THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

03 September 2015

Yongle Dadian on display in our Treasures Gallery

Add comment Comments (0)

Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing

纸张之外:汉字书写3000年
An exhibit in Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery
8 September 2015 to 17 January 2016
Free Entry

The British Library display Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing, opening on 8th September, consists of four cases of material from China, showing different media used for Chinese writing and different forms of script. The cases show oracle bones, woodslips, silk manuscripts and paper books respectively. The descriptions below have been given in English followed by Chinese translation to make them more accessible.

Case 4: Paper

Paper was invented in China by the first century BC and largely replaced silk, wood and bamboo. Made from fibres — from the paper mulberry tree, hemp and other plants — it was light, strong and flexible.

The scroll remained the main format for books in China throughout the first millennium AD but then started to be replaced by the booklet. These developed into larger bound volumes, such as those which form the Great Canon of the Yongle Reign. These handwritten volumes, comprising 28,877 chapters, were the largest literary compilation in the world when they were imperially commissioned in 1402.

第四展柜: 纸张

纸张至公元前一世纪已被中国人发明,并且很大程度上代替了丝绸、木简和竹简。纸张由构树、大麻等植物纤维制成,其质地既轻薄又柔韧。

整个公元后第一个千年,卷轴都是中国书籍的主要形式,但后来开始被册页形式取代。它们后来发展成为更大部头的装订书籍,正如后来的《永乐大典》。当1402年朝廷下令编修时,这部总共28877章的手抄书籍是当时世界上最大的文字汇编。

Blog 7 (paper)_2000
Writing styles of the character ‘soldier’
Yongle dadian
, chapters 8628 and 8629
Ink on paper, silk on the cover
, Jiajing to Longqing period (1562-72)
Or.11273, f.1v
 noc

The content of the Great Canon of the Yongle Reign covers all aspects of traditional Confucian knowledge and contains the most prominent literature available at that time, ranging from history and drama to farming techniques. It comprises large sections of historical documents and other sources, transcribed character for character, with the name of the author or the source in red.  Here we see the character 兵 (bing), which means soldier, written in many different styles of calligraphy, ranging from seal script (which developed from characters found on oracle bones) on the right side, to cursive variants on the left.

的不同字体
大典》,86288629
纸本,丝质封面,嘉靖至隆庆年间(
1562-1572
Or.11273, f.1v

《永乐大典》的内容包含了传统儒家文化的方方面面,并囊括了当时最重要的文献,从历史、戏剧到农术。它还包括了大量历史文献和其他资料,一字一句抄录而成,原作者的姓名或出处由红字写成。这里我们可以看到汉字“兵”的不同字体,从右侧的篆书(由甲骨文发展而来),直到左侧的草书。

Blog 9 (paper)_2000Blog 8 (paper)_2000
Architectural Methods
Yongle dadian
Chapters 18244 and 18245.
Ink on paper, silk on the cover, Jiajing to Longqing period (1562-72)
Or.11274, ff.10v-11r
 noc

The Great Canon of the Yongle Reign is easily recognisable from its distinctive physical appearance – paper with dark red rulings, ‘wrapped-back’ binding, and a yellow silk cover.  The first edition (1408) was destroyed or dispersed and is no longer extant. Nowadays, fewer than 400 juan of the second manuscript edition remain, constituting just 3% of the original. The British Library holds 24 volumes, corresponding to 49 chapters, and is the largest collection in Europe. The volume shown contains excerpts from the Yingzao fashi, a Song dynasty technical treatise on architecture and craftsmanship.

建筑法式
《永乐大典》第
1824418245
纸本,丝质封面,嘉靖至隆庆年间(
1562-1572
Or.11274, ff. 10v-11r

人们可以通过其外貌轻易辨认出《永乐大典》—— 带有深红栏线的册页,‘包背装’的装帧,以及典型的黄色丝绸封面。第一版《永乐大典》(1408)已经损毁散佚。今天,不到400卷的第二版手抄本被保存下来,而这些只有原篇幅的3%。大英图书馆现藏有24卷,共49章《永乐大典》,是欧洲最大的收藏。这里展出的一卷含有《营造法式》中的摘录,这是一部宋代讲授建筑及手工技术的论著。

 

Related events

Michael Wood: The Story of China
Fri 23 Oct 2015, 18:30 - 20:00
British Library Conference Centre

Too big to print: the story of Yongle Dadian
Mon 23 Nov 2015, 18:45 - 20:15
British Library Conference Centre

 

Sara Chiesura and Emma Goodliffe, Curators, Chinese collections
in cooperation with Susan Whitfield, Director, International Dunhuang Project

With thanks to Gao Feichi for the Chinese translation
 CC-BY-SA


 

Oracle bones on display in our Treasures Gallery

Add comment Comments (0)

Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing

纸张之外:汉字书写3000年
An exhibit in Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery
8 September 2015 to 17 January 2016
Free Entry


The British Library display Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing, opening on 8th September, consists of four cases of material from China, showing different media used for Chinese writing and different forms of script. The cases show oracle bones, woodslips, silk manuscripts and paper books respectively. The descriptions below have been given in English followed by Chinese translation to make them more accessible.


