believed that diviners would read the stress cracks on the bones after applying a heated brand, and afterwards interpret and record the meaning by etching it onto the surface. (OE 17-23) The oracle-bones were essentially documented recordings of the Shang’s communication with the divine beings that were thought to control all aspects of their lives. By physically inscribing the bones, the meaning took on a discrete and powerful nature that could not be questioned and later made ambiguous. For example one oracle-bone described a ruler’s
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2 divination concerning a military campaign: “It should be Zhi Gou whom the king joins to attack the Bafang, for if he does Di will confer assistance on us.” (CC 4) To misinterpret or question the meaning of this reading could be very problematic both for the civilization as a whole and for the ruler making the decision. Because it is physically inscribed, it becomes a permanent fixture that the ruler can point to if the campaign fails and his people question his decision. Furthermore
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This note was uploaded on 10/01/2008 for the course ASIAN 2212 taught by Professor Mcneal,r&rusk,b during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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Intro to China Midterm - 1 March 10, 2008 Asian212 Midterm...

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