What are the best resources for studying oracle bone inscriptions?

What are the best resources for studying oracle bone inscriptions?

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Can someone please recommend the best resources for studying Chinese oracle bone inscriptions?

Rather than general or specific information about oracle bones, I'm looking for collections or catalogs of the inscriptions themselves (with English translations).

This site and many more like it give a few examples of inscriptions, eg.

Oracle bone with ancient character forms : 贞今日其雨 : 'Divination: today, will it rain?'.

'It should be Lady Hao whom the king orders to campaign against Yi.'

The inscriptions include the oldest observation of a nova (1300BCE) 'A great new star appeared in company with 心宿二 xīn xiù èr (Antares, in Scorpio)' is recorded on the bones.

But I want vast catalogs to pour through, not just a few examples. Online and free would be preferred if available, but please recommend the best resources irregardless, since I expect the best resources will be published books I must purchase.


I must add this great online Oracle Bone Collection of 41,956 bones provided by droooze in my History Stack question and referenced in my Chinese Language Stack question, both of which deal with Oracle Bone 11503 which is supposedly mankind's earliest record of the appearance of a new Nova in the sky. The site provides both photos and Chinese transcriptions, both in Oracle Script and Modern Chinese. It's an amazing resource for anyone with need or interested. Thank you droooze.

I should also add Uncle Hanzi's Chinese Etymology site which is useful for individual characters, whether you're looking for Oracle Script, Bronze Script or Seal Scripts. A fantastic and free resource, but questions remain as to its accuracy in all things.

I don't know how useful this will be to you but hopefully these links will at least lead you to what you are looking for.

The British Library has more than 450 oracle bones and there are some links on the page, such as a pdf catalog and digitized manuscripts. You could write them and ask if these have translations to view and they should know where you can get the vast catalogs you want.

Cambridge University Library has a collection of 614 oracle bones and they are creating a digital library.

The British Library page mentions the collectors Samuel Couling and Frank Chalfant. Googling turned up a book by Chalfant called 'Early Chinese writing' on the internet archive.

Googling also turned up a book by David Keightley called 'Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China'. Even if it doesn't have lots of inscriptions, the bibliography should lead you to what you want (but its $120 on Amazon).

Some background information and additional sources on oracle bone script (Chinese: 甲骨文):

  • David Keightley, who passed away last year, was the leading American scholar on Early China, and has written extensively on archeology of oracle bone as well as interpretation of these scripts. One of his last works is These Bones Shall Rise Again : Selected Writings on Early China (SUNY, 2015) which summarises in one volume his work on this subject.
  • Sun Yirang was the first Chinese scholar to decipher the oracle bone script, and his book is available in digital format It was published posthumously by Lu Zhenyou, who is himself a philologist. Unfortunately, none of their work is published in bi-lingual format (to my knowledge).
  • In terms bi-lingual work or current scholars who can do this, a leading candidate (my opinion) is historian and archaeologist Li Feng, at Columbia University. He is multilingual, with expertise in bronze script, which is closely related oracle bone script.
  • You can find more pictures and material on oracle bones if you search online for Yinxu Archaeology Project, "Yinxu inscriptions" or combination of related words because this is the actual location, and it's close to Anyang.
  • A Chinese source, sometimes with bi-lingual publications is Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (website)

Oracle Bones

Oracle bones are a type of artifact found in archaeological sites in several parts of the world, but they are best known as a significant characteristic of the Shang dynasty [1600-1050 BC] in China.

Oracle bones were used to practice a specific form of divination, fortune-telling, known as pyro-osteomancy. Osteomancy is when shamans (religious specialists) divine the future from the pattern of the natural bumps, cracks, and discolorations in animal bone and turtle shell. Osteomancy is known from prehistoric east and northeast Asia and from North American and Eurasian ethnographic reports.

Museum Offers $15,000 Per Character to Decipher Oracle Bone Script

In recent years, research into oracles bones, used to divine the future during China’s Shang dynasty, has fizzled out. The main reason is that researchers cannot decipher the characters cut into the ox shoulder blades and turtle plastrons used for the soothe-saying, stymieing efforts to understand the writing system. Now, Michael Waters at Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan province, is hoping to revive research into the bones by offering a hefty reward to anyone who can translate the tricky symbols.

Sidney Leng at the South China Morning Post reports that the museum is offering 100,000 yuan, roughly $15,000 dollars, for each character researchers are able to translate (with sufficient evidence of course). They are offering 50,000 yuan for anyone with a definitive explanation for some of the many disputed characters. Of the estimated 5,000 symbols found on oracle bones, scholars have only been able to translate about 2,000, meaning there’s a lot of room for any brilliant code-breaking scholars out there.

According to Leng, the museum hopes that the cash incentive will draw more researchers into the game and that they will bring new big data and cloud computing applications into the study of oracle bones. Many of the characters on the bones represent the names of people and places, but those references are lost to history.

