Sec. v] CHINESE DOCUMENTS FROM N. xv. AND WRITING ON WOOD 361
about s in. distant from the actual ends, one of these being shaped into a small rounded handle, perhaps intended to mark the top of the slip. As the slip was found blank and manifestly unused, the suggestion here macle must, of course, remain conjectural.
There is another question connected with early Chinese writing, for the elucidation of which a close study of the ancient documents on wood brought to light by me may perhaps prove useful. From the texts translated and discussed by M. Chavannes it is clear that Chinese antiquity, apart from slips of bamboo, knew also small wooden boards called fang tj for writing purposes : these, however, were meant to receive only short documents not exceeding a hundred characters, and appear to have been reserved mainly for official use 14. They were always rectangular in shape ; but the fact that they are said to have been square or approximately so, as well as their having been used manifestly without a covering, preclude the idea of any special connexion between them and the form of our rectangular Kharosthi tablets. Whether the latter or any other class of tablets familiar to us from the Niya Site could possibly be connected in their shape with the wooden tablets called to M, to which M. Chavannes refers in a note '5, I am not in a position to ascertain. But it is noteworthy that the tablets thus designated were primarily destined for letters, whether from the Emperor or private individuals, while the description given of them as being smaller than a fang but larger than the slip (chien) might well agree with a form not unlike that of one or other class of our sealed Kharosthi tablets, which undoubtedly served for correspondence.
However this may be, we actually possess at least one document on wood bearing a Chinese inscription, which, but for one slight peculiarity, shows in its form complete agreement with the rectangular covering-tablets of Kharosthi documents. I mean the tablet N. xv. 345, reproduced in Plate CXIV (less clearly also in Plate CV). Its obverse displays the usual seal-cavity, now empty, with the three string-grooves on each side, and above it a row of faded Chinese characters,
which have been read by M. Chavannes 3E ` the king of Shaw-span', with a fourth
character to the right which might be read r edict' 16. The reverse is blank, but curiously enough has its centre portion slightly raised with a narrow lower margin all round. This raised portion has the appearance of having been cut to fit a corresponding opening in an under-tablet. But the latter has not been found, and there thus remains the possibility of this interesting tablet having served as a lid to a small box 17. In any case there can be no doubt that the arrangement of sealing and fastening was here identical with that observed in all rectangular Kharosthi documents.
In the absence of other evidence, this use of an identical method of fastening is of considerable interest. Seeing how conservative Chinese fashion has always been in matters concerning the forms of written record 18, it seems far more probable that the ingenious methods of fastening and authentication which are so amply illustrated by our Kharosthi documents on wood, wedge-shaped and rectangular, were originally derived from China, than that the Chinese chancellerie of the ruler of Shan-shan, a state south of Lop-Nor, and thus relatively close to the border
" See Les livres chinois, pp. 13—I 7.
16 See Les livres chinois, p. 26, note I.
16 See Appendix A, part ii.
17 In case the tablet really served as a lid, we might think of a box that contained slips of wood with the text of the edict apparently referred to in the legend of the cover. The total width of the cover being 1 in. and that of the raised central portion about 1 in., a set of slips of the usual
width could just have been inserted vertically into the receptacle. The use of special cases and boxes for the guarding of written slips of bamboo is amply attested for the period of the Former Han dynasty; see Chavannes, Les livres chinois, p. 63, note.
18 Compare e.g. Chavannes, Les livres chinois, pp. 16, 25 sqq., 26, note, 29, with note, 3o sqq., &c.