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  • Christopher J. Foster (a1)


The Qin jiandu yanjiu 秦簡牘研究 (Research on Qin strips) book series, edited by Chen Wei 陳偉, presents important findings from the “Comprehensive Arrangement and Study of the Qin Bamboo Slip Manuscripts” research project. Organized thematically into five volumes, detailed case studies on newly unearthed Qin texts address issues in institutional history, law, geography, mantic arts, and linguistics. The Qin jiandu yanjiu series supplements the Qin jiandu heji 秦簡牘合集 (Corpus of Qin documents written on bamboo and wood) and Liye Qin jiandu jiaoshi (diyi juan) 里耶秦簡牘校釋(第一卷) (Annotated transcriptions of the Liye Qin strips (volume one)) reference works, and indirectly serves as a state of the field for Qin manuscript studies.




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1 This was a PRC Ministry of Education Philosophy and Social Science Research Key Project, entitled “Qin jiandu de zonghe zhengli yu yanjiu” 秦簡牘的綜合整理與研究 [Comprehensive arrangement and study of the Qin bamboo slip manuscripts] (No.08JZD0036). Translation for the project name is taken from Wei, Chen 陳偉 et al., Qin jiandu zhengli yu yanjiu 秦簡牘整理與研究 [An arrangement and study of the Qin bamboo slip manuscripts] (Beijing: Jingji kexue, 2017), “English Abstract,” 1. More on this book is provided in the penultimate paragraph of this review. For the sake of convenience, the term “strips” will be used as a general reference not only to jian 簡, but also to the other textual-carrier types discovered, most notably du 牘 tablets.

2 Wei, Chen 陳偉 ed., Liye Qin jiandu jiaoshi (diyi juan) 里耶秦簡牘校釋(第一卷) (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2012); Wei, Chen 陳偉, ed., Qin jiandu heji 秦簡牘合集 (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2014). Qin jiandu heji includes four volumes in six parts, and covers finds from Shuihudi 睡虎地 M4 and M11, Longgang 龍崗 M6, Haojiaping 郝家坪 M50, Zhoujiatai 周家臺 M30, Yueshan 嶽山 M36, and Fangmatan 放馬灘 M1. The English rendering here for Qin jiandu heji’s title is taken from Olivier Venture, “Wei, Chen 陳偉 (ed.), Qin jiandu heji 秦簡牘合集 [Corpus of Qin documents written on bamboo and wood]: A Review Article,” Early China 39 (2016), 255–63. A revised edition of Qin jiandu heji was published in 2016. See zhongxin, Wuhan daxue jianbo yanjiu, et al., eds., Qin jiandu heji: shiwen zhushi xiudingben 秦簡牘合集:釋文注釋修訂本, 4 vols. (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2016). This edition features only the annotated transcriptions; it does not include photographs. The order in which the seven caches of Qin strips are presented is also reorganized according to the locations where each was excavated. Chen Wei states that approximately two hundred corrections were made in the transcriptions and their annotations. See his “Foreword to the Revised Edition.”

3 Venture, “Chen Wei 陳偉 (ed.), Qin jiandu heji 秦簡牘合集,” 255. For another review of Qin jiandu heji, in French, see Kalinowski, Marc, “Qin jiandu heji 秦簡牘合集 [Compendium des manuscrits Qin sur lamelles de bambou et tablettes de bois]. Sous la direction de Chen Wei 陳偉. 4 tomes, 7 volumes. Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2014,” T’oung Pao 102.1–3 (2016), 217–24.

4 Wei, Chen 陳偉, Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaocha 秦簡牘校讀及所見制度考察 (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2017), “Xu 序,” 2.

5 See Hunan sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiu suo, Liye Qin jian (er) 里耶秦簡(貳) (Beijing: Wenwu, 2017) and Songchang, Chen 陳松長, Yuelu shuyuan cang Qin jian (wu) 岳麓書院藏秦簡(伍) (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu, 2017). For an overview of the Peking University Qin collection see Beijing daxue chutu wenxian yanjiu suo, “Beijing daxue cang Qin jiandu gaishu 北京大學藏秦簡牘概述,” Wenwu 文物 2012.6, 65–73. Introductions to a few individual texts may be found in the same issue of Wenwu. Additional information has been released subsequently across various platforms. For one example see Fenghan, Zhu 朱鳯瀚, “Beida cang Qin jian Jiaonü chushi” 北大藏秦簡教女初試, Beijing daxue xuebao (zhexue shehui kexue ban) 北京大學學報(哲學社會科學版) 52.2 (2015), 515. For the Shuihudi Han strips, see Xiong Beisheng et al., “Hubei Yunmeng Shuihudi 77 hao Xi-Han chutu jiandu gaishu” 湖北雲夢睡虎地77號西漢出土簡牘概述, Wenwu 文物 2018.3, 43–53, and n. 16 below.

