Oracle Bones are
the earliest example of Chinese writing we have. Oracle Bones date from
the late Shang Period (c. 1200 B.C.). They are called oracle bones because
the writing deals with divination and is carved on bone. They have taught
scholars much about the Shang Dynasty.
Oracle bone inscriptions ( 甲骨文 Jia
Gu Wen in Chinese Pinyin), the earliest Chinese writing scripts, are the
ancient Chinese characters carved on tortoise shells and animal scapulas.
The oracle bone inscriptions were mainly used for divination and keeping
records of events happened in the late
(商代)1300 BC - 1046 BC). The bones are invaluable for us to understand the Shang Dynasty.
A scholar, Wang Yirong (王懿榮) first found the oracle bone inscriptions in 1899.
Some unknown characters on the 'dragon bones,' one of the ingredients of
his medicine, caught his attention. The bones were then traced to Anyang
in Henan (河南) province, the capital of the late Shang Dynasty, where there have
been over 150,000 oracle bone inscriptions excavated till today.
A great deal of knowledge of the Shang Dynasty has been learned from the
studies of the
oracle bone inscriptions. Many books about the inscriptions
were published. The first book by Liu E (劉鶚) was published in 1903. A good
collection of the inscriptions was published in a book called 'Jiaguwen
Heji' by Guo Moruo et al. It includes 41,956 inscriptions selected from
the oracle bone inscriptions found before 1973. The total 13 volumes of
the book were published during 1978 and 1982. From the studies of many
scholars, about 2,000 characters among the more than 4,500 different
characters found on the bones have been identified. The remaining
unidentified characters are mainly places, names, etc. So experts can
basically read the inscriptions now.
Contents of the inscriptions
The inscriptions were mainly used for divination during the Shang Dynasty.
The rulers of the Shang Dynasty were very superstitious so divination was
basically a daily activity for almost everything, such as weather, health,
farming and fortune. The bones not only were used in divination as a tool,
but also in recording the activities and results on them. The inscriptions
were classified into four categories in the book 'Jiaguwen Heji,' i.e.,
classes and country, society and production, cultures, and other. The
oracle bone inscriptions are the earliest written records discovered in