Stylized image of a tiger in relief on a portable stone object with a drilled hole for hanging

Stone chime with tiger image/graph from Anyang, Wuguancun tomb 1 (after Allan, The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective (2002), p. 162, fig. 6.24)

Writing as Wen: The Ontology of Shang Script

Roderick Campbell


This lecture will take place online; a Zoom link will be provided via email to registered participants.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

Approaches to writing in Early China have been founded on a problematic set of assumptions -- namely that writing systems are strictly and only representations of natural language. This, in turn, has served to obscure that Shang script is a system of graphic signs and therefore belongs to wider systems of representation. The refusal to consider the Shang script's affordances as materialized traces on powerful media such as oracle-bones or ritual bronze vessels, partakes of unexamined mimetic-naturalistic representational assumptions. These assumptions have led to the systematic misrecognition of the nature of Shang visual culture and its relational ontology. In this talk I will treat Shang writing as an element of Shang visual culture and show why it was encompassed under the indigenous term wen: patterns, ornament, writing, civilization.

Rod Campbell is Associate Professor of East Asian Archaeology and History at ISAW. He is an archaeologist and historian focusing on the Chinese Bronze age, especially the Anyang period (ca. 1250-1050 BCE). Thematically, Campbell’s research has ranged from theorizing violence and early complex polities to historiography and more recently visual culture and ancient economy. Professor Campbell held a number of post-doctoral appointments after graduating from Harvard with a dual degree in anthropology (archaeology) and East Asian Languages and Civilizations (Chinese history), including the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU), the Joukowsky Institute (Brown University), and Merton College (Oxford University) and won grants and fellowships from numerous sources including from the Canadian Social Sciences and Research Council, Luce-ACLS, the Chiang Ching-kuo foundation, and the Wenner Gren foundation. Publications include Archaeology of the Chinese Bronze Age (Cotsen Institute, 2014), Violence and Civilization (ed. Joukowsky Institute, 2014), Violence, Kinship and the Early Chinese State: the Shang and their World (Cambridge UP, 2018), an article on early complex polities for Current Anthropology, a study of a gigantic Shang bone workshop at Anyang for Antiquity, as well as numerous papers on topics ranging from Shang ontology to Early Chinese economies. Professor Campbell’s field work consists of a network of archaeological collaborations across regions and site types with different institutions in China, aimed at reconstructing the Shang political economy (currently focused on zooarchaeology and bone working).

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