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Bamboo Slips Unearthed to 'Revive' the Qin Dynasty
About 20,000 bamboo slips dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC) have been recently excavated in Liye ancient town of Longshan County, western Hunan Province. The slips, depicting letters sent to Dongting Lake, multiplication tables and monthly consumption figures for army provisions, vividly “revive” the history of the Qin Dynasty in words.

In mid-April this year, Hunan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology started digging along the riverbanks to salvage cultural relics from the ongoing construction of the Wanmipo Hydropower Station. A rich variety of relics belonging to different periods have been found in the inner part, outer part, walls and moats of the ancient city. It was initially concluded that the town flourished from the Warring States Period (475BC-221BC) to the Qin and Han (206BC-220AD) dynasties.

Many pits have been found in the town. The No.1 pit, having been excavated, was first built in the Warring States Period and abandoned at the end of the Qin Dynasty. The pit mouth is three meters from the ground and the pit is 14.28 meters deep.

At the beginning of June, the unearthing and collation work started. The excavated relics include common things in life such as fruit cores, animal bones and wooden shovel, stake, mallet, wedge and cudgel. There are also some articles woven from bamboo strips, shoes and ropes made from fibrous crops, pottery arched tiles and plate tiles, pots and beans. The metal tools include knife, axe, hammer, arrowhead, awl, sword, hook, urn and iron and bronze wires.

The most important part of the unearthed relics is bamboo slips. They first appeared at the fifth level of the pit (3.8 meters deep) and continued until the 17th level. Some are together, while others are separated. An initial estimation shows there are at least 20,000 said to carry over 200,000 words.

The contents are mainly archives of government offices, covering all aspects of society, politics, economy and culture. They recorded the post, military equipment, arithmetic, big events, administrative establishment, official posts and ethnic groups at that time. The places mentioned include Qianling, Dongting (Prefecture), Linyuan, Yiyang, Youyang, Yuanling and Yangling; and the official posts include Sikong (minister of public works) and Simacheng (minister of defense), attached to which are usually names of persons who once held the posts.

“This is an encyclopedic logbook with extreme significance. It is the first time that bamboo slips dating back so early, in such a large number and with so great importance have been found in China. It is the second astonishing discovery about the Qin Dynasty following the unearthing of terra-cotta warriors in Xi’an [capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province]. The potential academic value is unprecedented,” said Guo Weimin, deputy director of Hunan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Since the first bamboo slip was found at Liye ancient town on June 4, it has attracted much attention from scholars. China unearthed no more than 2,000 bamboo slips in the 20th century. This is the first time that over 20,000 bamboo slips dating from the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC) and Western Han Dynasty (206BC-25AD) were discovered at one time, said Gao Chongwen, head of the School of Archaeology of Peking University, in great excitement.

The Qin Dynasty, started in 221BC, led China’s feudal society. The first emperor Qin Shihuang had a lot of precious books burnt and Confucian scholars buried alive. Therefore, few records are left about the administrative system of the Qin Dynasty and fewer about social life during this period.

(Xinhua News Agency, translated by Li Jinhui, July 19, 2002)

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