A database totalling
about 35 million Chinese characters, some of them ancient scripts used
more than 3,000 years ago, is now available on Internet, and in CD-ROM
and printed formats, thanks to researchers at The Chinese University of
Some of the
oldest characters, discovered by archeologists over the years, and were
inscribed on tortoise shells, ox bones, bronze vessels and implements.
Others were written on silk and wooden or bamboo sticks.
project was started by Prof D C Lau and Dr Fong-ching Chen in 1988. They
were joined by Prof Jao Tsung-I in 1994.
Dr Chen who
coordinated a project team of 12 from1998 up to last year said: As
well as publishing about 80 printed concordances of texts, we integrated
a diverse range of previously constructed databases into a unified system
based on Windows and HTML formats.
Most of the
work was done by Prof Che-wah Ho, on transmitted texts, and Ms Jianhua
Shen on excavated texts.
technical computer work, the research mainly consisted of selecting the
right editions of the texts, and then studying and emending the texts,
or otherwise revising the interpretation of the ancient scripts.
Said Dr Chen:
In the end it comes down to scholarly judgment. But of course we
consulted a large number of authoritative reference materials including
cent of the database consists of transmitted text which has
been handed down from generation to generation. The remaining 10 per cent
is excavated text, characters found on artifacts made more
than 2,000 years ago.
texts are mostly written in ancient scripts which are very different from
those we use today. said Dr Chen. They come from three main sources:
shell and bone-script). Text from about 50,000 pieces of tortoise shells
and ox bones are included in the database. As well as confirming
written Chinese history of the Shang Dynasty, these texts which are mainly
oracular records give us a good idea of the society at the time,
said Dr Chen.
Many of the
jiagu shells and bone pieces were found during the golden age of Chinese
archeology around 1928-37 in large Shang dynasty tombs and other sites
dating back to 1300BC.
inscriptions found on bronze vessels and implements of which about 12,000
are documented in the database. The earliest also date back to around
1300BC. Most, though, are from the period 1,000BC to 200BC.
scripts have a lot of variations because they cover more than 1,000 years,
and are from a wide area. But they still have basic similarities,
said Dr Chen.
Jianbo, or documents
written on wooden or bamboo strips dating to Warring State and Han periods,
that is, between about 475BC and 200AD. Some are books on geography, medicine,
and law. Others are instructions to military outposts.
About 20 educational
institutions from around the world have so far subscribed to access the
database through Internet at http://www.chant.org
(CHANT is shortform for CHinese ANcient Texts).
Said Dr Chen:
The work will help scholars, writers and others to quickly refer
to ancient texts and characters while leaving them more time to concentrate
on the work they are doing.
Dr Fong-ching Chen : firstname.lastname@example.org
The first complete and up-to-date database of ancient Chu scripts is being
compiled in an on-going project at The University of Hong Kong. When complete,
the database will be available online to researchers around the world.
text on a thigh bone.
bronze bell with inscription.
from a bronze cooking vessel.
Wang Yirong (1845-1900) who discovered Jiaguwen.