The presence of inscriptions in public life from 617 to 1276 CE in China
The primary objective of this project is to ascertain the changing presence of inscriptions in public life in traditional China during the Tang (617-907) and Song (960-1276) dynasties, as well as the short-lived dynasties in between. Although this is a very long period, the source material is too disparate and existing research virtually absent, so that the project will have to include both a broad scoping as well as case studies. Selected case studies shall serve for exploiting those sources that are readily available and in order to detect possible changes over time.
‘Public’ is defined in this project as readable to a larger group of people at the same time without restrictions in access. The question of whether this reading was direct or through intermediaries (reading aloud, summarizing etc.) will need to be addressed as well. Public writing and reading is an important development in Chinese cultural history, since traditionally texts were limited to private rituals (like ancestor worship or elite Daoist rituals) or they were privately owned (which is the case with most manuscripts, even printed texts later on). The importance of written texts in traditional Chinese society is generally exaggerated in the scholarly focus on the ‘written’ above the ‘oral’ and intermediate forms of communication.
The project takes into account inscriptions in various ‘open’ locations – public spaces such as temples and monasteries, markets and government buildings, but also rocks and mountains. As it is usually unknown who was looking at or reading such texts, preliminary assumptions will be made regarding the degree of openness of a location. Inscriptions, in this frame of research, are understood as written artefacts that, in general, are not meant to be moved (as manuscripts are) and are not printed, although in some cases the original texts may derive from a manuscript or printed object. They are inscribed into stone, wood or other materials, or written on walls with brushes. Finally, the project is about the medium (material), the form (types of scripts, language registers, etc.), and potential audiences in addition to the more common attention given to contents.