6 For example, in Liye Qin jiandu jiaoshi (diyi juan), the character “guai 夬,” in the formula initially given as “lun yan guai 論言夬,” is instead transcribed as “shi 史.” This was read as “affairs (事),” with “yanshi 言事” taken as a phrase meaning “the matters discussed.” See Chen, Liye Qin jiandu jiaoshi (diyi juan), 46–7, n. 8 to strip #8–61+8–293+8–2012. Wu Wenling, in Qin lü yanjiu 秦律研究, argues however that this was a mistake, and that the correct transcription was the original “guai 夬.” This conclusion is based on both an analysis of character form and a survey of word usage. She believes that “guai 夬” should be read as “jue 決” or “decide,” and interprets the formula as “sentence (them) and report the decision.” See Shihong, Xu 徐世虹, et al., Qin lü yanjiu 秦律研究 (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2017), 34–8.

7 An initial archaeological report for the Tuzishan site may be found at Zhang Chunlong 張春龍, et al., “Hunan Yiyang Tuzishan yizhi jiuhao jing fajue jianbao” 湖南益陽兔子山遺址九號井發掘簡報, Wenwu 文物 2016.5, 32–48. Updated transcriptions and photographs for the Qin Ershi yuannian shiyue jiawu zhaoshu 秦二世元年十月甲午詔書 [Edict issued on the jiawu day of the tenth month of Second Emperor’s first year] tablet from this site have been published online on the Hunan Provincial Institute of Archaeology website: “Yiyang Tuzishan yizhi chutu jiandu (yi)” 益陽兔子山遺址出土簡牘(一),, accessed June 30, 2018.

8 In Chen Wei’s Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaocha, citations are provided for previous publications, listed roughly in the order that they appear in this new publication. In the other books, there is a more detailed itemization for which chapters or sections include what reprinted material, sometimes also with brief notes on the extent to which the old material was edited. Fangmatan Qin jian ji Yuelu Qin jian Meng shu yanjiu is particularly clear in this regard. On a few occasions, previous publications are not found in the afterword, but are cited within the text itself. In discussing the books below, I will not enumerate prior publications.

9 Chen Wei 陳偉, “Yuelu shuyuan Qin jian Yaolü de jige wenti” 岳麓書院秦簡徭律的幾個問題, Wenwu 文物 2014.9, 82–4; Wei, Chen, “A Few Issues Regarding the Statutes on Corvée Labor in the Yuelu Academy Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts,” trans. Foster, Christopher J., Chinese Cultural Relics 2.1–2 (2015), 275–82. The Yaolü articles in the Yuelu Academy collection were published in Songchang, Chen 陳松長, Yuelu shuyuan cang Qin jian (si) 岳麓書院藏秦簡(肆) (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu, 2015), 116–20, 149–53.

10 Specifically, “zui 罪” was adopted between the fifth month of the First Emperor’s thirtieth year and the sixth month of his thirty-fourth year; “nubi 奴婢” is found between the eighth month of the First Emperor’s twenty-eighth year and either the tenth month of his thirty-first year or the sixth month of his thirty-second year; and “fa 發” appears in this usage between the sixth and tenth month of the First Emperor’s thirtieth year.

11 To demonstrate this point, Chen Wei argues that the Liye 里耶 “household registry board (戶版)” most likely dates to before the sixth month of the First Emperor’s thirty-second year (Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaocha, 16–17). Chen warns, however, that shifts in official terminology may not have been applied evenly across different text types (pp. 17–18). On this point, see also n. 22 below. For two other detailed conversations related to dating unearthed manuscripts and their contents, see Chen, Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaocha, 94–97, and 223–27.

12 The address “zuren 卒人” potentially served as a counterpart to “lingshi 令史” in commandery-level documents. Wu Wenling makes a similar discovery for “shou 守” and “zhu 主” in the Liye legal texts, see below.

13 Chen believes that dependents occupied a low social standing and held little sway over other family members’ actions. Dependents were therefore not held mutually liable for the crimes of family members, as they were unable to influence the guilty party to act otherwise.

14 Other texts in the miscellaneous category include the Shuihudi Ye shu 葉書 [Generational records] (alt. Biannian ji 編年紀), Yuelu Academy Weili zhiguan ji qianshou 為吏治官及黔首 [Being a good official who governs the state and its people], and the Tuzishan Qin Ershi yuannian shiyue jiawu zhaoshu. Yan Changgui disagrees with Chen’s analysis for Hewai 河外; see esp. Changgui, Yan 晏昌貴, Qin jiandu dili yanjiu (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2017), 4142.

