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Rare, Ancient Characters Saved
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As one of the initiatives to save Shuishu, the peculiar pictographic characters of the Shui ethnic group of China, an exhibition hall where visitors can get an all-round understanding of the Shui culture is being constructed in southern Guizhou Province and is expected to open to the public in July, Xinhuanet.com reported on April 4.


The intriguing Shui characters used by the ancient Shui ethnic group, are in danger of being lost as most modern Shui people don’t know how to read the characters any more.  


In one sense, Shui pictographic characters, with their very long history, are regarded as something of a “living fossil”. Books written in Shui characters are like “encyclopedias” of the ethnic group as they have recorded many things including astronomy, geography, religion, folk-customs, ethics, philosophy, aesthetics and law.


To preserve this “living fossil”, government departments in local areas of Guizhou inhabited by the Shui people have set up various research institutes in recent years and allocated funds and manpower to the project. The unofficial purchase and sale of the books written in Shui characters have been curbed thanks to protective regulations issued by the local governments.


The staff of local research institutes have collected over 10,000 Shuishu book manuscripts from among local inhabitants over the past several years. The total number of written Shui characters can’t be calculated at present. However, more than 400 characters have been decoded by experts. If their variant forms are taken into account, more than 2,000 Shui characters have been identified.


Pan Zhongxi, head of the Shui Culture Institute of the Shui Ethnic Autonomous County of Sandu in Guizhou, said the manuscripts of six Shuishu books in four volumes with 500,000 words have already been completed and discussions about their publication are under way. Researchers are now busy translating a new batch of books which are expected to be published next year, Pan added.


Previously China officially published two books of Shuishu with translation and annotations.


(China.org.cn translated by Zhang Tingting, April 9, 2006)

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