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0460 Serindia : vol.1
Serindia : vol.1 / Page 460 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000183
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Inscribed lids of letter cases.

Receptacles for letters on wood.

Chinese paper


382   THE LOU-LAN SITE   [Chap. XI

another.2 The vast majority of them are written on wooden slips of the regular size and shape, measuring, when complete, between 91 and 91 inches in length and three-eighths and half of an inch in width (see Doc. Plates XXI I—XXVI I). A considerable proportion of them show signs of having been broken, probably on purpose like torn ` waste papers ', or burnt at one end when they had been used as ` spills ' to light fires.3

A wooden document of special antiquarian interest is the well-preserved rectangular tablet L.A. vi. ii. 0200 (Doc. No. 751, Plate XXIII), measuring 3, by 12 inches, which is inscribed ` to Mr. Chang, the cllang--chih of the Western Countries ', the name of the sender below, and that of the person entrusted with the delivery above. This inscription on the obverse and the sunk rim on the back of the tablet conclusively prove that it once served as lid to a small box containing an official letter. The obverse shows in its centre a socket, now empty, for a clay seal, and three transverse string-grooves, exactly like the covering-tablets of Kharosthi rectangular documents in wood. Another smaller tablet of a similar type, L.A. vi. ii. 09 (Doc. No. 773, Plate XXIv), has two string-grooves and the socket still filled with clay, though the seal impression is no longer recognizable. The writing on the obverse describes the content of the small box to which this little tablet must have formed the lid as a ` private letter ' from a certain Chao A-chung. There is further a pair of small inscribed tablets of a shape closely corresponding, L.A. vi. ii. 0141 and 0173 (Doc. No. 868), in which M. Chavannes recognizes the lid and the bottom of a box once containing a letter, though the writing of the inscription is so very cursive that it cannot be deciphered.

But the two first-named tablets amply sufficed to assure me on the spot that I had been right when, years before, I conjecturally assumed ' that the ingenious methods of fastening and authentication which are so amply illustrated by our Kharosthi documents on wood ', first brought to light in 1901 at the Niya Site, ' were originally derived from China '.* Subsequent finds of far earlier Chinese stationery' on wood have fully confirmed this. The only rectangular covering-tablet with a Chinese inscription found in 190r, N. xv. 345,5 had also been marked as a lid by the sunk rim and raised central portion of the reverse. From the width of the latter, about one inch, I had concluded that ' a set of slips of the usual width could just have been inserted vertically into the receptacle '. With this explanation the widths shown by the raised central portion of the back of L.A. vi. ii. 0200 and by the flat back of L.A. vi. ii. 09, viz. 13 and â inch respectively, fully agree. The latter lid-tablet and also L.A. vi. ii. 0141 (Doc. No. 868), which is just an inch wide, probably rested on a rim sunk into the thickness of the boards forming the sides of the box intended to receive the inscribed slips of wood.° In each case the width left inside the box just sufficed for the insertion of a set of slips, the regular size of these not exceeding three-quarters of an inch.

To the Chinese records on wood from L.A. vi. ii must be added close on threescore fragments of Chinese paper documents, of which nineteen were sufficiently large and legible to be included in M. Chavannes' publication.' The greater proportion of fragments which could not be utilized is probably due to the more thorough way in which these real ' waste papers ' could be torn up and destroyed. The paper material was undoubtedly brought from China, and this may explain why at the Niya Site, so much further away to the west and not on the main trade route, ruined

' Cf. Chavannes, Documents, Nos. 721-28, 730-36, 743-

8o, 782, 785, 786, 788-813, 833-77.

3 Cf. Ancien! Khotan, i. p. 343.

' Cf. ibid., i. p. 36x.

5 See ibid., ii. Pl. CXIV and i. p. 361, note 17.

For references to early Chinese texts mentioning such boxes for the reception of slips of wood, see Chavannes, Les livres chinois, in Journal Asial., 1905, janvier—février, p. 63. 7 See Chavannes, Documents, Nos. 910-26, 928, 929.