For over a century, scholars have puzzled over oracle bones, which are also known as dragon’s bones. According to Emily Mark at the Ancient History Encyclopedia, a Chinese scholar in the late 19th century named Wang Yirong first recognized that the symbols in oracle bones were a form of writing. As the story goes, Yirong had contracted malaria in 1899. His doctor prescribed dragon bone, a traditional remedy for the disease. When Yirong picked up his bone from the apothecary, it was not ground into powder. Instead, he received a bone with a strange ancient script on it. Yirong, who was interested in ancient writing, bought all the bones he could from apothecaries, who refused to tell him the source of the ancient artifacts. Yirong died (by suicide) before he could crack the case.

In 1908, philologist Luo Zhenyu took up the work, Mark writes, and he was able to discover the source of the apothecaries bones—there were thousands outside the city of Anyang. Soon, researchers began collecting and translating the bones.

According to the Cambridge University Library, the oracle bones contain the oldest-known Chinese script and have helped researchers confirm the names and succession of Shang dynasty emperors. To interpret the bones, diviners would heat them until cracks formed on the surface. They would then read the cracks answering questions about the future. The answers to those questions were inscribed onto the bones themselves. Mark reports those inscriptions have provided a windfall of information, from the time cities were built to what crops were planted, who married who in the royal household as well as well as astronomical events and when taxes were raised.

Deciphering even one new symbol could unlock a huge amount of new information from the bones—and, of course, a chunk of change for the person able to crack the code.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

For conservation reasons, the Library&rsquos oracle bones cannot be ordered to the Reading Rooms. Special arrangements for viewing must be discussed in advance and approved by the curators.

Other oracle bones coming from the Couling-Chalfant Collection can be also found in the National Museum of Scotland.

There a number of different oracle bone collections worldwide. In the UK, the major collections include other items from the Couling-Chalfant Collection held at the National Museum of Scotland and the Hopkins Collection at Cambridge University Library.

Development of Excavations

The first round of excavations at Yinxu took place between 1928 and 1937, conducted by the Chinese Institute of History and Philosophy, which undertook archaeological digs at the time.

Further excavations have been carried out beginning in 1950 by the Archaeological Institute of the Chinese Social Sciences Academy. The Archaeological Institute found evidence of stratification, suggesting that the Shang Dynasty was indeed of a long duration.

The remains of palaces and temples as well as royal cemeteries were discovered, and in the process the institute learned much about the art and science of archaeological digging, thus laying the groundwork for future excavation projects, of which there would be many in the new China.

Columbia University Libraries

Columbia University Libraries’ C.V. Starr East Asian Library is pleased to announce that digital images of 126 bone fragments engraved with the earliest-surviving Chinese script are now available to the public, an agreement that was reached just this summer. Images of the fragments were digitized in collaboration with the Chinese Academic Digital Associative Library (CADAL) at Zhejiang University Library.

Work to digitize the oracle bones, a collection that includes authentic, forged, and unconfirmed bones, began in 2015 and was completed last summer. The pieces were digitized using reflective transformation imaging (RTI), which captures the surface color and shape of the bone and allows users to “re-light” the bone from any direction, creating an interactive reproduction of each fragment.

The original bones date to the Shang Dynasty, which reigned from 1600 to 1046 B.C.E., and will likely prove an invaluable resource to scholars of early Chinese history and language.

“I have no doubt that this is the best possible presentation of the oracle bones and shells,” said Faculty Director of Columbia’s Tang Center for Early China, Feng Li, a professor of early Chinese history and archaeology. “The photographing is perhaps more telling when done on the oracle bones…given the fact that the inscriptions were hand-engraved…on natural materials [such] as bones and shells, which produced very subtle traces of writing that are best revealed [by RTI].”

Introduction to Chinese Characters

Chinese characters, also known as Hanzi (漢字) are one of the earliest forms of written language in the world, dating back approximately five thousand years. Nearly one-fourth of the world’s population still use Chinese characters today. As an art form, Chinese calligraphy remains an integral aspect of Chinese culture.

There are 47,035 Chinese characters in the Kangxi Dictionary (康熙字典), the standard national dictionary developed during the 18 th and 19 th centuries, but the precise quantity of Chinese characters is a mystery numerous, rare variants have accumulated throughout history. Studies from China have shown that 90% of Chinese newspapers and magazines tend to use 3,500 basic characters.

Evolution of Chinese Characters

Chinese characters have evolved over several thousands of years to include many different styles, or scripts. The main forms are: Oracle Bone Inscriptions (Jia Gu Wen 甲骨文), Bronze Inscriptions, (Jin Wen 金文), Small Seal Characters (Xiao Zhuan 小篆), Official Script (Li Shu 隸書), Regular Script (Kai Shu 楷書), Cursive Writing or Grass Stroke Characters (Cao Shu 草書), and Freehand Cursive (Xing Shu 行書).

