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May 19, 2009

Real or forgery? Scholars gather at Stanford to debate origin of ancient Chinese text

Scholars from China, the United States and Canada will soon converge on Stanford's East Asia Library to dissect the mysteries surrounding an ancient Chinese text.

"Workshop on the Riddle of an Ancient Chinese Book Zhushu Jinian (the Bamboo Annals): Texts and Chronologies Therein," will bring together experts to carry on a debate that has raged since the late 1700s: Have scholars found a genuine copy of the millennia-old Bamboo Annals, or is it a more recent forgery, as evidenced by what some scholars believe to be anachronistic writing styles?

The workshop will be held May 23-24 and marks the first scholarly gathering to debate the Bamboo Annals.

"Many participants knew each other's articles and publications before, but they never met," said Dongfang Shao, director of the East Asia Library. "This is a good East and West scholarship exchange."

The Bamboo Annals is a historical chronicle of the history of ancient China, spanning ca. 2400 to 299 BCE, Shao and Professor Emeritus David S. Nivison write in their forthcoming book, The Bamboo Annals: A New Study and Translation. This history encompasses the era from the perhaps mythical Huang Di to the second king of Wei, in the "Warring States" era.

In the Western Jin Dynasty (CE 265-316), a peasant unearthed the book from a six-centuries-old king's tomb. The original book soon disappeared; however, a growing number of scholars claim that copies of it survived, and that the text we now have is authentic, said Nivison, who is co-organizing the workshop with Shao.

As a chronicle, the Bamboo Annals has been used in combination with other ancient Chinese texts to paint a picture of China's history, said Yiqun Zhou, a workshop participant and assistant professor of Eastern Asian Languages and Cultures. Scholars have used dates and events from the book to amend information from other texts.

The upcoming workshop focuses on a two-chapter sixteenth century text of the book. Participants hail from places such as the National Library of China and Montreal's McGill University.

According to the workshop agenda, scholars will examine the Bamboo Annals' chronology and content, and the transmission history that shaped the book into what it is today.

The workshop's participants come from various backgrounds and will create an interdisciplinary approach to the debate, Shao said. Participants will bring knowledge from history, archeology, and astronomy.

The workshop is partly driven by the principle that it is important to have scholars of varying disciplines working together rather than individually, Shao said.

The East Asia Library is located on the fourth floor of the Meyer Library at 560 Escondido Mall. The workshop, to be held May 23 and 24 from 9 am to 4 pm, is free and open to Stanford faculty, students, staff, and visiting scholars. Those wishing to attend must RSVP by 5 p.m. Friday, May 22. Contact Qiu Qi (650-724-7761,, or Dongfang Shao (650-724-1928,

Emmanuel Romero is an intern at the Stanford News Service.

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Dan Stober, Stanford News Service, (650) 721-6965,


Dongfang Shao, director of East Asian Library, (650) 724-1928,

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