Issue No 6: May 2003
Research growth continues
Quick reaction to SARS
Translation strategies lead to Chinese version of Buddhism
Database of 35 million characters helps scholars and writers
Confucius’ poetry collection delivers insights into symbolism
3D model smoothes problems in creating ultra-precision surfaces
Nano views of electrolyte behaviour
Sun block ‘skin’ applied to textiles
Greater efficiency for clean building formula
Spin-offs from world’s smallest nanotube
New generation of electrical ceramics

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 Hong Kong.
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.
The research 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.
Apart from 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 major dictionaries.”
Ninety per 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.
“Excavated 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:
Jiaguwen (tortoise 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.
Jinwen (bronze-script), 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.
“Jinwen 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 (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.”

Principal Investigator
Dr Fong-ching Chen :

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.

Jiaguwen text on a thigh bone.
A bronze bell with inscription.
Rubbing from a bronze cooking vessel.
Paleographer Wang Yirong (1845-1900) who discovered Jiaguwen.