A Shang Dynasty square ding vessel is on show at an ongoing exhibition at the National Museum of China. CHINA DAILY
You may never write words on an oracle bone or tortoise shell, but you might see them in a museum. They are what we call “the oracle bone scripts”.
To celebrate the 120th anniversary of the discovery of these scripts, the National Museum of China is running an exhibition called Zheng Gu Ze Jin. It runs through Dec 22.
According to China Daily, the exhibition addresses the “significant meaning of the oracle bones to the past and present of an ancient, continually evolving civilization”.
The earliest confirmed evidence shows that more than 3,000 years ago, people in the late Shang Dynasty started to write characters on pieces of bone and turtle shell.
The oracle bone scripts are records of divinations and prayers to the gods from people in that era. According to Song Zhenhao, one of the leading scholars of the field, “they are important materials for the re-construction of ancient Chinese history and the perspective of social life in the Shang Dynasty.”
The scripts are pictograms. They come from pictures of the objects they refer to. “The oracle bone scripts, as an earliest known and mature form of Chinese characters, present the beauty and uniqueness of a language that has been passed down consistently,” said Chen Nan, a professor of Tsinghua University’s Academy of Art and Design.
Apart from learning the past, oracle bone scripts also have impacts on today.
According to Xinhua News Agency, these artifacts contain data that include the earliest written records of both a solar eclipse and a comet.
The society that produced the oracle bone scripts shared many of the characteristics that are recognized today as typically Chinese. “These valuable inscriptions from China ... demonstrate that the memory recorded in the documentary heritage is an irreplaceable way of transmitting tradition, culture and historical awareness,” Marielza Oliveira, director of UNESCO’s Beijing office, told China Daily.
The scripts are evidence of ancient Chinese culture but also have an “important influence” on modern Chinese values, Zhao Yong, the exhibition’s chief curator, told China Daily.