Can I Start A Sentence With Because Modern Language Association Bamboo Origin of Vertical Chinese Writing

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Bamboo Origin of Vertical Chinese Writing

In China, in parks, mountains and towns, you can find Chinese characters or other symbols carved on live bamboo. People just act naturally, on the smooth surface, and pick up a stone with sharp points. This simple, natural way of writing could have been practiced thousands of years ago and has to do with the origins of Chinese writing.

Vertical carving on living bamboo that pre-lived on bamboo strips

Writing horizontally is natural for eyes to read. Although not with a natural direction, Chinese writing was fixed in vertical columns until last century. There must be a cause. Ten [1] attributed verticality of Chinese writing to bamboo strip and brush. However, bamboo strips can also be arranged horizontally to write on. It appears that no horizontal writings on bamboo strips of ancient times have ever been discovered. Regarding the origin of verticality of Chinese writing on bamboo slips, there can be three scenarios. In the first case, the scribes chose vertical direction without trying horizontal. In the second case, both vertical and horizontal writings were practiced, but later horizontality was abandoned. In the third case, vertical direction was already in place before bamboo strips were used. The first case is unlikely, since scribes can know which direction is more beneficial after trying each. The second case means that vertical arrangement is advantageous over horizontal arrangement in competition. We do not support this case, as we believe that horizontal writing is suitable for reading, so should not fail in competition. Let’s talk about the third case.

To find writings in front of bamboo strips, we focus on two things: writing material and writing instrument. Again we find bamboo. But this time it’s live bamboo. Undoubtedly, as a native plant in China, bamboo is abundant, with smooth surface and thin skin. It is easy and convenient to carve on bamboo. The cutout is clear to read and remains so throughout the bamboo’s lifetime. These conditions are met: writable, readable and relatively storable. Stones with sharp points can be the tool. In prehistoric society, perhaps nothing was more suitable for the development of writing than living bamboo and stone. It is only natural to write in vertical columns on the round and narrow surface of upright growing trunks.

Living bamboo may be the earliest candidate for writing. One question is: did people start writing on them earlier than on bamboo strips cut from them? It is very possible that our ancestors started using stone tools to carve them in the beginning, long before the advent of ink and brush. This is the simplest way of writing in its broadest sense. In early times, people could plant bamboo in front of their houses for a variety of uses. People also carved symbols on it for drawing and recording purposes. Later people found that the writings could be migrated to bamboo strips. Carvings on live bamboo at that time can be abundant. It is difficult to know the amount of texts and their complexity. They should already be arranged vertically. Before bamboo strips, at least ‘sentences’ should have been written on living bamboo. Later writings on bamboo slip and book inherited the verticality.

Living bamboo and bamboo strips carried the lost origins of Chinese writing

However, symbols in living bamboo cannot last for our generation. Many materials cannot be preserved for that long. Usually, research into the history of writing is based on archaeological findings and written records. It seems that old carvings on living bamboo before bamboo slip have never been mentioned. Writing may have already migrated to bamboo slip before the earliest records. It is usually difficult to create works that are written (engraved etc.) with long lasting material and method. But it’s good that the majority of scriptures only last for years/decades instead of hundreds of years or millennia. For most people, preservation for more than a hundred years was not desirable in most cases. Even today, with advanced preservation techniques, most published works would not be found a millennium later, let alone personal writings.

Oracle bone script is China’s undisputed earliest true writing system dating back to the Shang Dynasty. The oracle bones were mainly for divination of the royal house. Given their special purpose, relative scarcity of bones and shells, and relative difficulty in making the scripts, they should not have been the most commonly used writing materials at the time. The script was already fully developed, with no apparent predecessor. True writing in China could have existed much earlier. Records from other surviving media indicate that bamboo slips existed as early as the oracle bone writing period. There are Neolithic signs dating back several millennia. In these millennia, there may have been many writings on bamboo strips or living bamboo, on which Chinese writing developed.

Closure

Carvings on living bamboo with stone tools may have given rise to Chinese writing. They established Chinese system in vertical direction which was later inherited by bamboo slips, paper books and so on.

References

[1], Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien. Written on bamboo and silk: The Beginnings of Chinese Books and Inscriptions. Second edition. University of Chicago Press.2004. Page 204.

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