The so-called "Stone Drum inscriptions" (Shigu wen 石鼓文) or "Stone Drum Poems" (Shigu shi 石鼓詩) are texts dating from the late Spring and Autumn 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE) or early Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) state of Qin 秦. They were written on drum-shaped stones and center around the hunts of the dukes of Qin, and are therefore occasionally called liejie 獵碣 "hunting inscriptions". The original stones were detected near Fengxiang 鳳翔, Shaanxi, during the Tang period 唐 (618-907, at that time called Sanzhi 三畤 in the district of Tianxing 天興), and are today owned by the Palace Museum in Beijing 故宮博物院, but in a badly weathered condition. The "drums" have a height of about 90 and a diameter of 60 cm. On each one of the stones a poem was inscribed, composed in four-syllable verses, and as one coherent textual cycle. The original texts was about 700 words long, but only 272 are today stille legible, and on some stones the inscription has wholly disappeared. The words are written in large seal script (zhouwen 籀文, also called dazhuan 大篆) in the native style of Qin, where this type of script survived longest. The stone inscriptions are thefore very important for the history of the Chinese script as well as for the history of Chinese literature.
|Foto of the present state (1936) of one of the Stone Drums (poem Qian yi 汧殹). It can be seen that already a large part of the inscription is missing. Click to enlarge.|
|Rubbing of the present condition of the poem, made by Guo Moruo 郭沫若. Click to enlarge.|
|Reconstruction of the original inscription on the base of older rubbings, with one critical note by Guo Moruo. From Guo Moruo 郭沫若 (1936), Shiguwen yanjiu 石鼓文研究, Beiping: 1936. Click to enlarge.|
|Transcription of the poem into modern script. According to Lu Qinli 逯欽立 (1983), Xian-Qin Han Wei Jin Nanbeichao shi 先秦漢魏晉南北朝詩, Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, and Guo Moruo's transcription. The small characters indicate for which standard chancery script character the large seal characters stand (like 又 for 有). In one case, two characters are merged to one (小魚). The meaning of some characters of words is unknown.|
The inscriptions of the stones are first mentioned during the Tang period, and people began commenting on the inscriptions and copying them. The best rubbings of the inscriptions were produced during the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), called the Shiguzhai Xianfeng version 十鼓齊先鋒本, Zhongquan version 中權本 and Houjin version 後勁本. They survived in the collection of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar An Guojiu 安國舊. The Republican archeologist Guo Moruo 郭沫若 has reproduced the Xianfeng version with supplements from the two other versions. They were published in his book Shiguwen yanjiu 石鼓文研究 (Beiping 1936).
The style of the poems is similar to the Major and Minor Odes (Daya 大雅, Xiaoya 小雅) in the Confucian Classic Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs", particularly the song Che gong 車攻 "Chariots are strong" (transl. Waley) in that collection. Researchers have named all ten songs or poems according to two words appearing in the first verse. These are Qian yi 汧殹, Ling yu 霝雨, Er shi 而師, Zuo yuan 乍原, Wu shui 吾水 (Wo shui 我水), Che gong 車工, Tian che 田車, Luan che 鑾車, Tian hong 天虹 (also called Ma biao 馬麃 or Ma jian 馬廌), and Wu ren 吳人. The order of the poems differs from one publication to the other.
