You are here

The Formation of Historical Consciousness in the Texts of Shang and Zhou Periods

Olga GORODETSKAYA (Sun Yat-sen University, National Chung Cheng University)
Full Text Download (PDF): 

The author argues that the presence of a historical consciousness in a culture can only be corroborated by the presence of chronicles and archives of events. The emergence of this type of consciousness in Chinese culture is analyzed by observing the appearance of chronicles in ancient texts on bones and bronze. This paper analyses three aspects of this issue: 1) the texts of Shang and Zhou periods (14th-8th centuries B. C. E.) and their historic component; 2) the dates and formation of the concept of "historical time"; 3) the inception of the clerical position of scribes of chronicles. 1) Three types of records were kept in Shang and Zhou: on bones, bronze and bamboo. The bone records do not contain information on topics aside from divination or rituals; they were not intended to retain information on events; therefore, they are not historical records. The bronze records are devoted to the worship of ancestors; they also do not convey information about historic events. However, many bronze epitaphs from the second half of Western Zhou (9th century B. C. E.) do contain records that are partially historical. We do not have extant bamboo records of Shang and Zhou periods, but inferring from what is known about bronze and bones, we can state that they initially contained only religious and ritual records. Again, in the second half of Western Zhou (9th century B. C. E) many bamboo records, as well as bronze epitaphs, began to contain records that are partially historical. 3) Court scribes only appeared at the end of the period of the Western Zhou, at the beginning of the Springs and Autumn period (9th8th centuries B. C. E.) From the point of view of the extant Classic of Documents ( Shangshu) and other documents, the earliest part of these scriptures also was written at the end of the Western Zhou. Therefore I conclude that the historical thinking of Chinese civilization was born in the culture of the second half of the Western Zhou period.

Journal of History and Anthropology