2006 Student-Faculty Fellows: Trinity University

Rethinking Early Chinese Civilization:
New Light from Excavated Chinese Manuscripts

bWen Xing, Modern Languages and Literatures
Students: John R. Bandy, ’06; Jennifer V. Rektorik, ’06; Brenda Teo; Daniel J. Williamson, ’07


Project Abstract

Excavated early Chinese manuscripts discovered in recent decades in China have changed our understandings of many aspects of early Chinese civilization. By interviewing the leading scholars in the field, visiting the archaeological sites, and observing original excavated bamboo, wood and silk manuscripts in the museums and archaeological institutions in China, the student researchers had much better understandings of both the archeological textual materials and the topics of their own individual research.

The group project was designed to involve Trinity students in the revision of Tombs, Texts, and Transcriptions: An Introduction to Excavated Chinese Texts, a textbook used in the upper level Chinese major course “Excavated Chinese Texts” at Trinity University.

In addition, students undertook research on individual projects related to various subjects related to traditional Chinese culture. John Bandy’s project serves to better understand the intricate relationship of power and art reflected on the Mogao caves. By examining the art of the Mogao caves, he tries to show how local powerful families curried imperial favor by using imperial themes in art to enhance their own local standing. Jennifer Rektorik’s project is to engage in a comparative study of principal aspects of Chinese food culture in a modern as well as an ancient context. She proposes that contemporary characteristics of Chinese food culture are founded upon several basic historical aspects, geography notwithstanding, including meal composition and preparation, ritual, and food philosophy. Brenda Teo’s project is to examine the development of Chinese culture through Chinese calligraphy in the light of excavated early Chinese manuscripts. The Clerical-script was conventionally thought to be invented during the Han Dynasty by a clerk. However, recent archeological findings suggest evidence that the Clerical-script was invented before the Han dynasty. By studying the evolution of Chinese calligraphy in her project, Brenda examines the development of Chinese culture. Daniel Williamson’s project is to examine the relationship between medicine, the cosmos, and daily life in China. Since there are many excavated medical documents that are previously unknown, new information on traditional Chinese medicine can be used to deepen our understanding of Chinese beliefs related to the cosmos and religion.

Wen Xing

We spent over five weeks in China’s six major cities with important historical significance, i.e., Shanghai, Changsha, Xi’an, Dunhuang, Beijing, and Wuhan; visited 13 museums, 14 archaeological and historical sites, 9 universities and research institutions, attended 1 major international conference on excavated manuscripts, and interviewed over a dozen leading scholars in the field. This research trip was a great success. For the group project, the students visited the actual archeological sites where some extremely important bamboo and silk manuscripts were excavated, and interviewed both the archaeologists and paleographers who excavated, transcribed and edited some of the texts. By asking questions of those experts and scholars…,the students had a great opportunity to further understand the classroom material. As for the individual projects, all the students had some impressive discoveries.

This trip has been very rewarding. Although I had traveled extensively in China, this project enabled me to visit some remote archaeological and historical sites, such as the remains of the Han dynasty Great Wall in the Northwest desert, where I perhaps will never go myself. Even for materials I am familiar with, such as the Mawangdui silk manuscripts, this was the first time I was able to observe a number of original pieces. This will further my personal professional development. In addition, the pictures and videos taken during the trip will be a very important addition to the teaching materials for my courses. Working with Trinity students so closely for an extended period also helped me understand them and better know their needs.

John R. Bandy
The Art of the Mogao Caves and the Power of the Tang

Wen Xing’s observations: John Bandy discovered that Dunhuang’s Buddhist grottoes contain a number of artistic works that served to further enhance the stability of this border town or secure the political standing of certain individuals or power families. The Zhai family depicted the emperor in their grotto to show their loyalty to the Tang rulers. On the other hand, Hongbian (a monk and governor of Dunhuang) and the Cao family used the elaborate quality of their grottoes to demonstrate to viewers their control of affairs in Dunhuang. The prevalence of such political themes suggests that Dunhuang was always potentially unstable.

