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Full Access “Greeting Tablets” in Early China

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“Greeting Tablets” in Early China

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Some Traits of the Communicative Etiquette of Officialdom in Light of Newly Excavated Inscriptions

image of T'oung Pao

Since the 1930s, Chinese archaeologists have discovered a number of inscribed wooden tablets from the early Han to the Western Jin, which were identified as “greeting tablets” of two types, ci 刺 and ye 謁. As attested in transmitted accounts, these tablets played an important role in the communicative etiquette of early imperial and early medieval officialdom; during a meeting ceremony, they were presented by the guest to the host. The present article offers a systematic survey of the available corpus of excavated greeting tablets and explores their wider socio-cultural implications. As a component of the communicative etiquette of the bureaucracy, greeting tablets were instrumental in the adaptation of elements of aristocratic culture to the needs of mass officialdom—a new social stratum that in terms of cultural background differed fundamentally from the hereditary aristocracy of the pre-imperial era but occupied a comparable position as a social and political elite.
Depuis les années 1930 les archéologues chinois ont découvert de nombreuses tablettes de bois inscrites datant du début des Han jusqu’aux Jin occidentaux, qui ont été identifiées comme étant des « tablettes de salutation ». Il en existe deux types, les ci 刺 et les ye 謁. Comme l’attestent les textes transmis, ces tablettes jouaient un rôle important dans l’étiquette régissant les communications entre fonctionnaires dans la période impériale ancienne et au début de l’époque médiévale: l’hôte les présentait à l’invité au cours du cérémonial marquant leur rencontre. Cet article propose un inventaire systématique du corpus des tablettes de salutation découvertes dans les fouilles et s’intéresse plus généralement à leurs implications socio-culturelles. Partie intégrante de l’étiquette des communications, ces tablettes ont joué leur rôle dans l’adaptation de certains éléments de la culture aristocratique aux besoins de la masse des fonctionnaires, autrement dit d’un groupe social nouveau dont le fonds culturel différait fondamentalement de celui de l’aristocratie héréditaire mais dont la position en tant qu’élite sociale et politique était comparable.

Affiliations: 1: Columbia University


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