The evolution of the Chinese character for dragon (long 龍) is illustrated below:

Oracle Bone Inscriptions refers to the writings inscribed on the carapaces of tortoises and mammals during the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 B.C.). This is the earliest form of Chinese characters. Because Oracle Bone inscriptions mainly recorded the art of divination, this script is also called bu ci (卜辭), divination writings. Over one thousand of the over four thousand characters inscribed on excavated oracle bones have been deciphered.

Bronze Inscriptions are the characters inscribed on bronze objects, such as ritual wine vessels, made during the Shang (1600 – 1046 B.C.) and Zhou (1046 – 256 B.C.) dynasties. Over two thousand of the nearly four thousand collected single characters from these bronze objects are now understood.

Small Seal Characters refer to the written language popular during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.). In the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), different scripts were in use in different parts of the Chinese empire. Following the conquest and unification of the country, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty simplified and unified the written language. This unification of the written language during the Qin Dynasty significantly influenced the eventual standardization of the Chinese characters.

Official Script is the formal written language of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.). Over time, curved and broken strokes gradually increased, becoming distinct characteristics of this style. Official Script symbolizes a turning point in the evolution history of Chinese characters, after which Chinese characters transitioned into a modern stage of development.

Regular Script first appeared at the end of the Han Dynasty. But it was not until the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 A.D.) that Regular Script rose to dominant status. During that period, regular script continued evolving stylistically, reaching full maturity in the early Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Since that time, although developments in the art of calligraphy and in character simplification still lay ahead, there have been no more major stages of evolution for the mainstream script.

Freehand Cursive (or semi-cursive writing) appeared and became popular during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 A.D.) and the Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.). Because this style is not as abbreviated as Cursive Writing, most people who can read Regular Script can read semi-cursive. Some of the best examples of semi-cursive are found in the work of Wang Xizhi (321-379 A.D.), the most famous calligrapher in Chinese history, from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (316-420 A.D.).

Click on the animation below to see the evolution of the character 龙.

The Formation of Chinese Characters

The presumed methods of forming characters was first classified by the Chinese linguist Xu Shen (許慎), whose etymological dictionary Shuowen Jiezi (說文解字) divides the script into six categories, or liushu ( 六書): pictographic characters, (xiangxing zi 象形字), self-explanatory characters (zhishi zi 指示字), associative compounds (huiyi zi 會意字), pictophonetic characters (xingsheng zi 形聲字), mutually explanatory characters (zhuanzhu zi 轉注字), and phonetic loan characters (jiajie zi 假借字). The first four categories refer to ways of composing Chinese characters the last two categorizes ways of using characters.

It is a popular myth that Chinese writing is pictographic, or that each Chinese character represents a picture. Some Chinese characters evolved from pictures, many of which are the earliest characters found on oracle bones, but such pictographic characters comprise only a small proportion (about 4%) of characters. The vast majority are pictophonetic characters consisting of a “radical,” indicating the meaning and a phonetic component for the original sound, which may be different from modern pronunciation.

Below is an example of how some of the earliest Chinese characters were built.

Click on the animation below to see the evolution of the character 龙.

Animated by Xiangjun Shi '13

Source of the images and the explanations of the images: Leyi Li. 2000. Tracing the Roots of Chinese Characters: 500 Cases. Beijing: Beijing Languages and Culture University Press.

Enjoy It While it Lasts: A Brief Golden Age of Freedom of Scholarly Information? (English)

  • Paper published in the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita (The Republic) in October 2000 (in Polish, translation by Matthew Ciolek).
  • Author: Dr. Susan Whitfield, The International Dunhuang Project | DOWNLOAD (PDF 60KB)

The Question of Forgeries (English)

  • Introduction to a collection of papers from the 1998 Conference at the British Library.
  • Author: Dr. Susan Whitfield, The International Dunhuang Project | DOWNLOAD (PDF 180KB)

Suvarṇaprabhāsottamasūtra (English)

  • A web resource (under development) presented at the first symposium held under the project 'Bringing Together Scholars, Scholarship and Scholarly Resources on the Silk Road (China — India — Russia) 2006–2008' sponsored by the Ford Foundation in November 2006 at the National Library of China (NLC), Beijing.
  • Author: Dr. Radha Banerjee | DOWNLOAD (PDF 300KB)

A Review of Tangut Buddhism, Art and Textual Studies (English)

  • A web resource (under development) presented at the second symposium held under the project 'Bringing Together Scholars, Scholarship and Scholarly Resources on the Silk Road (China — India — Russia) 2006–2008' sponsored by the Ford Foundation in April 2007 at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.
  • Author: Dr. Saren Gaowa | DOWNLOAD (PDF 568KB)

Introduction to Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Manuscripts from Tunhuang in the British Museum (English)

  • The manuscripts described in this Catalogue once formed part of a huge collection which was discovered about fifty years ago in a walled-up chamber adjoining one of the 'Caves of the Thousand Buddhas' (Qianfodong/Ch'ien Fo Tung) a few miles south-east of the Dunhuang oasis on the border of Gansu.
  • Author: Lionel Giles | DOWNLOAD (PDF 88KB)

