Reception: Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tung Tso-pin was a scholar who made great contributions to the discovery and study of oracle bones. He also went by the pseudonyms Yen-tang and Ping-lu, the latter out of admiration for Chang Ping-tzu, a Han dynasty scholar from the same region. 

Tung was born in Nanyang, Henan Province on March 20th, 1895 and died on November 23rd, 1963. He had a thirst for knowledge and learned much through self-study. Tung did not come from a wealthy family, and worked as a merchant, bookseller, teacher, and newspaper publisher. After the preparatory office of the Institute of History and Philology was established in Guangzhou in 1928, Tung was placed in charge of investigating the stone classics in Luoyang and oracle bones discovered at Yinxu. He confirmed the need for further excavation of oracle bones, and a plan was made accordingly. In August of the same year, he was made responsible for leading the preliminary digs and writing excavation reports. Li Chi commended Tung for this work, writing that he had laid “the theoretical foundation for continuing the excavation of the Ruins of Yin.”

This marked the beginning of Tung’s significant role in oracle bone and Shang dynasty studies. His 1931 article “Ta-kuei ssu-pan kao-shih” (A Study of Four Big Inscribed Tortoise Shells) confirmed that inscriptions regularly referred to zhenren or diviners, an important breakthrough for the dating of oracle bones. His five-part periodization for oracle bones and ten criteria for rigorous dating too were methodological milestones. His 1945 work Yin-li-p’u (On the Calendar of the Yin) represented his attempt to scientifically reconstruct the calendar and chronology of the ancient Shang capital. 

The Institute of History and Philology holds this special exhibition to commemorate Tung’s contributions to oracle bone studies on the 50th anniversary of this distinguished scholar’s passing. The timing of the exhibition is significant. It opens in October, the month that Tung led an excavation of Yinxu in 1928, and will close in March, the month of what would have been Tung’s 120th birthday.
There are three highlights to the exhibition: Oracle Bones from Chongqing to Taipei, Ping-lu’s Daily Life—Archival Documents, Scholarly Notes, and Personal Effects, and Friendship and Calligraphy—Tung Tso-pin’s Oracle Bone Script Artistry. They showcase his artistic and academic achievements as well as his interaction with friends.
  • 1.Oracle Bones From Chongqing to Taipei

    1.Oracle Bones From Chongqing to Taipei
    The organizer of the 3rd National Art Exhibition held in Chongqing on December 25th, 1942 requested that artifacts from Yinxu be exhibited. After careful consideration, IHP director Fu Ssu-nien decided only to exhibit oracle bones from different periods along with detailed explanations, and have Tung deliver them in person. Tung chose fifty items that best represented the style of inscription in each of the five periods from Pan Geng (c. 14 BC) to Di Xin (the last king, mid-11th c. to the early 12th c. BC). While the venue may be far from Chongqing, we are again displaying these pieces in Taipei in the hope of recapturing that moment in 1942. The exhibition also contains the results of the continual work of piecing together oracle bones from the last fifty years. The original parts of rubbings are shown in black, and the newer ones in a lighter shade for differentiation. The exhibition emphasizes Tung’s contributions to oracle bone studies. His periodizations were major breakthroughs in the methodology of the field. Through this exhibition, we commemorate his hard work and achievements, and hope to familiarize visitors with the Shang dynasty, the styles of inscription on oracle bones, and the artistry of Tung’s oracle bone script calligraphy.
  • 2.Ping-lu’s Daily Life—Archival Documents, Research Notes, Seals, and Personal Effects

    2.Ping-lu’s Daily Life—Archival Documents, Research Notes, Seals, and Personal Effects
    Ping-lu is one of Tung’s pseudonyms. Fu Ssu-nien gave him a plaque inscribed with this name when Tung moved into his new house in Lungchuan Township in Kunming, Yunnan. This part of the exhibition focuses on Tung’s philosophy of scholarly research, friendship with other scholars, and the artistic taste revealed in the remnants of his daily life. We have selected several documents from the IHP’s collections that reveal the resolve Tung and other figures from the IHP’s early history showed in the face of adversity before Hsiao-T'un Volume II, Inscriptions Part 1, Plates was published. Tung and Hu Shih’s correspondence with Yen Yi-ping is on display as a vivid example of the interaction between scholars at that time. In addition, Tung’s well-organized research notes and his facsimiles of excavated oracle bones offer insight into the mindset behind his work. Tung had many interests beyond his scholarly work as revealed in his book Pin-lu Wen-tsun. From among his personal belongings, we have brought together seals he collected or received from friends, a round wooden box inscribed in gold with the message “healthy and happy long life,” and personal effects from his study such as an inkstone and blue and white porcelain brush washer. These items help us envision his daily life as a scholar.
  • 3.Friendship and Calligraphy—Tung Tso-pin’s Oracle Bone Script Artistry

    3.Friendship and Calligraphy—Tung Tso-pin’s Oracle Bone Script Artistry
    Hu Shih once remarked, “From the Pacific to the Atlantic, I haven’t met one Chinese friend or sinologist in America who doesn’t have some of Tung Tso-pin’s oracle bone script calligraphy.” Tung was not only a scholar of oracle bones, but an artist who made oracle script calligraphy as well. In his own words, Tung believed that “the ancient prognostications on oracle bones are not easy for the general public to appreciate, so I write couplets and poems in oracle bone script and present them on scrolls for viewing.” Indeed, this type of piece dominates Tung’s calligraphic work. Under his skillful brush, relics buried for three millennia were reborn as a most popular form of art. We pay special attention to Tung’s friendships in our selection of items. Beyond its artistic value, each piece of calligraphy tells a story involving Tung and his friends. Take his friendships with Tai Jing-nong and Zhuang Yan for example. Tung and Tai both were both auditors in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature in Peking University in 1922. The three men entered the Graduate Institute of Classical Chinese Studies there after its establishment. They became good friends and remained close after coming to Taiwan and throughout their lives. This history lends Tung’s calligraphy a dimension beyond its aesthetic value.