Case 1: Oracle bones

Oracle bones were used for divination over three thousand years ago in ancient China. Questions about crops, the weather, battles, and the ruling family were engraved on the bone and heat was then applied with metal sticks. The heat caused the bones to crack and the diviners interpreted the patterns of the fractures to determine the answer to the question posed.

Oracle bones such as these show the earliest extant Chinese writing and they are essential for understanding the origins and development of the Chinese script.

第一展柜: 甲骨

在三千多年前的古代中国,龟甲和兽骨被用于占卜吉凶。与收成,气候,战争,王室等有关的问题被刻在甲骨上,然后用金属棒进行加热。甲骨在热量的作用下开裂,而后巫师通过解读裂纹的形状决定如何回答求卜者的提问。

这些甲骨展示了现存最早的中国文字,它们对于理解汉字的起源和发展具有重要意义。

Blog 1_2000
A woman and a child are ‘good’

Shang dynasty oracle bone, c.1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1517
CCO_PD

The Chinese collection of the British Library includes a unique series of more than 450 oracle bones (jia gu 甲骨). They date from between 1600 and 1050 BC, making them the oldest items in the British Library. New technologies are being applied to the bones’ conservation and storage and a project to digitise them is currently underway.

女、子为“好”
商代甲骨,约公元前1600至1050年
Or.7694/1517

大英图书馆内的中国收藏包括一套总数超过450件的甲骨。它们的年代可上溯至公元前1600至1050年间,这使它们成为大英图书馆内最古老的藏品。最新的科技已经被应用于这些甲骨的保护和储藏。另外,一个对它们进行数字化的项目正在进行当中。

Blog 2_2000  Blog 3_2000
Shang dynasty oracle bones, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1559 and Or.7964/1560
CCO_PD

The oracle bones are carved with the Shang Dynasty script, also called ‘oracle script’ (jia gu wen). It is the oldest known form of Chinese writing and the ancestor of the Chinese characters still used today. The jia gu script is angular and the shape of the characters is simplified as much as possible to make it easier to engrave on hard surfaces. Many jia gu wen characters are often defined as ‘pictographic’, because they are stylised depictions of the objects they represent.

商代甲骨,约公元前1600至1050年
Or.7694/1559, Or.7964/1560

这些甲骨上刻有商代文字,也被称为“甲骨文”。这是已知最古老的汉字书写体系,并且是今天仍在使用的汉字的雏形。甲骨文字形棱角分明,其形状已经尽可能简化以便于刻在坚硬的表面上。许多甲骨文文字被定义为‘象形文字’,因为它们酷似所表示事物的抽象形状。

Blog 4_2000
Divination cracks
Shang dynasty oracle bone, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1535
CCO_PD

Oracle bones were an extraordinary discovery for sinologists and historians. Firstly they prove the existence of the Shang Dynasty, which some researchers questioned until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, from a linguistic perspective, they offer primary materials for the interpretation of China’s earliest script. In the bone shown above, the fissures created by the heat of the fire during the divination process are clearly visible. Most of the cracks on the bones appeared on the front side with a distinctive shape ( ) from which the Chinese character for ‘divination’ (bu卜) is derived.


商代甲骨,
公元前16001050
Or.7694/1535

商代甲骨对于汉学家和历史学家来说是一项非凡的发现。首先它们证明了商朝的存在,而此前直到19世纪初仍有学者对其提出质疑。另外,从语言学角度,它们为解读中国最早的文字提供了第一手资料。这里所展示的甲骨,其在占卜过程中经过火烧产生的裂缝清晰可见。大多数裂纹出现在甲骨正面并具有特殊形状(),汉字‘卜’即是由此而来。

Blog 6_2000
An axe thrust into the Earth
Shang dynasty oracle bones, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1592 and Or.7964/1554
CCO_PD

The discovery of oracle bones in 1899 marked a turning point in Chinese paleography and etymology. The bones revealed a stage in the development of the Chinese script that had been absent from previous scholarship and, in some cases, overturned theories held for centuries.

For example, the character Untitled which is visible in inscriptions on both these bones, means ‘king’ and is now written 王. This character was considered to represent the role of the king (represented by a vertical line) as mediator between heaven, earth and man (three horizontal lines), but the earlier form found on the oracle bones seems to simply be a depiction of an axe thrust into the earth.

