On July 23, 2009, Prof. Feng Shi, senior researcher of Institute of Archaeology made a report on “the function and significance of historical document to archaeology” in the meeting room of the Institute of Archaeology, CASS. Leaders, researchers and students of the Institute, as well as scholars from other archaeological and cultural institutions attended the seminar.
Prof. Feng first explained the definition of “document”, and indicated the differences in the meaning of document between today and the past. “Document” in an ancient context consists of two parts: literal materials and knowledgeable people on ancient document and history studies. However today, “document” refers only to paper materials written in ancient times.
He emphasized that archaeology not only need the study of ancient books handed down from the past, but also need the study of excavated documents. Besides, excavated document in itself is a part of archaeology studies, and as a result, the study of it is an indispensable component.
Prof. Feng then gave a detailed explanation on reliability of ancient documents. In traditional view, documents before the Three generations of the Qin and Han Dynasties are much more valuable in academic studies than those after. But Prof. Feng argues it is not always so. For instance, the accomplishments of scholars in Qing Dynasty on Confucian classics and philosophy studies are greater than those of Song and Yuan Dynasties. Moreover, though highly valuable, early documents are also more questionable. As early as in the Warring States Period, Mencius warned that “no book is better than trust books absolutely”. Prof. Feng asserted that usually an ancient book is the research results of a school of scholars, rather than written by one particular person, thus the name of author seldom appears on the book. Such tradition was kept until Han Dynasty.
Finally, Prof Feng talked about methods of how to judge the reliability of ancient books. He points out that in judging an ancient book, one first should know about the styles of ancient books, and then identify it with a complex of materials. Prof. Feng believes most classics before Qin Dynasty are reliable, though with a few errors.
After the report, many scholars had a heated discussion. They expressed their understandings on Ancient documents in Archaeological studies. (Translated by Chen Xi)