I can never leave well enough alone.
Here I am, with my hot Vietnamese milk and coffee, all nice and brewed, going back through my sources to grab a few final pieces to start my novel, and of course, something of a huge magnitude stops me in my tracks. I find a tiny bit of information which I MUST dig into and take a huge beefy bite out of because to NOT do so would be a travesty!
I could not pass up an article, written on May 26, 2012, which boldly screamed:
The Discovery of the Lạc Việt Writing in Guangxi
I had a choice. I could set this article aside, forget I saw it, and just start up the first page of the first draft of my newest brain-child. Or I could postpone the inevitable and follow this thread for as far as it will allow me to follow. Well, what did you think I’d do?
It all started back in 1923, when an archaeologist named Madelaine Colani who was digging around the northern region of modern-day Vietnam, found two small pottery disks dated back to 8,000 BC with inscriptions of two Chinese words, Sĩ and Tượng which means Colonel and Citadel (Sĩ is equivalent to the modern-day Bishop and Tượng is equivalent to the Rook).
Now, I recognize these two discs because as a child, I often played Chinese Chess with my father. Being poor as church mice since we had just emigrated from Vietnam and had no money, our playing pieces were not the nice carved heads of horses and generals of today’s mass-produced chess pieces, they were thick cardboard rounds that my father cut out and wrote with a black marker, the Chinese symbols for the various playing pieces.
I knew without a doubt, these had to be chess pieces, and since Chinese chess is a very old game, I was not surprised to see them being played way back when.
What surprised me was the date of these pieces.
People—8,000 BC is ten-thousand years ago! If these pieces were found ten-thousand years ago, that must mean Chinese characters were already around and being used prolifically. How much further back can we go to find Chinese characters?
I dug some more and voila, I found more fun stuff. Inscriptions of writing on tortoise shells were found at another archaeological excavation site, Giả Hồ in Hà Nam province dating back to 9,000 BC. Even further back, there are plenty of pottery pieces unearthed at an archaeologically-led excavation site, Bán Pha 2 in Sơn Tây province, north Vietnam which dates back to 12,000 BC.
The problem is, Chinese characters, Hanzi, was purported to have been invented in 2650 BC by Cangjie, a bureaucrat under the Yellow Emperor. This means that Chinese had been in use for at least seven thousand years before Cangjie invented it. How could that possibly be? The answer had to lie with the people who used the Chinese characters all those years ago.
So I go back and look at the people who played Chinese chess and I try to find the meaning behind this.
Ancient Chinese historians have written that back around circa 2300 BC, the kingdom of Việt Thường sent to Emperor Yao a one-thousand-year-old tortoise (at the time, it was still living), which carried on its back an inscription in (of all possible languages) Chữ Khoa Đẩu, an ancient Vietnamese language of all things happening from the time Sky and Earth had been born. Emperor Yao had it copied and named it the Turtle Calendar.
In a previous post regarding the bronze drums of the Đông Sơn culture, which dates back around 2,000 BC, there are characters inscribed on bronze objects of the Đông Sơn people (early Viets) which match those of the chess pieces as well as the Oracle Bone Scripts attributed to the Shang Dynasty around 1,300 BC. Since the Oracle Bones had only been unearthed in 1899, they could not have possibly been the precursor of the Chinese Hanzi (more about this in future postings). They could only have been left there by another people who had either migrated through that area or were living there around that time period.
Here is the clincher. On December 2011, Lí Nhĩ Chân announced that the Society of Research of the Lạc Việt Culture had rediscovered a large number of ideograms which showed the presence of Lạc Việt writing in Guangxi province.
The discovery heralded the fact that ancient Lạc Việt had a writing system in place between 4,000 BC to 6,000 BC. This was groundbreaking because it meant that this recent discovery of the Lạc Việt writing would, in fact, re-write the history of China’s writing. This proved that Lạc Việt culture was immensely influential in the development of Chinese Hanzi in the time of ancient China.
So who were the people who invented the Oracle Bones Scripts? Let’s analyze the script writing from various archaeological findings:
1. 12,000 BC – scripts inscribed on pottery pieces 12,000 BC
2. 9,000 BC – inscriptions on tortoise shells
3. 8,000 BC – the chess pieces
4. 6,000 – 4,000 BC – inscriptions on stone in Guangxi
5. 2,000 BC – inscriptions on the bronze objects of Đông Sơn
6. 1,400 BC – scripts on Oracle Bones
What we find here is a natural evolutionary flow of the script, from simple to complex. All writing must have this flow, which shows how the early writing began, how it progressed, and its various incarnations before it becomes the final system of writing that is most current. Here is how it breaks down.
1. The pottery pieces which showed up in 12,000 BC contained very basic proto-Lạc Việt writing.
2. Three-thousand years later, there were more fully-developed inscriptions on tortoise shells.
3. Another thousand years go by and these people were already playing with chess pieces using this writing system.
4. Two-thousand years later and a more advanced writing system shows up on stone pieces in Guangxi.
5. Two-thousand years after that and the writing shows up on the bronze drums of Đông Sơn.
5. The final development of the Lạc Việt writing system showed up on the Oracle Bone Scripts.
And this is the result:
The figure to the left is the Chữ Khoa Đẩu (Tadpole Script) word Mộc, which means wood. The character on the right is the word wood written in modern-day Chinese Hanzi.
Nobody is disclaiming that there is a connection between the Oracle Bone Scripts and modern Hanzi. There is an obvious link between the two. What is being discussed, and debated, and hurled back and forth are these two worn and tired arguments:
1. Việt people did not have a writing prior to circa 1200. After this time, the first writing of the Việt people was Chữ Nôm, which is a writing system with borrowed Hanzi and newly made Chinese characters to represent Việt sounds not found in spoken Mandarin.
2. The people who lived in southern China in ancient times were not Việt people but an amalgamation of various cultures.
I have presented, in this post, archaeological information, discovered as recently as 2011, to show that we Việt actually had a writing system. I also presented in my previous post, Ancient Việt: Cradle of Asian Civilization, archaeogenetic proof that the genetic blood that ran in the ancient Việt still also runs in modern-day Việt.
In my next post, I will go into the thought-experiment about the link between Chinese Hanzi and Vietnamese Chữ Nôm. This is going to be a wild one, but I will speak the truth, even if my voice shakes. ~ anon.
The Discovery of the Lạc Việt Writing in Guangxi. Việt Tử. May 26, 2012.
Research on Chinese Characters and Chinese Vietnamese languages. Vũ Thế Ngọc. 1989