Scribbles on the verso of manuscripts written by lay students in Dunhuang

Imre Galambos, “Scribbles on the verso of manuscripts written by lay students in Dunhuang.” Tonkō shahon kenykū nenpō 敦煌寫本硏究年報 (2016) 10, 497–522.

The vast corpus of Dunhuang manuscripts includes a series of items with what we may call ‘educational texts’ (mengshu 蒙書), which comprise a body of written works used in pre-modern China as material for elementary education. Some of these were designed to teach students a set of basic characters, while others conveyed a didactic message, typically through recounting stories of exemplary figures from the Confucian tradition. By copying these texts, on the one hand, students practiced their literacy skills and, on the other hand, internalized the moral guidelines acclaimed in the literary tradition. The surviving manuscripts, however, also demonstrate that students copied not only educational texts in a strict sense but also works such as the Xiaojing 孝經and parts of the Lunyu 論語. Even though these texts would normally be categorized as Confucian classics, their surviving copies in most cases were written by students as part of their curriculum. In addition, students also seemed to have copied texts with religious content, most significantly the Buddhist narratives called ‘transformation texts’ (bianwen 變文).1 Added together, the body of texts produced by students in a school setting is considerable, amounting to hundreds of manuscripts.

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