15 Xu argues that fundamental work remains to be done in reconstructing Qin law, with questions lingering about the organization of the statutes and ordinances, or even about the basic mechanics of the penal system. She moreover emphasizes that it is primarily through the continued explication of legal terminology and texts that we may expose legislative intent, and ultimately the guiding principles behind Qin jurisprudence. Yet a hermeneutical challenge is raised by relying in part on legal texts excavated from tombs (such as with the Shuihudi cache), as they might not represent the “original appearance” of the law as it was practiced. The research presented in Qin lü yanjiu, as Xu herself states, aptly responds to these challenges. See Qin lü yanjiu, Foreword, 3–5.

16 Wu includes the Zhangjiashan 張家山 Han strips in his survey as well. No mention is made, however, of the forthcoming Shuihudi M77 Han strips. See Hubei sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiu suo, “Hubei Yunmeng Shuihudi M77 fajue jianbao” 湖北雲夢睡虎地M77發掘簡報, Jiang Han kaogu 江漢考古 2008.4, 31–37, color plates 11–16; Beisheng, Xiong 熊北生, “Hubei Yunmeng Shuihudi M77 Xi-Han jiandu” 湖北雲夢睡虎地M77西漢簡牘, in 2008 Zhongguo zhongyao kaogu faxian 2008 中國重要考古發現, ed. wenwuju, Guojia (Beijing: Wenwu, 2009), 102–6; and Xiong et al., “Hubei Yunmeng Shuihudi 77 hao Xi-Han chutu jiandu gaishu,” 43–53. The new preliminary report for Haojiaping M50 is also not listed, see Sichuan sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiuyuan and Qingchuan wenwu guanlisuo ed., “Sichuan Qingchuan Haojiaping Zhanguo muqun M50 fajue jianbao” 四川青川郝家坪戰國墓群 M50 發掘簡報, Sichuan wenwu 四川文物 2014.3, 13–9. Olivier Venture cites this in “Chen Wei 陳偉 (ed.), Qin jiandu heji 秦簡牘合集,” 260, n. 8. Qin lü yanjiu was prepared before the publication of the second volume of the Liye Qin strips and the fifth volume of the Yuelu Academy Qin strips, cited in n. 5 above. Western scholarship on Qin law is largely ignored in Wu’s survey, though see n. 35 below.

17 See n. 6 above.

18 Only A. F. P. Hulsewé’s Remnants of Ch’in Law and a translation of Yang Lien-sheng’s Studies in Chinese Institutional History appear in the bibliography, while Katrina C. D. McLeod and Robin D. S. Yates’ “Forms of Ch’in Law,” in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, is mentioned in passing on pp. 3–4. See below, however, as this oversight is remedied in part by the Qin jiandu zhengli yu yanjiu 秦簡牘整理與研究 paperback volume.

19 Yan also hypothesizes that the rapid expansion of the Qin empire led to a shortage of experienced officials who could govern all of the new territory, contributing to the Qin’s demise. See Yan, Qin jiandu dili yanjiu, 188. This echoes Chen Wei’s discussion of how Qin administrators needed to be competent in mathematics, in order to calculate all the data now routinely collected on an unprecedented scale. Complaints about “shortages of officials (缺吏)” are seen often in the Qin administrative documents, suggesting that there were not enough personnel trained in necessary skills such as mathematics to manage the growing empire effectively. See Chen, Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaocha, 165. I intend “paperwork empire” here only as an imprecise approximation for Yan’s “wenshu xingzheng 文書行政”; “paperwork,” taken literally, is obviously anachronistic for this period.

20 Yan offers a few more details about the correction of “shang 上” for “beifang 北方” on map #2, based on the infrared photography. See Yan, Qin jiandu dili yanjiu, 305–6. Sun Zhanyu also often credits these new photographs in his reconstruction of the Fangmatan 放馬灘 daybook material. See Sun Zhanyu 孫占宇 and Jialiang, Lu 魯家亮, Fangmatan Qin jian ji Yuelu Qin jian Meng shu yanjiu 放馬灘秦簡及岳麓秦簡夢書研究 (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2017), 1433.