The earliest commentator on the stones, Su Xu 蘇勖, believed that the stones were created during the reign of King Xuan 周宣王 (r. 828-782 BCE). Later scholars, like Li Sizhen 李嗣真, Zhang Huaiguan 張懷瓘, Dou Ji 竇臮, Xu Hao 徐浩, Wei Yingwu 韋應物, Han Yu 韓愈 and Zhou Yue 周越 followed this opinion. The early Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 rose doubts about this statement, but confirmed that the inscriptions were made during the Western Zhou period 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE). Ma Dingguo 馬定國 during the Jin period 金 (1115-1234) believed that the stones were created much later, during the Western Wei period 西魏 (535-556), when Prince Yuwen Tai 宇文泰 went hunting to Qiyang 歧陽. Zheng Qiao 鄭樵, who made a phonetic study on the Stone Drum poems, analysed the shape of the characters and constated that they must date later than the reign of King Huiwen 秦惠文王 of Qin (r. 338-311), but earlier than the foundation of the Qin empire 秦 (221-206 BCE). Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholars like Wu Yi 武億 and Yu Zhengxie 俞正燮 brought forward the idea that the stones were a much later product, from the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) or even the Northern Wei period 北魏 (386-534), but this interpretation was not very popular. While the modern scholar Ma Heng 馬衡 and Guo Moruo are of the opinion that the stones were produced during the late Spring and Autumn period, Tang Lan 唐蘭 believes that the poems were written in the early Warring States period. More recent scholars have not only analysed the shape of the characters, but also made studies in the history of stone inscriptions, in order to have a comparative basis, and also the lexicon of the poems, but there is no final conclusion about the exact date. The opinions range from the time of Duke Xiang 秦襄公 (r. 777-766) to Duke Wen 秦文公 (r. 766-716 BCE), Duke Mu 秦穆公 (r. 659-621), Duke Ling 秦靈公 (r. 425-415), Duke Xian 秦獻公 (r. 385-362) or King Huiwen, which makes for a timeframe of four hundred years. While Ma Heng 馬衡 and Guo Moruo were of the opinion that the stones were produced during the late Spring and Autumn period, Tang Lan 唐蘭 believed that the poems were written in the early Warring States period.
The shape of the characters is in-between the style of the bronze inscriptions (jinwen 金文) and the small seal script (xiaozhuan 小篆), and many characters are similar to large seal script characters listed in the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE)
dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字. The ductus can be called a forerunner of the small seal script that was developed in the state of Qin and later used as the empire-wide standard script, simultaneous with introduction of the chancery script (lishu 隸書). The characters are all written in the same style, as one piece of artwork. The shape naturally differs from those of later bronze inscriptions, that were also incised in the material, but metal is still different from stone, and the technique of processing was therefore somewhat different. Another difference to the bronze inscriptions is that the latter were incised in the inner surface, only visible to a small number of persons, very functional, and not easily to work at, while the surface of the stone is easier to treat, and the stone's character as a kind of publicly displayed art object made it more important to create beautiful characters. The shape of the Stone Drum characters is more vidid than that of earlier bronze inscriptions, but on the other hand also more standardized, each character having the same size, and all parts consistently written in the same way.
Early scholars were highly impressed by the Stone Drum inscriptions. Du Fu 杜甫, Wei Yingwu 韋應物 and Han Yu 韓愈 wrote poems about them, and Ouyang Xun 歐陽詢, Yu Shinan 虞世南 and Chu Suiliang 褚遂良 were inspired by the stones in their calligraphies.
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍 (ed. 1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典, Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, p. 187.
Li Xueqi 李學勤 (1992). "Shigu wen 石鼓文", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Kaoguxue 考古學, Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe, p. 472.
Tang Rangzhi 唐讓之 (1991). "Shiguwen 石鼓文", in: Li Mingfang 李名方, Fang Guowu 常國武 (ed. 1991), Zhongguo shufa mingzuo jinshang cidian 中國書法名作鑒賞辭典, Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe, p. 31.
Zhang Deshui 張德水 (1998). "Shiguwen 石鼓文", in: Tang Jiahong 唐嘉弘 (ed.), Zhongguo gudai dianzhang zhidu da cidian 中國古代典章制度大辭典, Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe, p. 711.
Zhang Xiying 張錫瑛 (1997). "Shiguwen 石鼓文", in: Men Gui 門巋, Zhang Yanqin 張燕瑾 (ed.), Zhonghua gucui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典, Beijing: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi, p. 767.