From royal court to ancestral shrine: transposition of command documents in Early Chinese epigraphy
Keywords:Early China, bronze inscriptions, manuscripts, editorial practices, Western Zhou
While the earliest attested Chinese manuscripts date only from the late fifth century BC, bronze inscriptions cast between the tenth and eighth centuries BC provide abundant evidence of the administrative use of manuscripts at the royal court, especially during the appointment ceremonies in which the royal secretaries read out the king's command to the aristocratic elite. These command documents were sometimes quoted at length in inscriptions cast on the ritual bronze vessels by these appointees, who had them displayed in their ancestral shrines and used them in ancestral sacrifices and ensuing feasts. Based on the epigraphic evidence, this paper explores various aspects of manuscript production in the Western Zhou administration (1045--771 BC) and investigates the complex editorial process behind the textual transfer from the command documents onto bronze ritual paraphernalia. Through an analysis of various editorial approaches to the composition of bronze inscriptions, the value and status imputed to manuscripts by Western Zhou aristocracy has been further discussed. Such reconstruction of lost manuscript practices can enrich our understanding of textual production not only during the Western Zhou period but in Early China in general.
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