21 Rishu jia 日書甲 did not require the same degree of attention, as much of its material correlates to content already seen in the Qin Shuihudi and Han Kongjiapo 孔家坡 daybooks. For the loaning, Sun gives sixty unique cases, updating his previous article by adding tai 台 : shi 始, shang 賞 : chang 嘗, xi 谿 : xi 豯, fa 灋 : fei 廢, and ye 枼 : shi 世, while eliminating wu 橆 : wu 舞 (Sun mistakenly states that he added only four cases in the afterword). See Mo Chao 莫超, Sun Zhanyu 孫占宇, and Feng Yu 馮玉, “Fangmatan Qin jian tongjiazi 56 li” 放馬灘秦簡通假字56例, Lanzhou daxue xuebao (shehui Kexue ban) 蘭州大學學報(社會科學版), 2016.5, 134–42. Sun argues that punctuation was standardized already in these texts, but only employed in a casual manner. It seems to be used primarily for signaling divisions in textual units, as opposed to guiding manner of speech. Although one punctuation mark may be used in multiple ways, this is often just the application of a general function to different levels of text (such as a dot dividing either sections, chapters, or texts). Multiple punctuation marks may also have overlapping functions, but again there is often a separation of tasks (for instance, with squares used to divide larger units of texts than dots).

22 Sun’s refined dates of 219–210 b.c.e. follow Chen Wei’s study of the name taboo for “zheng 正,” though he qualifies his conclusion, since it is uncertain whether daybooks would adhere to the same writing conventions mandated for official documents. Sun also disregards the controversial date “banian bayue jisi 八年八月己巳” (“In the eighth year, in the eighth month, on a jisi day”) found in the Dan 丹 [Resurrection of Dan] manuscript, as he believes that in an occult resurrection tale details of this sort could have been included only for strategic rhetorical effect, and thus may not have any historical basis or bearing on the dating of the Fangmatan strips. Chen Wei offers a similar warning for dating different text types, and also weighs in on the dating of the Fangmatan daybook materials in particular. See Chen, Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaochao, 18.

23 Providing accurate English translations for these divination systems proves difficult. For instance, Jian Chu 建除 can be rendered literally as “Establish-Remove.” See for instance Harper, Donald and Kalinowski, Marc eds., Books of Fate and Popular Culture in Early China (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 7. This reflects in part the types of activities deemed auspicious on a given day. Sun however also treats Jian and Chu as the proper names of deities. Another example is Taisui 太歲, which is featured in two different systems, as a counterpart either to Jupiter on the one hand, or to Little Year (小歲) on the other (corresponding to Big Season [大時] or Xianchi 咸池).

24 See Sun Zhanyu 孫占宇, Juyan Xinjian jishi (yi) 居延新簡集釋(一), Gansu Qin Han jiandu jishi 甘肅秦漢簡牘集釋 series, ed. Zhang Defang 張德芳 (Lanzhou: Gansu wenhua, 2016). Han period daybook materials are mentioned occasionally throughout Fangmatan Qin jian ji Yuelu Qin jian Meng shu yanjiu, including those from the Xuanquanzhi 懸泉置 cache (pp. 156–57) and Ejina Banner cache (p. 266).

25 For example, when relying on content clues alone, Lu believes that we must prioritize the relationship between the nature of the dreams as they are described (aka the “dream images [夢象]”), and only then should turn to the phrasing of prognostications (aka the “divination decisions [占斷]”). Later works, such as the Zhou Gong jie meng shu 周公解夢書 [The Duke of Zhou’s manual for interpreting dreams] manuscript witnesses found in Dunhuang, may serve as a guide for how dreams were organized according to their subject matter. Prognostications employing similar phrasing may have appeared close together, but prognostications statements with exactly the same wording most likely were separated to some degree.

26 Chen Wei argues in Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaocha that the final strip in the initial arrangement of Yuelu Academy Meng shu, strip #48 (1095), should be moved to after strip #1 (1523+1522), with the two strips together concluding the opening section of the text, following strips #2–5. See Chen, Qin jiandu jiaodu ji suojian zhidu kaocha, 322–24. Lu Jialiang takes advantage of Chen Wei’s rearrangement when he suggests that strip #44 (0009) could have been positioned at the very end of the manuscript.

27 Strip #38 (J50 recto, row 1) specifies the dreamer must be a female; see also the discussion on p. 283 about strip #15 (1527 recto, row 2) which records: “[He] dreamt that [he] became a woman 夢為女子.” Strip #8 (0312 recto, row 2) requires the dreamer to be an official. Lu points out that other texts from this cache, such as Weili zhiguan ji qianshou, clearly are oriented towards the officialdom as well.

