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The Evidence for Scribal Training at Anyang

Smith, Adam Daniel

The divination workshops at Anyang are the only late second millennium B.C.E. institutions from which we have evidence of the routine and intensive use of writing. These workshops trained their own scribes, and the remains of that training process -- including the so-called xíkè 習刻 (“practice engraving”) inscriptions -- have been repeatedly found at Anyang since the earliest excavations. Several authors have concluded that the trainees were previously fully literate and were learning to engrave on bone. This paper surveys the evidence and concludes that this is unlikely to be correct: scribal trainees in the divination workshops were acquiring the rudiments of literacy for the first time. That conclusion is compatible with a model of late second millennium Chinese literacy that sees writing as largely confined to the activities of a small number of individuals in the immediate entourage of the Shang kings.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Published Here
November 3, 2010


Writing and Literacy in Early China: Studies from the Columbia Early China Seminar, ed. Li Feng and David Prager Branner (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011).