大地的斧
商代甲骨,
公元前16001050
Or.7694/1592, Or.7964/1554

1899年甲骨文的发现标志着中国古文字学和词源学的转折点。这些甲骨揭示了中国文字发展过程中缺失的一环,并在某些情况下,彻底改变了主导几个世纪的理论。

例如这两件甲骨上的铭文中都可见的  Untitled  字,是现代汉字中的“王”。这个字从前被认为代表“王”沟通天、地、人的角色(中间一竖代表王,三横代表天地人),但是甲骨文中的早期字形显示了这个字更为象形的起源,即一把劈进大地的斧头。

Lunar eclipse for blog (last image)
A lunar eclipse
Shang dynasty oracle bone, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1595
CCO_PD

This scapula bears an inscription about the coming ten-day period, and records that there will be no bad luck.

The character for moon (月 now and Untitledin oracle bone script) is visible at the top centre. This particular oracle bone is very important for research on the ancient Chinese calendar and astronomy, as it carries on the reverse side the record of a lunar eclipse.

月食
商代甲骨,
公元前16001050
Or.7694/1595

这块肩胛骨刻有占卜未来十天(一旬)吉凶的铭文,记录了这期间并无不详。

汉字‘月’(甲骨文作 Untitled )位于第一行正中。这块甲骨的背面记载了一次月食观测,它对于研究古代中国历法和天文具有重要意义 。

 

Related events

Michael Wood: The Story of China
Fri 23 Oct 2015, 18:30 - 20:00
British Library Conference Centre

Too big to print: the story of Yongle Dadian
Mon 23 Nov 2015, 18:45 - 20:15
British Library Conference Centre

 

Sara Chiesura and Emma Goodliffe, Curators, Chinese collections
in cooperation with Susan Whitfield, Director, International Dunhuang Project

With thanks to Gao Feichi for the Chinese translation
 ccownwork

27 August 2015

Early Malay trading permits from Borneo

Add comment Comments (0)

In November 1714, three British merchants from the East India Company ship Borneo were granted permits to trade by the sultan of Banjar on the south coast of the island of Borneo, now known as Banjarmasin in present-day Indonesian Kalimantan. The issuing of trading permits was a common occurrence, but what was exceptional in this case was the form of the permit itself: a thin piece of gold stamped with the sultan’s seal, with a personalised inscription naming each of the three officers.

At this time the ruler of Banjar was Sultan Tahmidullah (r.1712-1747), and the presentation of the permits took place at his palace at Caytongee or Kayu Tangi, about a hundred miles upriver from the port of Banjarmasin. The occasion was described by Captain Daniel Beeckman in his travelogue, A voyage to the island of Borneo in the East-Indies, published in London in 1718:

He caus’d three Gold Plates to be made of the Form and Size here mark’d, of which he gave one to me, another to Mr. Swartz, and the third to Mr. Becher; and told us, that was a Token of the Friendship, and a Chop, or Grant of Trade, having the Stamp of his Great Seal on it; that on the producing it at our return, he would not only protect us, but grant us the liberty of Trade in any part of his Dominions; Then he wish’d us, in a hearty manner, a good Voyage, and a speedy Return. I have here inserted the Words that are on the Gold Chop, as also the English of them, as near as I can, viz. De ca Tawon Zeib, daen ca Boolon Dulcaidat, Eang Sultan Derre Negree Caytongee, dea Casse enee Chop pada anacooda Beeckman. That is, In the Year Zeib, and the Moon Dulcaidat, The Sultan of Caytongee gave this Chop to Captain Beeckman’ (Beeckman 1718: 110-111).

A80069-09
Daniel Beeckman, A voyage to and from the island of Borneo in the East-Indies (London, 1718). British Library, T 11938 4.  noc

Hardly surprisingly, none of the original gold tokens is known to have survived. But tucked inside a manuscript volume of miscellanea in the British Library’s department of western manuscripts is a document with a tracing of the token granted to Bartholomew Swartz, supercargo of the Borneo. As part of the Harleian collection, this manuscript dates from before 1753, and was therefore probably drawn up not long after the return of the ship Borneo from the East Indies. The piece of paper is inscribed: 'The Contract with the Emperor of Borneo (in the East Indies). Mr. ... Swartz's Agent from the East India Comp. London. This was an agreement to settle & Trade or Commerce with full liberty to the Subjects of England or great Britain'. In the middle of the sheet of paper is a drawing of the token, which is labelled, 'This is on a gold plate, impressd. by the Emperor, almost as thinn as this paper, whereby it is plainly seen on the other side'.

