The Key to the Chronology of the Three Dynasties: The "Modern
Text" Bamboo Annals
by David Shepherd Nivison
Summary of the Argument
- Shaughnessy's discovery that a slip in the
Annals chronicle for Cheng Wang of Zhou has been moved
to the end of the chronicle for Wu Wang shows that the
Bamboo Annals chronology is at least as early as the
fourth century BCE, and is earlier than any other known. So in
trying to reconstruct exact dates one must begin with
- The Annals date for the conjunction of
1059 BCE is 1071, back 12; its dates for the reign of Wen Wang
are 1113-1062; thus the correct dates should be 1101-1050.
Other chronologies give Wen 50 years only. Inscriptions show
that a Zhou king nonally had a post-mourning "accession" in his
third year; so Wen's dates must be 1101/1099-1050. This is
confirmed by the lunar eclipse on day bingzi (13) in the first
month of Wen's 35th year, = 1065, as mentioned in Yi Zhou
shu 23 "Xiao Kai."
- Mourning-completion indirectly indicates a royal
calendar with first year 1056 (1058 being "mandate year" after
the conjunction). If Mu Wang's first year was 100 years after
the beginning of Zhou, it could be 956. This is confirmed by
bronze inscription dates (taking lunar phase terms to mark
approximate lunar quarters).
- The dates for kings two through four, assuming
Annals reign lengths, therefore should be these: Cheng
Wang, 1037/35-1006 (2 + 30); Kang Wang, 1005/03-978 (2 + 26);
Zhao Wang, 977/75-957 (2 + 19), confirmed by the Xiao Yu
ding inscription (979). Wu Wang died three years after
the conquest, which must be 1040, on Qing Ming Day, confirmed
(e.g.) by the final line of the "Da Ming" ode in the Shi
- The Zhou Gong Regency was then misdated as the
seven years before Cheng's 30 years, making the conquest 1045
(still reflected in other dates in the present Annals).
The Yin Li conquest date is 1070, back 25 from 1045; if the Yin
Li date for the first year of Shang, 1579, is also back 25,
then the correct date is Pankenier's date 1554.
- Pankenier's conjunction date 1953 for Shun 14,
and Pang's solar eclipse date 1876 for Zhong Kang 5, plus
two-year intervals between reigns, yield complete Xia Dynasty
dates to 1561-1555 for next-to-last king Fa; so the last king
Jie is an invention. This chronology seems verified by the
fIrst day of Kong Jia, 17 Feb 1577, = jiazi (01). Thus
gan names of kings were apparently determined by first
days of their reigns.
- This gan hypothesis is confirmed by its
successful application to all the Shang kings, who all have
gan names. Confirmations of resulting exact dates for
all of Shang include these: (1) Two traditional errors are
explained, (a) the impossibly long 75 years for Tai Wu; and (b
) the misdating of Yong Ji before Tai Wu rather than after him.
Also (2) Shang bone inscriptions show that Wu Yi did die (as in
the Annals) during a hunt "in the He-Wei area" in his
35th year, the correct date being 1109 BCE.
- Analysis of middle and late Western Zhou bronze
inscriptions together with Annals reign lengths yields
exact dates for Zhou kings from Mu Wang through You Wang.
- Dukes of Lu: Xian Gong's reign should be 23 years
rather than the 32 years in the Shiji; and Li Gong's succession
date was the "first year" of Gong Wang, but was Gong Wang's
accession date (915) rather than his succession date (917);
also, the reign of the first duke Ho Qin was incorrectly
lengthened 3 years in the Annals as an indirect
consequence of the moving of "Shaughnessy's slip."
- The Late Shang ritual cycle: 70 or more
inscriptions for the eastern campaign of Di Xin must be dated
to 1077-1076, the campaign beginning on 29 September 1077, with
the annual zai sacrifice to Shang Jia. From this
starting point for analysis, the first days of sacrifice years
from 1120 through 1041 are calculated, confirming dates for the
Wu Yi, Wenwu Ding and Di Yi reigns.
- Pre-Zhou chronicle: Successive revisions from ca.
427 to 300 are explained, showing that dates in the
Annals back to Huang Di are systematically related to
Xia and post- Xia dates. (Therefore the original text must have
begun with Huang Di. )
- Conquest dates other than the correct date 1040
explained and refuted: notably, the "13th year" theory of Liu
Xin and many later scholars; and the incorrect but widely
accepted date 1027, thought to be required by a' quotation from
the Annals by Pei Yin.
- Chronology, Huang Di through Western Zhou:
- Dated Western Zhou bronze inscriptions and lunar
quarters theory: Absolute dates are computed for 56 bronzes
that have full internal dates, using the four quarters (yue
xiang) theory. The system is demonstrated by a tabular
presentation of a day-by-day analysis of the Zhou conquest
campaign in the first half of 1040 BCE.
- The slip text of the Bamboo Annals: Legge
and other later scholars have argued that the Annals
text and dates were reworked after the discovery of the book
ca. 280 CE, so that the Annals dates are worthless for
recovering ancient chronology. These objections are analyzed
- The Wei revision and the "modern text": Errors
and lacunae in the Wei (4th century) part of the chronicle are
here examined, showing that the "modern text" probably derives
from a copy of the work that was being done by the Jin court
scholars before it was finished; and that the creators of the
original text ca. 318-299 altered the dating of the reign of
Huicheng Wang (as king) for political reasons, making it
335-319 rather than 334-319
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