The 200,000-strong characters written on the newly-discovered ancient bamboo slips in south China's Hunan Province will provide vital clues for the study of the evolutionary process of Chinese calligraphy, Chinese experts said.
The 20,000 bamboo slips, which belonged to the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC), were unearthed on June 4 from a well at Liye Village, Longshan County, Hunan. Some Chinese archaeologists said this could turn out to be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in modern China.
The founder of the Qin Dynasty, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who conquered six kingdoms to unify China, was the first ancient ruler to standardize the country's diversified writing styles. He ordered all his subjects in the Qin empire to write in Xiaozhuan, or the Lesser Seal Style.
However, most characters on the unearthed slips were written in Qin Li, or the official script of the Qin style. Li Jiahao, a professor of the Chinese language in the prestigious Peking University, said that Qin Li was actually derived from Xiaozhuan and was often used in official documents for convenience and clarity.
Hunan archaeologists have already found that most of the slips were official documents from Qin Dynasty government archives.
"These slips are of great significance for the study of the evolution of Chinese handwritings in the early stages," said Zhang Chunlong, an expert in the ancient Chinese language, who described the handwriting on the slips as "very pretty."
Guo Weimin, deputy director of the Hunan Provincial Archaeological Institute, said that the smooth writing style and rich variety of the slip characters indicated the high level of accomplishment in ancient Chinese calligraphy and can help modern Chinese calligraphers to improve their skills.
While only a small number of the slips had been cleaned and shown to experts and scholars, Yuan Jiarong, director of the Hunan Archaeological Institute, said researchers would later photograph all the slip characters and publish a book for calligraphy lovers worldwide.
(Xinhua News Agency July 31, 2002)