Saturday, December 7, 2013
A CHINESE INSCRIPTION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA:
Field sketch by James Burton. York, Daley, and Arnett,
They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, p. 66.
When confronted with the claims of the epigraphy enthusiasts in rock art studies one of the accusations that us epigraphy non-believers hurl at them is that they try to make every abstract shape into an old world inscription. Since the heyday of Barry Fell abstract symbols have been proclaimed to be inscriptions by ancient Basque, Semitic, Celtic, even Chinese, visitors to Pre-Columbian North America. I was therefore quite pleased to find this published example of an authentic Chinese inscription in British Columbia, with the backstory that explains it.
“Rock Writing at EbRj62, Annie Zetco York.
In addition to the aboriginal rock writings, this site is noteworthy for the presence of Chinese calligraphy and drawings made with black ink. These Chinese writings and drawings, some of which have been executed on top of the aboriginal writings, are probably the work of Chinese placer miners, who came to the Lytton area in 1859, a year after the start of the Fraser River gold rush. The Chinese are known to have worked the gravel terraces above this site and at least one man, Ah Chung, homesteaded nearby.
Most of the Chinese drawings and calligraphy (including the drawing of a human figure and what looks like a serpent) are located to the right of the recessed alcove with its aboriginal writings at the downstream edge of the site. In August, 1988, I visited this site with my brother-in-law James Burton who, after having lived and worked near Beijing for several years, is fluent in the Chinese language. He found many of the inked characters too eroded to decipher, particularly where sections of calligraphy had disappeared due to the spalling off of certain areas. However, he was able to determine that the Chinese writing recorded the names of men, presumably the gold prospectors themselves, and the names of women – probably their mothers, fiancées or wives back in China. The best preserved character, isolated from the other short texts, is the Chinese character for “clear/clean water” or “spring.”
Another group of characters, superimposed on the rock writings of Fig. 46, is a date which reads” In the tenth year of the ruling emperor.” Unfortunately the emperor’s name is obliterated, but it is possible to identify the approximate date of the Chinese characters by reference to the imperial genealogy.
The first Chinese arrived in 1859 which was the beginning of the tenth year of reign of Shen Fung. He was succeeded in 1861 by Tung Chi, who reigned until 1875 when he in turn was succeeded by Guang Xu. Guang Xu reigned until 1908 and was succeeded by a child, the last emperor who was deposed three years later during the social revolution. The descriptive date written here refers either to the tenth year (of the) reign of Shen Fung, being 1859-60, the tenth year (of the) reign of Tung Chi, 1871-72, or the tenth year of the reign of Guang Xu, 1885-86. The Chinese writing thus dates between 1859 and 1886.” (York 1993:65-66)
I have to give the epigraphers this one, and it appeals to my sense of justice and fair play that I can write a posting about an inscription that actually is in readable and interpretable Chinese. 路 要 走 (way to go) epigraphers.
York, Annie, Richard Daley, and Chris Arnett,
1993 They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.