Introduction to a Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts from Tun-Huang in the India Office Library (English)

  • This is the introduction to Louis de la Vallée Poussin's catalogue of the Tibetan manuscripts in the Stein collection, written during the First World War. The introduction remains important in its own right for its palaeographical analysis of the Tibetan manuscripts.
  • Author: Louis de la Vallée Poussin | DOWNLOAD (PDF 160KB)

Médecine, société et religion dans la Chine médiévale Manuscrits de Dunhuang et pratiques de santé (French)

  • Programme de recherche dirigé dans le cadre de l’Unité Mixte de Recherche UMR 8155 'Civilisations chinoise, japonaise et tibétaine'.
  • Author: Catherine Despeux (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) | DOWNLOAD (PDF 44KB)

Abstracts of the Medical Manuscripts from Dunhuang (English)

  • Abstracts of seventy-four manuscripts containing medical information held in the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, the Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, Ryūkoku University Library and Chinese archives.
  • Author: Wang Shumin | DOWNLOAD (PDF 152KB)

A Chinese Medieval Treatment for Angina (English)

  • Research into the use of saltpetre to treat the symptoms of angina.
  • Authors: Anthony Butler and John Moffett | DOWNLOAD (PDF 80KB)

Proceedings (Extract) of XII International Congress of Orientalists, Rome, October 1899 (English)

  • In the evening of 3rd October 1899, delegates to the XII International Congress of Orientalists assembled in the Great Hall of the University of Rome, to elect the presidents for each of the Sessions, to discuss the format and elect speakers at the opening ceremony the following day. In addition to scholars and academics from Italy, the host nation, participants came from all over the world each country was represented by national museums, universities and academies.
  • Author: Lia Genovese | DOWNLOAD (PDF 852KB)

Otani Kozui's 1910 visit to London

  • Following the second Japanese expedition to Chinese Central Asia, Count Otani Kozui, the organizer and sponsor of the enterprise travelled to London and spent over half a year there. His primary aims were to make the results of the expedition known in the West and also to prepare for the new one, lead by the young monk Tachibana Zuicho.
  • Author: Imre Galambos (PDF 240KB)

Orthography of Early Chinese Writing: Evidence from Newly Excavated Manuscripts

  • This book is about the variability of Chinese writing in early China. The archaeological discoveries of the last few decades have provided an unprecedented amount of Warring States texts in the form of manuscripts and inscriptions on various objects. From the point of view of palaeography, an intriguing challenge is how to fit all this new material into the early history of Chinese writing. Since these new texts predate the Qin dynasty, they are able to provide the modern researcher with undigested data regarding the nature of writing in Warring States China. With the sudden increase of original documents, it has become clear that we need to revise our views regarding the nature of early writing, as well as the process and effect of the Qin unification.
  • The new material, the author argues, refutes the traditional linear model of the evolution of writing in China. According to this model, characters developed along a single line from the Shang oracle-bone inscriptions to Zhou bronze inscriptions, all the way to the Qin small seal and Han clerical scripts. The author that this view is not only an oversimplification but in many cases is incorrect. This model mirrors the ideologically motivated unilateral genealogy of traditional historiography which traced the mandate of Heaven from mythical emperors to the ruling house.
  • Author: Imre Galambos (PDF 3.3MB)

A Tenth Century Manuscript from Dunhuang Concerning the Gantong Monastery at Liangzhou

  • The Gantongsi monastery at Liangzhou is a site that has been traditionally linked with the cult of the monk Liu Sahe. In a group of Sino-Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang, a dated copy of an inscription from the monastery was found, shedding light on the significance of the monastery in the Buddhist pilgrimage movement during the tenth century.
  • Author: Imre Galambos (PDF 5.2MB)

Current status and future prospects of the Hanzi Normative Glyphs (HNG) Database

  • Following a presentation at the 2004 Autumn meeting of the Society for Japanese Linguistics, the Internet version of the Hanzi Normative Glyphs (HNG) database (headed by ISHIZUKA Harumichi) was launched in March 2005. Since then, every year new texts and relevant data have been added to the database. The objectives and methodology of this work was first published, with Ishizuka as the first author, in Nihongo no kenkyū 日本語の研究 (2005, vol. 1, no. 4), the official journal of the Society for Japanese Linguistics. Following the increasing amount of texts and data (62 texts, 4,554 unique characters, 432,596 character forms), this paper is an introduction to the current status of the project, its findings and future prospects.
  • Author: ISHIZUKA Harumichi (PDF 6.3MB)