28 For example, Lu finds “mengjian 夢見X” statements to be terse and more formulaic, while “meng 夢X” statements range from detailed descriptions to simple abbreviations of “zhi 之.” He believes that the latter are unedited reports direct from the dreamer, which have not yet undergone editing. Simplifying the dream images to their principle content (such as featuring a certain kind of plant or animal) makes dream divination more accessible to non-specialists. To improve the efficacy of prognostications, conditions were placed on the circumstances surrounding the dream experience (like when it was had, or who the dreamer was), while predictions then mostly involved common events or people. Often long time-frames were proposed for when the predicted events would be realized, even up to three years.

29 Although Yi lists out plentiful examples for the function words and sentence types he analyzes, understandably he cannot always present every single occurrence, especially for common particles like “yi 以.” This makes it difficult to evaluate the overall counts given. For comparisons against patterns in the received corpus, Yi generally relies on data compiled by others, especially He Leshi 何樂士, Zuo zhuan xuci yanjiu 左傳虛詞研究, revised edition (Beijing: Shangwu, 2004).

30 In the daybook materials, “fu 弗” negations appear in either part of complex sentences, and the verbs following after “fu 弗” tend to take more abbreviated objects. In the Yuelu Academy Weili zhiguan ji qianshou manuscript, “fu 弗” negation appears to close a sentence, but in fact the apodosis has been left unstated. For another example, see the extended comparison of “ke 可” and “keyi 可以” usage between daybooks and other text types. Qiang, Yi 伊強, Qin jian xuci ji jushi kaocha 秦簡虛詞及句式考察 (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue, 2017), 96113.

31 Yi cites two examples, from the first and second Juyan discoveries, where the phrase “guosuo過所” follows directly after the verb “yi 移” “to forward.” The implied object for “yi 移,” typically a “passport (傳)” or another type of document, is left unstated. Moreover, a preposition of place (like “yu 于”) is dropped from before “guosuo 過所” as well. Yi’s research into the “suo 所” auxiliary on Qin strips suggests that the construction “V⋅所+N” was less commonly encountered than “所⋅V+N” in early manuscripts. Without the explicit guidance of a preposition like “yu 于” as a reminder that “guosuo 過所” described a place via the “V⋅所+N” formula, the phrase was assumed to be the object of “yi 移” and therefore became the name of a document type.

32 Wei, Chen 陳偉 et al., Qin jiandu zhengli yu yanjiu 秦簡牘整理與研究 [An arrangement and study of the Qin bamboo slip manuscripts] (Beijing: Jingji kexue, 2017). The English title is taken from the volume itself.

33 Chen Wei 陳偉, “Guanyu Qin yu Han chu ‘ru qian xiang zhong’ lü de jige wenti” 關於秦與漢初‘入錢缿中’律的幾個問題, Kaogu 考古 2012.8, 69–79; Hao, Peng 彭浩, “Qin he Xi Han zaoqi jiandu zhong de liangshi jiliang” 秦和西漢早期簡牘中的糧食計量, in Chutu wenxian yanjiu 出土文獻研究, vol. 11 (Shanghai: Zhongxi, 2012), 194204; Li Tianhong 李天虹, “Qin Han shifenji shizhi zonglun” 秦漢時分紀時制總論, Kaogu xuebao 考古學報 2012.3, 289–314. Citations for reprints is provided in the afterword to Qin jiandu zhengli yu yanjiu as well.

34 Kalinowski, Marc, “Musique et harmonie calendaire à la fin des Royaumes Combattants: Les livres des jours de Fangmatan (239 avant J.-C.),” Études chinoises 30 (2011), 99138.

35 Each overview was published previously in Jianbo 簡帛, but has been edited for this book. While the survey of Japanese scholarship on Qin strips is the most extensive, in the context of the Qin jiandu yanjiu series, the overview for Western scholarship is perhaps more necessary, as Western language works are underrepresented throughout. As noted in the afterword, the overview and bibliography for Western scholarship was updated to include works published through 2013, and it is comprehensive for this timeframe. This unfortunately misses important recent contributions however, particularly in regard to Qin and early Han law. See, for instance, Anthony Barbieri-Low and Robin D. S. Yates, Law, State, and Society in Early Imperial China: A Study with Critical Edition and Translation of the Legal Texts from Zhangjiashan Tomb No. 247, 2 vols., Sinica Leidensia 126 (Leiden: Brill, 2015) and Ulrich Lau and Thies Staack, Legal Practice in the Formative Stages of the Chinese Empire: An Annotated Translation of the Exemplary Qin Criminal Cases form the Yuelu Academy Collection, Sinica Leidensia 130 (Leiden: Brill, 2016).



  • Christopher J. Foster (a1)


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