Writing and Literacy in Early China

Studies from the Columbia Early China Seminar

Edited by Li Feng and David Prager Branner

  • Published: 2011
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 480 pp., 1 map, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

The emergence and spread of literacy in ancient human society an important topic for all who study the ancient world, and the development of written Chinese is of particular interest, as modern Chinese orthography preserves logographic principles shared by its most ancient forms, making it unique among all present-day writing systems. In the past three decades, the discovery of previously unknown texts dating to the third century BCE and earlier, as well as older versions of known texts, has revolutionized the study of early Chinese writing.

The long-term continuity and stability of the Chinese written language allow for this detailed study of the role literacy played in early civilization. The contributors to Writing and Literacy in Early China inquire into modes of manuscript production, the purposes for which texts were produced, and the ways in which they were actually used. By carefully evaluating current evidence and offering groundbreaking new interpretations, the book illuminates the nature of literacy for scribes and readers.
Li Feng is professor of early Chinese history and archaeology at Columbia University. David Prager Branner is retired as a professor of Chinese at the University of Maryland. The other contributors are Anthony Barbieri-Low, William Boltz, Constance Cook, Lothar von Falkenhausen, David Pankenier, Matthias Richter, Adam Smith, Ken-ichi Takashima , and Robin Yates.
Early China Chronology
Map of Important Archaeological Sites

Introduction: Writing as a Phenomenon of Literacy / Li Feng and David Prager Branner

Part One Origins and the Linguistic Dimension
1. Getting "Right" with Heaven and the Origins of Writing in China / David W. Pankenier
2. Literacy and the Emergence of Writing in China / William G. Boltz
3. Phonology in the Chinese Script and Its Relationship to Early Chinese Literacy / David Prager Branner

Part Two Scribal Training and Practice
4. Literacy to the South and the East of Anyang in Shang China: Zhengzhou and Daxinzhuang / Ken-ichi Takashima
5. The Evidence for Scribal Training at Anyang / Adam Smith
6. Textual Identity and the Role of Literacy in the Transmission of Early Chinese Literature / Matthias L. Richter

Part Three Literacy and Social Contexts
7. The Royal Audience and Its Reflections in Western Zhou Bronze Inscriptions / Lothar von Falkenhausen
8. Literacy and the Social Contexts of Writing in the
Western Zhou / Li Feng
9. Education and the Way of the Former Kings / Constance A. Cook

Part Four The Extent of Literacy in the Early Empire
10. Soldiers, Scribes, and Women: Literacy among the Lower Orders in Early China / Robin D. S. Yates
11. Craftsman's Literacy: Uses of Writing by Male and Female Artisans in Qin and Han China / Anthony J. Barbieri-Low


". . . elucidate[s] the origins, early development and structure of the Chinese script, but also discuss[es] material aspects, practical uses, and social contexts of writing up to the second century CE. . . . fascinating and carefully edited . . ."
-Oliver Weingarten, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies