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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Between Evolving Standards and Persistent Diversity: Manuscripts and Inscriptions in Pre-Imperial and Early Imperial China
3: Personal Habit or Shared Standard? Observations on Punctuation Marks in Warring States Manuscripts
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Princeton University, United States
The study of standardization in early Chinese manuscripts has been devoted mostly to questions of paleography, in particular orthography, before the background of textual criticism. Far less attention has been paid to the standardization of the non-textual features of manuscripts. By examining the shape, placement, and frequency of punctuation marks, this paper will denote consistent patterns of punctuating in manuscripts with literary texts from the Tsinghua University collection (ca. 300 B.C.E). It challenges claims in existing scholarship that these marks were made randomly. Demonstrating that the patterns of punctuating reflect distinct habits of different scribal hands it suggests that these marks are “copying/proofreading marks” rather than “reading marks.” A consistent correlation between punctuation marks and types of handwriting in which the text is written also hints towards two possible scenarios of production and use: 1) the Tsinghua University manuscripts are “brand new” tomb objects manufactured for use as funerary goods, and hence without marks that were added by later readers; 2) the manuscripts were read, but the way the manuscripts were utilized differed from the reading practices of later times: readers did not punctuate the text while reading it. Finally, these scenarios lead us to more essential questions regarding early manuscripts: What kinds of writing/reading/learning practices are suggested by different patterns of punctuating? Was there any shared standard behind seemingly personal habits of utilizing punctuation marks for literary texts? Punctuation marks supposedly include personal as well as shared features and can also testify to the “life-cycle” of a manuscript.