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PastimesFrom Art and Antiquarianism to Modern Chinese Historiography$
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Shana J. Brown

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780824834982

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824834982.001.0001

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The Discovery of the Oracle Bone Inscriptions

The Discovery of the Oracle Bone Inscriptions

(p.87) 5 The Discovery of the Oracle Bone Inscriptions

Shana J. Brown

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter examines the discovery of the oracle bone inscriptions in 1899. Oracle bone inscriptions are among the oldest Chinese historical sources, with an estimated age of up to some 4,000 years. Carved onto a variety of surfaces, they predate the earliest bronze texts by centuries and record the results of divination ceremonies conducted at the behest of the Shang kings. The discovery of the oracle bone inscriptions reflects the state of the jinshi field at a time when artifact studies was beginning to take root and generating interest from historians. This chapter first considers the debate among scholars over who discovered the oracle bones before turning to Sun Yirang, a jinshi scholar who made the first attempt to study oracle bone inscriptions systematically. In particular, it discusses Sun Yirang's use of bone oracle inscriptions to study the “evolution” of Chinese politics and society. It also looks at theories regarding the Sage Kings and concludes by assessing Luo Zhenyu's research suggesting that the oracle bones were genuine artifacts from the Shang Dynasty.

Keywords:   oracle bones, inscriptions, Sage Kings, jinshi, artifact studies, Sun Yirang, Chinese politics, Luo Zhenyu, artifacts, Shang Dynasty

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