Digital Resources for Chinese Bronze Research: The Academia Sinica Collection (Part 2)

Part I of this two-part assessment of the Academia Sinica’s bronze inscription research tools examined key features of the ‘Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database’ (殷周金文暨青銅器資料庫): the search function, the database transcription conventions, and the missing graph system. In this second part, we turn to another of Sinica’s major bronze research tools, the ‘Shang Zhou Bronzeware Geographical Information System‘ (殷周青銅器地理資訊系統), which the editors suggest might support future research into regional inscription styles, clan migrations, and elite marriage networks. Additionally, I will also review two other Sinica databases providing alternative points of entry into bronze inscription research: the ‘The Lexicon of Pre-Qin Oracle Bone Inscriptions, Bronze Inscriptions, and Bamboo and Wooden Documents’ (先秦甲骨金文簡牘詞彙資料庫), and the ‘Bronze Inscription-Related Publications Database’ (金文關係文獻資料庫). 

Shang Zhou Bronzeware GIS (殷周青銅器地理資訊系統)

Developed in collaboration with Academia Sinica Geographic Information Science Research Centre, Sinica’s GIS system links inscribed bronzes with geospatial excavation site data to create a comprehensive and searchable map of inscribed bronzes. In line with Sinica’s overall ‘ecosystem’ structure, this GIS system is seamlessly integrated into the ‘Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database’ (殷周金文暨青銅器資料庫), allowing users to move quickly and conveniently between transcriptions and geospatial data. To access excavation site data for a provenienced bronze, users can click on the icon under the ‘excavation site’ (chutu didian 出土地點) information provided in the Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The G icon
Figure 2. GIS layer options and mapping tools

The panel on the left (Figure 2) provides historical-geographical layers (tu ceng 土層) for the Shang, Zhou, Spring and Autumns Period, and Warring States Period, a built-in Google Maps search panel (didian chaxun 地圖查詢), and drawing and measuring tools (huitu yu celiang 繪圖與測量), among other features. The panel on the right (Figure 3) can be used to search inscribed bronzes by period, province, excavation site, jicheng number, and name (but not inscriptional content).

Figure 3. GIS search tools

In some cases, the icon is accompanied by a icon (Figure 4), which opens an illustrated site-maps highlighting the bronze’s exact location within the context of its excavation site (tomb, hoard, etc.). Thus, clicking on the icon for ‘Fu Hao Triplicate Yan-steamers highlights their location in the northeastern corner of the Late Shang consort Lady Fu Hao’s tomb. Inscribed bronzes from the same tomb are listed on the left and highlighted in blue. This feature provides a highly convenient alternative to determining a bronze’s location within a site or tomb using its original archaeological site report.

Figure 4. The P icon
Figure 5. Bronze location highlighted in Fu Hao’s tomb

Alternatively, researchers interested in the geographic spread of inscribed bronzes from a particular period may prefer to begin their investigations in GIS window itself, making use of the search panel on the right handside (time period, province, excavation site, jicheng number, bronzeware name). Results are displayed as site pins providing hyperlinks to bronze entries in the ‘Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database.’

Figure 6. Geographic spread of inscribed bronzes from the Warring States Period
Figure 7. Site pin hyperlinks to the Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database

The Lexicon of Pre-Qin Oracle Bone Inscriptions, Bronze Inscriptions, and Bamboo and Wooden Documents (先秦甲骨金文簡牘詞彙資料庫) 

Two additional research tools in the Sinica collection provide alternative entry points for bronze research. The first, the ‘Lexicon of Pre-Qin Oracle, Bronze Inscriptions and Bamboo Scripts’ (先秦甲骨金文簡牘詞彙資料庫), will be of interest to all scholars of Early Chinese text – it contains textual material from a vast collection of 44,000 oracle bone fragments, 14,000 bronze inscriptions, and excavated bamboo and silk texts. The database offers two search functions (Figure 8) – the ‘term query’ (cihui jiansuo 詞彙檢索) and the ‘full-text query’ (quanwen jiansuo 全文檢索).

Figure 8. The ‘term query’ (cihui jiansuo 詞彙檢索) and the ‘full-text query’ (quanwen jiansuo 全文檢索).

The ‘term query’ function (Figure 9) allows users to search the database materials for a specific term (cihui 詞彙) or a specific type of word (cilei 詞類). These types include parts of speech (nouns 名詞, pronouns 代詞, verbs 動詞, adjectives 形容詞, numerals 數詞, measure words 量詞, etc.), special themes (titles 稱為, polities 國族, time 時間, place-names 地名, animals 動物, plants 植物, etc.), and thematic subtypes (personal names 人名, royal/official titles and ranks 王官或爵名, family relations 親稱, ghosts and spirits 鬼神, kinship terms 親屬, etc.). 

Figure 9. Term query function

The ‘specific term’ and ‘word type’ functions can be combined to search for instances where a graph writes a word with a stipulated semantic value (e.g. where wen 文 writes the personal name Wen as opposed to the noun ‘pattern, culture’ – see Figure 10):

Figure 10. Searching for inscriptions in which wen 文 writes a personal name
Figure 11. Search results

The major drawback here concerns representativeness. As the editors make clear in their instructions, some words in the database have not yet been classified. Consequently, it’s probably best to use this function in conjunction with more general searches where possible. Fortunately, however, the classification work is expected to be completed in the near future.

The ‘full-text’ search feature allows the user to browse a slightly larger corpus of texts (with the addition of Tokyo University’s Oracle Bone Collection (東京大學所藏甲骨), the Bishop White Oracle Bone Collection and others held at Royal Ontario Museum (懷特氏等所藏甲骨), the Shuihudi Qin Tomb Slips (睡虎地秦墓竹簡), the Yunmeng Longgang Qin Slips (雲夢龍崗秦簡), The Shanghai Museum Warring States Chu Bamboo Texts (上海博物館藏戰國楚竹書), and the Qinghua University Warring States Slips (清華大學藏戰國竹簡). 

Figure 12. The ‘full text’ search feature

In Part I, we discussed problems introduced by exact search feature in the ‘Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database.’ To recap, searching for a string like qian suxi 虔夙夕, “reverently [working away] from dawn till dusk,” only returned inscriptions in which these exact graphs (虔夙夕) – or, more accurately, these normalized clerical script (lishu 隸書) forms of the original bronze graphs – are used to write the words qian suxi 虔夙夕. The results thus excluded cases where the words qian suxi 虔夙夕 are written using different graphic forms. The Lexicon database ‘full-text’ search function, on the other hand, performs a ‘fuzzy’ search. If we search for the string qian suxi 虔夙夕, “reverently [working away] from dawn till dusk,” the results will include inscriptions where alternative graphic forms are used to write the words in the queried expression (e.g. in Figure 13, hu 唬 writes qian 虔 ‘reverently’).

Figure 13. A ‘full-text’ search for qian suxi 虔夙夕

Bronze Inscription-Related Publications Database (金文關係文獻資料庫) 

Finally, the ‘Bronze Inscription-Related Publications Database’ (金文關係文獻資料庫) offers yet another starting point for research. Bibliographic entries are provided for some 10,509 Chinese and Japanese publications (mostly pre-2000 with some newer journals), searchable by keyword, article name, author, journal, year, and published transcriptions. A search for articles that discuss bronze inscriptions containing the graph tian 天, ‘Heaven, sky,’ returns 62 results:

Figure 14. Searching for publications which discuss bronze inscriptions containing tian 天
Figure 15. Publication results

Clicking a result pulls up its respective bibliographic entry providing, among other information, the jicheng number of bronzes featured in the article. While clicking the jicheng number must have originally taken the user to the respective entry in the ‘Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database,’ updates to the latter database’s URL have regrettably rendered these links defunct. Still, this doesn’t prevent the user from independently navigating to the database and searching for the jicheng number to locate related bronze inscriptions and GIS information.

Figure 16. Defunct hyperlink to the ‘Shang and Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and Bronzewares Database’

Although lacking in recent scholarship, the database certainly retains considerable research value, providing a vast and comprehensive bibliography of Japanese and Chinese-language scholarship.

Overall, the GIS system is probably the most impressive tool in Sinica’s database collection. In addition to the possible applications proposed by the editors in their introduction, another area of scholarship that immediately stands to benefit is the Shang-Zhou transition. Although scholars have long recognized the cultural continuities spanning this period, the GIS offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine in geospatial terms the forced movement and migration of Shang clan elites following the Zhou conquest in 1046 BCE. The emerging narrative will likely help stave off simplistic assumptions about Western Zhou cultural heterogeneity, drawing attention to the role of diverse historical actors who otherwise pass unmentioned in the received textual tradition. Of course, the more archaeologically inclined will lament the exclusion of uninscribed bronzes. However, credit must be given to Sinica for providing a highly intuitive and easy-to-navigate database framework that could be adapted (and likely will be adapted) to accommodate uninscribed bronzes in the future.

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