Science & Tech

Ancient Chinese script rewrites history

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‘This is like the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls’

“This is like the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Tu Weiming, director of the Harvard Yenching Institute, who has played a key role in the preservation of ancient texts that cast new light on early Confucianism. The texts were discovered in 1993 near a river in Guodian, China, not far from a farmhouse made of earth and thatched with straw. “With the discovery of these texts, I think you can say that the history of Confucianism itself will have to be rewritten,” says Tu. “And by implication, the history of ancient Chinese philosophy in general will have to be reconfigured.” The 800 bamboo strips bear roughly 10,000 Chinese characters; approximately one-tenth of those characters comprise part of the oldest extant version of the Tao Te Ching, a foundational text by the Taoist philosopher Laozi, who is generally considered the teacher of Confucius. The remaining nine-tenths of the writings appear to be written by Confucian disciples, including Confucius’ grandson, Zisi.