The Dunhuang Sky: A Comprehensive Study of the Oldest Known Star Atlas

  • This paper presents an analysis of the star atlas included in the medieval Chinese manuscript Or.8210/S.3326 discovered in 1907 by the archaeologist Aurel Stein at the Silk Road town of Dunhuang and now housed in the British Library. Although partially studied by a few Chinese scholars, it has never been fully displayed and discussed in the Western world. This set of sky maps (12 hour-angle maps in quasi-cylindrical projection and a circumpolar map in azimuthal projection), displaying the full sky visible from the Northern Hemisphere, is up to now the oldest complete preserved star atlas known from any civilisation. It is also the earliest known pictorial representation of the quasi-totality of Chinese constellations.
  • Authors: Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud, Dr Françoise Praderie and Dr Susan Whitfield | DOWNLOAD (PDF 340KB)

Star Atlas: Translation

  • A translation of the text of the Or.8210/S.3326. It starts from the first section which contains continuous text and ends with the author’s note. The second part is the technical text accompanying the astronomical charts.
  • Author: Imre Galambos | DOWNLOAD (PDF 86KB)

A Technical Study of Portable Tenth-Century Paintings from Dunhuang in US Collections

  • This study examines several of the only known extant examples of portable tenth- century Chinese Buddhist paintings from the Mogao Caves, near Dunhuang, People’s Republic of China. Although extensive scientific research has been conducted on the wall murals, no comparable analysis has ever been undertaken on the paintings on silk and other textile supports from the Mogao Caves. The findings of this study expand on the established understanding of portable paintings from Dunhuang and identify further lines of enquiry in relation to the pigments, textiles and painting technologies associated with these objects. This study examines paintings in the collections of the Harvard Art Museums, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Freer Gallery, Washington, DC, drawing on multiple analytical methods including XRF, FTIR, Raman, AMS, SEM, MALDI and polarizing light microscopy as the first comprehensive and systematic investigation of these important artworks.
  • Authors: Matthew Brack and Erin Mysak (PDF 10.8MB)

Was there a Silk Road?

  • Is the 'Silk Road' a meaningful term? Is it being used simply to provide a historical legitimacy for our preoccupation with the dichotomy of east and west, the rising power of India and China and the waning of Europe, and our ambivalence towards globalisation? If it ever had any descriptive or analytic force for scholarship, is this now lost and should we discard the term entirely in our scholarly discourse as misleading at best and leave it for the marketers to exploit as a symbol of luxury and exoticism? This article argues that although the term 'Silk Road' has become a widely used portmanteau term, with apt clarification it is still a meaningful term for scholarship.
  • Author: Dr Susan Whitfield (PDF 1MB)
  • Also available for download at the ingentaconnect website.

The Prayer, the Priest and the Tsenpo: An Early Buddhist Narrative from Dunhuang

  • The manuscript presented in this article, Pelliot tibétain 149, contains a brief narrative that is one of the first examples of religious history in Tibet. The narrative is an introduction to a Buddhist text, a prayer known as the Bhadracaryā-praṇidhāna . The story, like the later Tibetan Buddhist histories, begins in India, and continues through to the imperial period in Tibet, specifically the period of the reign of Tsenpo Khri Srong lde brtsan (r.756–c.800). In line with later Tibetan religious histories, but unlike the Old Tibetan Annals or Old Tibetan Chronicle, PT 149’s narrative focuses on religious lineage rather than royal succession.
  • Authors: Sam van Schaik and Lewis Doney (PDF 408KB)

Yin Xu

The archaeological site of Yin Xu, close to Anyang City, some 500 km south of Beijing, is an ancient capital city of the late Shang Dynasty (1300 - 1046 BC). It testifies to the golden age of early Chinese culture, crafts and sciences, a time of great prosperity of the Chinese Bronze Age. A number of royal tombs and palaces, prototypes of later Chinese architecture, have been unearthed on the site, including the Palace and Royal Ancestral Shrines Area, with more than 80 house foundations, and the only tomb of a member of the royal family of the Shang Dynasty to have remained intact, the Tomb of Fu Hao. The large number and superb craftsmanship of the burial accessories found there bear testimony to the advanced level of Shang crafts industry. Inscriptions on oracle bones found in Yin Xu bear invaluable testimony to the development of one of the world’s oldest writing systems, ancient beliefs and social systems.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Yin Xu

Le site archéologique de Yin Xu, proche de la ville d'Anyang, à quelque 500 km au sud de Beijing, fut la dernière capitale de l'ancienne dynastie Shang (1300-1046 av. J.-C.). Il témoigne de l'âge d'or de la culture, de l'artisanat et des sciences de la Chine antique, une période de grande prospérité de l'âge du bronze chinois. Beaucoup de tombes et palais royaux, prototypes de l'architecture chinoise postérieure, ont été mis à jour sur le site dont l'aire du Palais et les sanctuaires ancestraux royaux, où sont rassemblées plus de 80 fondations de maisons et la seule tombe d'un membre de la famille royale de la dynastie Shang encore intacte, le tombeau de Fu Hao. Un grand nombre de superbes objets funéraires y porte le témoignage du niveau avancé de l'artisanat Shang. Les inscriptions sur les ossements trouvés à Yin Xu et utilisés pour les oracles ont une valeur testimoniale immense sur le développement du plus ancien langage systématique écrit, sur les croyances et le système social anciens.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