John R. Bandy’s observations: The success and joy I received from this research trip has already influenced my choice of activities in the near future. In September 2006 I will contine Chinese language study in the International Chinese Language Program in Taipei. My plans to continue my language study in an intensive environment is due to my desire to enter graduate study … My studies of the art and what it suggests about political developments in Dunhuang have fueled my interest in Chinese history. Furthermore, my studies at Dunhuang have increased my awareness of the interconnectedness of the Asian continent.

Jennifer V. Rektorik
Yangsheng: Cultivating the Elements of Ancient and Modern Chinese Food Culture

Wen Xing’s observations: From ancient Chinese food vessels, texts, and artifacts that she observed in her trip to China, Jennifer Rektorik discovered that early on in Chinese history the concept of a close relationship between the human world and the supernatural world existed, as well as the need to maintain a relationship with ancestors through ritual that, among other things, featured food and drink. The progression of vessel design over the ages shows a link between the physical and spiritual realms in the minds of the ancient Chinese. Texts also point to the importance of food for maintaining health, which can be correlated to modern day principles of maintaining a balance in the body, heating and cooling foods, and yangsheng practices. The earliest written recipes on bamboo slips excavated from an early Han tomb provide rare evidence of the centrality of food to the Chinese.

Jennifer V. Rektorik’s observations: The five weeks I spent in China under our Freeman Foundation grant proved to be a challenging, educational, rewarding, and unforgettable experience. Our journey across China touched on two municipalities, five provinces, and traversed thousands of kilometers…My individual research project focused primarily on ancient Chinese food culture, as well as a comparison with modern food culture. Our participation in Wuhan at the International Symposium on New Discoveries of Chu Bamboo Slips…allowed me to observe the world of scholars in the field…and also afforded me a look into what my own future could hold.

Brenda Teo
The Development of the Clerical Script and Its Impact on Chinese Civilization

Wen Xing’s observations: Having worked on traditional Chinese calligraphy for years, she (Brenda Teo) was excited to have a first hand experience with original Chinese calligraphic works-excavated early manuscripts. By personally holding and viewing the original excavated bamboo and wood slips, she understood not only how ancient Chinese documents were written and produced but also the crucial process undertaken to preserve these ancient artifacts. Spending hours in the Forest of steles in Xi’an-the most important museum for the study of Chinese calligraphy-she understands much better the project she is working on and the calligraphy master pieces that she, as well as other Chinese calligraphy students, have studied.

Brenda Teo’s observations: This research project enabled me to truly grasp China’s culture in all its different aspects. Through visiting six different cities, all of which differ one from the other, I was able to observe China’s economic center, Shanghai, China’s religion, the Thousand Buddha Caves of Dunhuang, and numerous ancient Chinese historical sites such as the Terracotta Warriors, Mawangdui tomb, Forbidden City, and the Yue Lu Academy. In addition, staying at two of China’s university campuses, Hunan DaXue in Changsha and Wu Da in Wuhan, provided me with first hand experience of university life in China. This project introduced me to various cultural characteristics of China from Chinese dining etiquette to the better understanding of the importance of excavated artifacts.

Daniel J. Williamson
Chinese Medicine and Cosmology: Yin-Yang and the Five Phases

Wen Xing’s observations: Focusing on excavated medical documents, Daniel realized that a link between religious and medicinal texts has been established, especially evidenced in the materials discovered in the 2nd century B.C. Mawangdui tombs. These texts may also provide a new level of understanding of the link between ancient Chinese and their cosmos. Professor Cheng hopes to work with Daniel this fall to help him better discover the wealth of material about early Chinese medicine unearthed by them during their five weeks together in China.

Daniel J. Williamson’s observations: The one thing I took away from (my experience in China) is the certain knowledge that this is not a field I wish to work in. As a field of study itself, excavated texts are fascinating. I fully believe that study should continue in this area to explore the culture and history of ancient China. However, from what I saw the field is very narrow. The scholars who choose to take a more philosophical look at what is available tend to be Western, and I received the feeling that they were viewed with a bit of disdain.