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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
2: Standards and Variants in Warring States Seals
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
École Pratique des Hautes Études, France
The question of standards and variants is a crucial issue for understanding the Chinese writing system and the way texts were read and understood in Early China. The present paper discusses this question with the help of seal inscriptions from the Warring States period (481–221 B.C.E.). Thousands of seals and seal imprints from this period are today available to scholars through various corpora. Although seal inscriptions are always very short and their content often repetitive, they have several properties that make them highly relevant for an investigation of standardization. Seals can be divided in two categories: private seals and official seals. Whereas official seals are expected to provide examples of official standard writing, private seals can provide examples of more popular writing practice. To what extent did writing on official seals differ from writing on private seals? This will be one of the questions discussed in this paper. Another characteristic of Warring States seals is that they can often be attributed to one particular ancient state or to one specific cultural area. This offers a possibility to look at the question of standards and variants during the Warring States period from the perspective of a multipolar world that shared the same writing system.