يين كزو

يقع موقع يين كزو الأثري على مسافةٍ قريبةٍ من مدينة أنيانغ على بعد 500 كيلومتر جنوب بيجينغ وهو العاصمة الأخيرة لسلالة شانغ القديمة (1300-1046 ق.م). والموقع شهادة عن العصر الذهبي لثقافة الصين القديمة وصناعتها الحرفيّة وعلومها، وهي حقبة عرف فيها الزمن الصيني البرونزي ازدهاراً كبيراً. وكثيرة هي المقابر والقصور الملكيّة وهي مثال الهندسة الصينيّة للعصر اللاحق التي جرى تحديثها في موقع تواجدها ومنها حرم القصر والمعابد الملكيّة القديمة حيث أساسات أكثر من80 منزلا ومقبرة فو هاو وهي المقبرة الوحيدة لفرد من الأسرة الملكيّة من سلالة شانغ التي ظلّت سليمة المعالم. وفي العديد من الأغراض الجنائزيّة الرائعة شهادة على المستوى المتقدّم من فنّ شانغ الحرفي. وتتمتع الكتابات المحفورة على العظام والموجودة في يين كزو والتي يستخدمها الوسطاء الروحيّون بقيمة عظيمة لجهة تطوّر اللغة المكتوبة الأقدم والمعتقدات والنظام الاجتماعي القديم.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Древний город Иньсюй

Археологический памятник Иньсюй вблизи города Аньян, в 500 км южнее Пекина – это древняя столица последнего периода правления династии Шан (1300-1046 гг. до н.э.). Он свидетельствует о высоком расцвете ранней китайской культуры, ремесел и наук на протяжении Китайского Бронзового века. Множество гробниц и дворцов властителей, послуживших образцами для дальнейшего развития китайской архитектуры, было обнаружено на этом месте. Объект включает территорию дворца и святилищ предков правителей (1000х650 м), с остатками оснований более чем 80 построек, и единственную гробницу члена правящей семьи династии Шан, оставшуюся неразграбленной – гробницу Фу Хао. Большое количество и великолепное мастерство изготовления найденных здесь погребальных предметов свидетельствуют о высоком уровне ремесленного производства в государстве Шан. Эти находки признаны ныне одним из национальных сокровищ Китая. При раскопках в Иньсюе было обнаружено множество лопаток домашнего скота и черепаховых панцирей, покрытых надписями. Эти «гадальные кости» представляют собой неоценимое свидетельство развития одной из древнейших в мире систем письменности, древних верований и социального устройства тех времен.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Yin Xu

El sitio arqueológico de Yin Xu, situado cerca de la ciudad de Anyang, a unos 500 km al sur de Beijing, contiene los vestigios de una antigua capital de las postrimerí­as de la dinastí­a de los Shang (1300-1046 a.C.). Yin Xu es un testimonio de apogeo alcanzado por la cultura, la artesaní­a y las ciencias de la China antigua en un periodo de gran prosperidad de la Edad del Bronce. Durante las excavaciones se han desenterrado algunas tumbas y palacios prototí­picos de la arquitectura china de épocas posteriores. El sitio comprende el Palacio y el í¡rea de los templos ancestrales reales, en los que se han encontrado mí¡s de 80 cimientos de edificios y la Tumba de Fu Hao, que es la única sepultura hallada intacta, hasta ahora, de un miembro de la familia de uno de los monarcas de la dinastí­a Shang. La abundancia y la magní­fica factura de los objetos funerarios encontrados atestiguan el grado de adelanto alcanzado por la industria artesanal en la época de los Shang. Las inscripciones que figuran en los restos óseos encontrados en Yin Xu, utilizados para los orí¡culos, aportan un inestimable testimonio sobre uno de los sistemas de escritura mí¡s antiguos del mundo, así­ como sobre las creencias y sistemas sociales de la época.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Yin Xu

De archeologische vindplaats Yin Xu ligt in de buurt van de stad Anyang, 500 kilometer ten zuiden van Beijing. Het is een oude hoofdstad uit de late Shang dynastie (1300 - 1046 voor Christus), opgericht tijdens de bloeiperiode van de Chinese bronstijd. Een groot aantal graven en paleizen zijn opgegraven. Daaronder vallen het paleis en de koninklijke voorouderlijke altaren, met meer dan 80 fundamenten en het enige graf van het koninklijke familielid van de Shang dynastie dat nog intact is gebleven: het graf van Fu Hao. Het grote aantal en de uitstekende kwaliteit van de gevonden grafcomponenten illustreren het hoge ambachtsniveau binnen de Shang dynastie.

