xhibition date :2015.10.21
Venue: Han Dynasty Wooden Slips from Edsen-gol (Room 201)

Wang Kuo-wei, the great scholar of late Ch'ing and early Republic, called the discovery of inscribed wooden slips from the Han(206 B.C.-220 A.D.)and Chin (265-420) periods one of the four great academic discoveries in early twentieth century China.

In 1930, Chinese and Swedish scholars of the Sino-Swedish Scientific Expedition investigated Han beacon structures along the Edsen-gol River in Kansu Province. On April 28th of that year, a team member, Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman, discovered 346 pieces of wooden slips at Han fortress P9 at Boro-tsonch (which in Mongolian means "ash mound") in the lower reaches of the Edsen-gol River. Following this discovery, more than 10,000 Han wooden slips were found at sites such as A8 Mu-durbeljin, A32 Limes Gate, A33 Ulan-durbeljin, and A35 Taralingin-durbeljin. Since this region belonged to the District of Chü-yen or Chien-shui of Chang-yeh Commandery during the Han dynasty, the excavated wooden slips are referred to as "Han Chü-yen wooden slips."

These slips provide a rich new source of information for the study of Han dynasty history. They vividly reflect aspects of the military and legal systems, educational practices, economy, beliefs and everyday life of local military personnel and civilians from approximately the mid-Western Han to the early Eastern Han.
  • Artifacts from Edsen-gol

    In addition to wooden slips, many other artifacts were also discovered at different sites in this area. After completing their investigations, Chinese and Swedish experts agreed to leave the more than 10,000 wooden slips in China to be jointly studied. The rest of the artifacts were taken back to Sweden by Swedish scholars. Thus, mainly wooden slips remain in the Institute, with relatively few other artifacts.

    Among the artifacts shown here, a few are from the Han period (206 B.C.-221 A.D.), such as wu-chu coins, ear-cups, shafts, writing brushes, silk fabrics, pieces of paper etc.. But most have later dates: T'ang (618-907) and Sung (960-1205) dynasty coins and ceramic pieces; Western Hsia (1032-1227) handwritten Buddhist sutras, "good karma clay" (a mixture of the ashes of monks and clay), and a piece of Yüan (1279-1368) paper currency-"The Precious Paper Currency of the Chih-yüan era" (1335-1340).
  • I. Border Defense

    Emperor Wu (r.140-87 B.C.) repeatedly sent troops across the frontier to fight the Hsiung-nu. After many campaigns, he finally defeated them, conquering the land west of the Yellow River, and established four commanderies there: Wu-wei, Chang-yeh, Chiu-ch’ üan and Tun-huang. Apart from sending settlers into the frontier land, he also built beacon structures and post stations all over the North and Northwest, and stationed soldiers in these regions to guard the border and engage in farming. Aside from frontier horsemen, troops guarding Chü–yen also included garrison soldiers, pioneers and criminals from interior prefectures.
     
    The organization for beacon and watch stations in the frontier fortresses in the prefecture of Chang-yeh was roughly as follows:
     
                                                               Commandant of Chien-shui 
    Grand Administrator of Chang-yeh ─                                        ─ Company Commanders ─ Platoon
                                                              Commandant of Chü-yen
     
    Commanders ─ Section Commanders (Each section had a Section Commander and three to five soldiers. )
  • II. Center and Periphery

    In order to effectively support the defence of frontier fortresses with quick communications, as well as warning and commands signals, the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) built roads and established post stations between the interior prefectures and principalities and the northwestern frontier fortresses. Furthermore, the imperial Minister of Finance and the interior prefectures and principalities continuously sent soldiers, foodstuffs, equipment and money to the frontier fortresses. Garrison soldiers and their families were separated by thousands of miles and wrote frequently to each other. Much information from government orders to mundane details of personal lives can be found in the wooden slips.
  • III. Daily Life

    The Edsen-gol Han dynasty wooden slips contain abundant data on the daily lives of officials and soldiers. They are highly reliable records of their family structures, clothes, food, housing and travel, illnesses and treatments, religious beliefs as well as debts, litigation, quarrels, disappearances and killings.
  • IV. Cultural Dissemination

    When Emperor Wu (r.140-87 B.C.) conquered the land to the west of the Yellow River, large numbers of Han settlers settled there, displacing local nomadic tribes. Prefectures and districts were established and soldier farmers were sent to guard the frontier. Large quantities of objects belonging to Chinese cultural relics of farmer-soldiers, including books, poetry on wooden slips and educational materials were left in frontier defence towns like Chü–yen, Tun-huang. Their presence clearly indicates the spread of Chinese culture.
     
    The sky is darkly clouded, the sunlight is dimmed.
    Wind blows up the sands, the misty water is the origin of the mighty river.
    It turns and twists and stirs up waves. The waves hit the shores and overturn the walls and pillars.
    The path to Heaven’s Gate is so narrow and streaming with water, one cannot access wealth and position.
    What can I do? What can I do? Teachings and admonition? Laws and institutions?
    It is hard to say
    It is hard to say
    ─“Tung Huang Han Chien”2253─
  • V. Residents of the Frontier Fortresses

    Chü-yen belonged to Chang-yeh, one of four commanderies west of the Yellow River established by Emperor Wu of the Han (r.140-87 B.C.) in the northwest frontier. In order to consolidate the northwest frontier defence, paupers and criminals east of the Han Ku Pass were sent to the frontier. Men from all over the empire also took turns as frontier garrison soldiers. A large number of these men settled there permanently. Han Chinese came into close contact with the Ch’iang, the Hsiung-nu, and various other people in the regions west of Tun-huang; hence, records excavated at Chü-yen contain considerable information regarding the non-Chinese who lived in the region.
     
    The “Records of Geography” in the Han Shu states that “the residents [form west of Wu-wei] were the poorest from the east of Han Ku Pass. Some were prone to excessive acts of vengeance; others were rebellious and unjust. They and their families, each with greatly differing customs and habits, were transferred here.” They left behind wooden slips from which differing lifestyles may be pieced together.