Unrolling the Scroll


Unrolling the Scroll

Originally uploaded by anselm23

A student of mine from China gave me this handsome box today. It proved to contain a bamboo book — of a style common in China before the 2nd century BC invention of mulberry leaf paper. On each stave of the book is a verse from the 36 Stratagems, a traditional volume of military/diplomatic maxims and explanations. Traditionally, an orally transmitted example went along with each verse; nowadays examples are as likely to come from World War II and the Long March as from classical Chinese history.

On the back of the scroll is an English translation. The whole is inscribed with a laser, I’m guessing, and lightly stained brown; and held together with brown silk thread.

I already want to try making one myself. There are forty-four staves in this edition of the 36 Stratagems; reproductions of several seals, and a small laser-cut ‘painting’ of the author transmitting his precepts adorn the Chinese side. The English side has several misspellings, and a few infelicitous phrases, but otherwise it’s readable and mostly comprehensible.

I’m looking forward to using this as a doubled-up primary source in my history classes — “Look, this is how books were made in ancient China… now let’s read it, and see if it’s relevant to today.”

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