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Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Situated on both banks of the Huanhe River to the northwest of the nationally famous historic and cultural city Anyang, in Henan Province of central China, the archaeological remains of Yin Xu dated from 1,300 BCE and comprise two sites: the Palace and Royal Ancestral Shrines Area and the Royal Tombs Area covering a total 414 hectares with an enclosing buffer zone of 720 hectares. Yin Xu has been confirmed by historic documents, oracle bone inscriptions and archaeological excavations as the first site of a capital in Chinese history. The twentieth king of the Shang Dynasty Pan Geng, moved his capital from Yan to Yin (the area around Xiaotun Village of present Anyang) around 1,300 BC, and established a lasting and stable capital. It spanned 255 years with 12 kings and 8 generations and created the splendid and brilliant Yin-Shang Civilization, which is of priceless value in terms of history, art and science.

Yin Xu was the earliest site to possess the elements of civilization, including more than 80 house foundations of rammed earth with remains of timber structures, ancestral shrines and altars enclosed within a defensive ditch which also functioned as a flood-control system. Numerous pits within the Palace area contained inscribed oracle bones considered to carry the earliest evidence of the Chinese written language. The Royal Tombs area on higher ground includes sacrificial pits containing chariots and human remains considered to have been sacrificial victims. Burial goods included decorated bronze ritual vessels, jade and bone carvings and ceramics.

Being one of the most important capital sites in early China, its planning and layout had an important influence on the construction and development of subsequent capitals of China. The Royal Tomb Area of Yin Xu is the earliest large-scale royal graveyard in China and the source of China’s system of royal and imperial mausoleumsoracle bone inscriptions are the earliest known mature writing in China and constitute evidence for the history of the Shang Dynasty in China, helping to track recorded Chinese history nearly one thousand years earlier, and the Site of Yin Xu conveys the social life of the late Shang Dynasty, reflecting highly developed science and architectural technology including bronze casting and a calendar system.

Criterion (ii): Yin Xu, capital of the late Shang Dynasty, exhibits an exchange of important influences and the highest level of development in China’s ancient bronze culture, including the system of writing.

Criterion (iii): The cultural remains at Yin Xu provide exceptional evidence of cultural traditions in the Late Shang Period, and are testimony to many scientific and technical achievements and innovations, such as the solar and lunar calendar system, and the earliest evidence of systematic written Chinese language in oracle bones.

Criterion (iv): The palaces, ancestral shrines and the royal tombs of Yin Xu are outstanding examples of early Chinese architecture. They have great significance in establishing the early prototypes for Chinese palace architecture and royal tomb complexes.

Criterion (vi): The material remains discovered at Yin Xu provide tangible evidence of the early history of the system of Chinese writing and language, ancient beliefs, social systems, and major historical events, which are considered of outstanding universal significance.

The nominated property of Yin Xu has a property area of 414 hectares and a buffer zone of 720 hectares it contains well preserved elements which are sufficient to demonstrate the outstanding universal value of Yin Xu, including the sites of Palaces and Ancestral Shrines, and Royal Tombs within the property boundary and the unexcavated Huanbei Shang City site within the buffer zone. The unearthed oracle bone inscriptions, bronze vessels, jade carvings, pottery and bone objects and other exquisite historical relics, which have comprehensively and systematically shown to the people throughout the world the features of the capital of the Shang Dynasty of China 3,300 years ago and the splendid Yin-Shang Civilization, are displayed in the site museums. Through years of scientific archaeological excavation and conservation work in Yin Xu, the excavated sites and unearthed historical relics have been protected properly from both natural and human threats and damage and the maximal historical information of Yin Xu preserved. The construction activity in the heritage area and its buffer area has been controlled and managed strictly and the heritage site and its historical environment have been preserved intact.


In strict accordance with the heritage conservation principle of “retaining the historic conditions, respecting the authenticity”, the archaeological site of Yin Xu and all its excavated cultural relics have been as far as possible conserved in situ. After excavation, the site was backfilled for its protection, using vegetation on the ground for display while the unearthed oracle bone inscriptions are presented in the original site. To better conserve the excavated cultural relics, the Yin Xu Garden-Museum and Museum-Exhibition Hall have been built in the Yin Xu Palace and Ancestral Shrine area, so that the important cultural relics could receive the best care in a museum environment. In carrying out conservation and restoration work, special effort is given to combine traditional techniques and modern technologies, to maintain the authenticity of the heritage fabrics. Meanwhile, through careful treatment and effective improvement of the villages, roads and environment in the protected areas, the historic setting of Yin Xu retains its authenticity.

Protection and management requirements

Yin Xu is a State Priority Protected Site and one of the first National Archaeological Site Parks in China. For many years, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics, the Regulations for the Implementation of The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics, the Protection and Management Regulations of Yin Xu in Anyang of Henan Province and other related laws and regulations have been applied strictly. The Master Plan for the Conservation of Yin Xu has been drawn up and the management system and regulations for the protection of cultural relics have been improved constantly to enhance the protection of Yin Xu. The original style and features of Yin Xu have basically been conserved and the Site of Yin Xu and its historical relics have been well preserved.