A80069-44
Traced copy of the gold trading permit bearing the seal of Sultan Tahmidullah of Banjar, with a presentation inscription in Malay to Bartholomew Swartz dated 1714. British Library, Harley MS 6824, f. 194r.  noc

The outline of the original gold plate has been traced with a sharp implement, and the inscription on the seal and the token copied out in black ink. The scored outline shows that the gold plate was rectangular on the three lower sides but rounded at the top, and measured 87 mm high by 48 mm wide. Impressed at the top of the token was the round seal of the sultan, measuring 45 mm in diameter with a triple-ruled outline, with an inscription in the middle and in a border around the edge.

This drawing is doubly significant, not only as a record of a rare seal impressed in gold, but also because it depicts the oldest Islamic seal known from Borneo. In Malay seals, the main inscription giving the name of the seal owner is invariably located in the centre, while the border houses a secondary inscription, often religious in character. However, in this seal, the only logical way of reading the inscription is to proceed from the border inwards to the centre: Sultan Tahmidullah ibn Sultan Tahirullah ibn // al-Malik[?] Allah, ‘Sultan Tahmidullah, son of Sultan Tahidullah, son of // al-Malikullah’. [It is probably significant that the only other Malay seal known where the inscription should be read from the border inwards is also from Banjar.]

A80069-44
Detail of the drawing of the gold sealed trading permit. British Library, Harley MS 6824, f. 194r.  noc

Underneath the seal impression, the gold plate was inscribed in Malay in Jawi script with the date and the name of the recipient: Pada tahun zai pada bulan Zulkaidah hijrat [a]l-nabi seribu seratus enam tahun, Sultan Banjar mengasih cap kepada Batalomu Suwas, ‘In the year Zai, the month Zulkaidah, the year of the migration of the Prophet one thousand one hundred and six, the Sultan of Banjar gave this seal to Bartholomew Swartz’. Although the date on this copy is given as Zulkaidah 1106 (June/July 1695) it should, without doubt, read Zulkaidah 11[2]6 (November/December 1714), which accords exactly with the dates of the Borneo’s visit to Banjar.

No other reference is known to trading permits from the Malay archipelago in the form of gold tokens, and another East India Company ship, Dragon, which visited Banjarmasin in 1746 during the reign of Sultan Tahmidullah's son, Tamjidullah (r.1746-1756), received more conventional trading permits, written on paper in Malay in very stylish Jawi calligraphy, and bearing the sultan's seal stamped in red wax.

IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.65r-ed
Trading agreement for pepper issued by the Sultan of Banjar to the East India Company, received on 24 October 1746: 'This is our royal decree to Mr Butler, Mr Stewart and Captain Kent; as your trading vessels sail in and out we agree that they will not be searched; you must not allow any nobles or notables to board your ship, or anyone at night, and during daytime only two or three merchants may board (at any one time); and we promise the Company to supply six thousand pikul of pepper, this is not negotiable, and each year whether two or three ships come, it will be [only] six thousand' (Bahwa ini titah kami kepada Mister Butel dan Mister Asdut serta Kapitan Kin jikalau ada perahu masuk atau perahu keluar tiada kami berikan diperiksa yang jenis perahu dagang dan lagi pula kalau raja2 atau orang besar2 hendak bermain ke kapal jangan dinaikkan atau orang henda naik pada malam melainkan orang berdagang dua tiga orang beroleh naik pada hari siang dan akan perjanjian kita dengan Kompeni memuat lada enam ribu pikul tiada kita mengubahkan tiap2 tahun jikalau kapal datang dua atau tiga enam ribu jua). British Library, IOR L/Mar/C/324, f. 65r.  noc

IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.64r text-ed
Financial surety issued by the Sultan of Banjar, 1746: 'This is our surety issued to Mister Butler for the rials, valid only as far as Batavia; if Mister Butler does not return to Banjar our friendship with the East India Company will be revoked' (Bahwa ini surat kami akan Mister Butel mengganti rial itu sehingga ke Betawi saja, jikalau tiada kembali ke Banjar adalah Mister Butel menceraikan sahabat kami dengan Kompeni). British Library, IOR L/Mar/C/324, f. 64r.  noc

IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.64r, seal a   IOR-L-Mar-C-324, f.65r, seal
Two red wax seals bearing the name Sultan Tamjidullah, both inscribed from the bottom up so that the word Allah is elevated to the position of honour at the top of the seal. British Library, IOR L/Mar/324, f. 64r (left) and f. 65r (right).  noc


Further reading

A.T. Gallop & V. Porter, Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.

A.T. Gallop, Elevatio in Malay diplomatics, Annales Islamologiques.  Dossier: Les conventions diplomatiques dans le monde musulman.  L’umma en partage (1258-1517), ed. Marie Favereau.  41 (2007), pp. 41-57.

Malay manuscripts from Borneo

With thanks to Richard Morel who discovered the two permits of 1746.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork