Was it Really So, Royal Uncles? Notions of Authenticity in the Reception, Redaction and Reconstruction of Some Avuncular Remonstrations

chinas cultural heritage

Shu 書 historical documents lie at the center of longstanding debates about textual authenticity in China. The Shang shu尚書 (Venerated Documents) canon, allegedly impiled by Confucius, comes in “standard script” 今文 and “archaic script” 古文versions. Proponents of each version were locked in a tug of war for roughly two millennia. Another shu collection, the Yi Zhou shu逸周書languished in the dustbin of “assorted histories” 雜史after becoming known as the Leftover Documents—chaff cast off when Confucius compiled the Shang shu. During the Qing dynasty. However, some scholars reclassified two avuncular remonstrations preserved in the Yi Zhou shu—the “Rui Liangfu” 芮良夫and “Zhai Gong” 祭公chapters—as lost texts of the Shang shu. In 2008, Tsinghua University obtained Warring States bamboo manuscript versions of “Zhai Gong” and a previously unknown text attributed to Rui Liangfu. The manuscript corpus from which these two documents derives functions to further dissolve the boundary between “venerated” and “leftover” shu documents that began to weaken in the Qing. And yet, the same manuscripts, presumably robbed from a grave, present new problems of authentication. This paper sketches an historical arc of claims and doubts, asking what priorities and judgments lie behind changing notions of authenticity in shu documents. One tentative conclusion is that in light of new manuscript evidence, and in spite of the problems of manuscript authentication, it is impossible to return to prior methods that assume linguistic features of transmitted texts to be static. A second conclusion is that the identification of genre as a field of known textual features plays an integral role in both confounding and untangling the problems of textual reconstruction, recreation, and forgery.

28 October 2020

12:00 noon GMT


This talk will be held online via Zoom. To receive the link, please register by sending an email to Drs Chris Foster & Anke Hein at: understandingauthenticity@gmail.com


**“Understanding Authenticity in China’s Cultural Heritage” is generously sponsored by Oxford University’s Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund, TORCH Heritage Seed Fund, The British Academy, The Leverhulme Trust, Oxford China Centre, St. Hugh’s College, and Pembroke College.**