Heritage protection is a long-term cause. Local governments and the management bodies will continue to carefully implement heritage protection laws and regulations, strictly control excavation activities and follow better regulated procedures of examination and approval on archaeological excavation. To counteract factors such as increasing tourism and the pressure of urban construction which endanger the cultural heritage, these authorities will closely monitor the property and its setting, find and solve in time the problems in Yin Xu’s conservation and management work increase the professional capabilities and qualifications of the personnel through strengthened training continually enhance the conservation and management level, and through timely revision of The Master Plan for the Conservation of Yin Xu, improve the conservation and management system and mechanism, promoting further the sustainable development of Yin Xu’s cultural heritage.

Oracle bones and unseen beauty: wonders of priceless Chinese collection now online

A banknote from 1380 that threatens decapitation, a set of 17th-century prints so delicate they had never been opened, and 3000-year-old ‘oracle bones’ are now freely available for the world to view on the Cambridge Digital Library.

The treasures of Cambridge University Library’s Chinese collections are the latest addition to the Digital Library website which already hosts the works of Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Siegfried Sassoon, as well as unique collections on the Board of Longitude and the Royal Commonwealth Society.

The oracle bones (ox shoulder blades and turtle shells) are one of the Library’s most important collections and are the earliest surviving examples of Chinese writing anywhere in the world. They are the oldest form of documents owned by the Library and record questions to which answers were sought by divination at the court of the royal house of Shang, which ruled central China between the 16th and 11th centuries BCE.

As the earliest known specimens of the Chinese script, the oracle bone inscriptions are of fundamental importance for Chinese palaeography and our understanding of ancient Chinese society. The bones record information on a wide range of matters including warfare, agriculture, hunting and medical problems, as well as genealogical, meteorological and astronomical data, such as the earliest records of eclipses and comets.

Never before displayed, three of the 800 oracle bones held in the Library can now be viewed in exquisite detail, alongside a 17th-century book which has been described as 'perhaps the most beautiful set of prints ever made'. Estimated to be worth millions on the open market, the ‘Manual of Calligraphy and Painting’ was made in 1633 by the Ten Bamboo Studio in Nanjing.

Charles Aylmer, Head of the Chinese Department at Cambridge University Library, said: “This is the earliest and finest example of multi-colour printing anywhere in the world, comprising 138 paintings and sketches with associated texts by fifty different artists and calligraphers. Although reprinted many times, complete sets of early editions in the original binding are extremely rare.

“The binding is so fragile, and the manual so delicate, that until it was digitized, we have never been able to let anyone look through it or study it – despite its undoubted importance to scholars.”

Other highlights of the digitisation include one of the world’s earliest printed books, a Buddhist text dated between 1127 and 1175. The translator (Xuanzang) was famed for the 17 year pilgrimage to India he undertook to collect religious texts and bring them back to China.

‘The Manual of Famine Relief’ has also been digitised. This 19th-century manuscript contains instructions for the distribution of emergency rations to famine victims and includes practical advice about foraging for natural substitutes to normal foodstuffs in the event of an emergency.

Elsewhere, a 14th-century banknote is one of the more unusual additions to the Chinese Collections. Paper currency first appeared in China during the 7th century, and was in wide circulation by the 11th century, 500 years before its first use in Europe.

By the 12th century the central government had realised the benefits of banknotes for purposes of tax collection and financial administration, and by the late 13th century had printed and issued a national paper currency – accounts of it reached Europe through the writings of Marco Polo and others.

The Library’s banknote, printed on mulberry paper from a cast metal plate, was first issued in 1380. The denomination of the banknote (one thousand cash) is shown by a picture of ten strings of copper cash (10 x 100 = 1000), flanked by a text in seal script which reads: 'Great Ming Paper Currency Circulating Throughout the World'. The text underneath threatens forgers with decapitation and promises that anyone denouncing or apprehending them will receive not only a reward of 25 ounces of silver but also all the miscreant’s property.

Huw Jones, part of the digitisation team at Cambridge University Library, said: “The very high quality of the digital images has already led to important discoveries about the material – we have seen where red pigment was used to colour inscriptions on the oracle bones, and seals formerly invisible have been deciphered on several items. We look forward to new insights now that the collection has a truly global audience, and we are already working with an ornithological expert to identify the birds in the Manual of Calligraphy and Painting.”

Cambridge University Library acquired its first Chinese book in 1632 as part of the collection of the Duke of Buckingham, but the first substantial holdings of Chinese books came with the donation of 4,304 volumes by Sir Thomas Wade (1818–1895), first Professor of Chinese in the University from 1888 until his death.

The Chinese collections at Cambridge University Library now number about half a million individual titles, including monographs, reprinted materials, archival documents, epigraphical rubbings and 200,000 Chinese e-books (donated by Premier Wen Jiabao in 2009).