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Three Kingdoms Bamboo Manuscripts at Zoumalou, Changsha, Hunan

He Junhong
Ph.D. Candidate
China Central Institute of Fine Arts

From July to November 1996, the Cultural Relics Work Team from Changsha in Hunan province, in coordination with construction work in the city, carried out 57 archaeological digs inside the walls of the construction site on the southwest side of Zoumalou Street in downtown Changsha. In the process, they excavated several thousand items of all sorts made of steel, iron, ceramics, and bamboo. Approximately 100,000 bamboo manuscripts from the Wu Dynasty (AD 222-280) of the Three Kingdoms period were unearthed from the site designated #96CWZJ22. The earliest date recorded in these bamboo strips is the 25th year of the Jian'an era under Emperor Xian of the Eastern Han (AD 220), and the latest is the 6th year of Jiahe reign of the Wu Dynasty (AD 237). Because of the damp climate of the South, relatively high underground water level and soil pressure, and concentrated pollution at the bottom of the dig, the condition of the bamboo documents is relatively poor, but a small portion are well-preserved. The documents that have been sorted out include bamboo strips, wooden tablets, bamboo plates, inspection seals, and sealing-clay boxes. Judging by the surviving vestiges, the bamboo and wood-strip documents were bound together to form a volume, generally read from top to bottom, were first bound and then written on, with several volumes left blank at the bindery. The bamboo documents record taxes, census registers, storehouse management, land tax flow, military and civilian opening of wasteland for cultivation, and correspondence--touching on every aspect of social economy, government, and law. It is thought these are documents from Changsha Prefecture, Linxiang County, and neighboring agencies of the Wu Dynasty.

In this century, bamboo slips have been found continually all over China, and the total of these items had already surpassed 90,000 pieces. But there were approximately 100,000 pieces found just at Zoumalou! Discovering such a vast number of ancient documents in one place at one time is incredibly rare, and can be called a find of the century. Only a small amount of historical documentation survives from the Three Kingdoms period. The bamboo documents unearthed from Zoumalou, which record the reign of the Wu Dynasty, possess academic value from various perspectives. Based on this find, one can undergo a reconstruction of fundamental societal conditions within one administrative division. This type of research holds tremendous potential towards the understanding of the Changsha prefecture and Wu kingdom. Subsequent sorting and analysis can yield even greater results.


Figure 7. Wooden slip regarding gifts, court correspondence, administration, and routine affairs.

Figure 8. Wooden slip on allocation and transfer of funds and detailed records on movement of silver, cloth, rice, implements, and other forms of taxation.


Figure 1. Excavation site, Zoumalou, Changsha, Hunan. October 1996.

Figure 2. Wooden slips pertaining to land rental and taxation. 2480 slips total, 54.3 cm long, 2.6-4.3 cm wide, 0.3-1.0 cm thick.

Figures 3 & 4. Bamboo slip on transferral and allocation of funds, especially of silver, rice, and other objects between administrative centers.

Figure 5. Wooden slip of legal cases and reports involving society and economy. 23.4-25 cm long, 6-6.9 cm wide, 0.6-0.9 cm thick.

Figure 6. Bamboo slip of Changsha prefectural administration. 23 cm long, 1-1.2 cm wide, 0.2 cm thick. Wooden slips with household registrations with residents' names, professions, ages, physical condition, etc. 23 cm long, 4 cm wide.

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