Nothing new under the sun.

Perhaps we could do with some of the advice found in the documents written a millenia ago, it still seems pertinent today. When were you last ‘overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.’?

This manuscript is a copy of a series of ‘model letters’ produced by the Bureau of Etiquette in Dunhuang for the guidance of officials and others. These letters gave examples of how to communicate effectively in writing, particularly in difficult situations.

‘A letter of apology for getting drunk’:
Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was so intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious
state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realized what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready
to sink into the earth with shame. It was due to a vessel of small capacity being filled for the nonce too full. I humbly trust that you in your wise benevolence
will not condemn me for my transgression. Soon I will come to apologize in person, but meanwhile I beg to send this written communication for your kind
inspection. Leaving much unsaid, I am yours respectfully.

SRE Cat. no. 172, 856, Found in Dunhuang, Cave 17, Ink on paper, The British Library, Or.8210/S.2200

About a thousand years ago, a secret library housing a collection of rare manuscripts and magnificent works on silk and paper was sealed up, in order to preserve these treasures of the Buddhist monks. A Chinese scholar has suggested that the caves of Mogao were abandoned when it became threatened by the invasion of the Muslim armies’s advance to Khotan, the kingdom neighbouring Dunhuang. Mogao, founded by Buddhist monks as an isolated monastery in the late fourth century, evolved into an artistic and spiritual center and the network of caves constitute one of the world’s most significant sites of Buddhist art.

In 1900 a monk discovered the hidden door to the library, during his restoration work of some of the murals at Dunhuang. Unable to secure funding for his work, he gave great quantities of the documents to foreign archeologists in return for money. Thus the treasure was distributed worldwide, and can be found in various museums. In 1993 an international project was undertaken , the International Dunhuang Project, which is a fascinating source for historians or curious minds. Go here to discover it

Amongst the documents is a copy of the ‘Diamond Sutra’ which is the world’s earliest complete surviving dated printed book, made in 868 and comprising of seven strips of yellow stained paper pasted together. It is written in Chinese, but is one of the most important sacred works of the Buddhist faith, founded in India. Sutra is from the Sanskrit language and means sermon or religious teaching. This is hundreds of years before Europe gets to print, with the
Gutenburg press!!

Further reading on this fascinating subject can be found here, or in

The British Library is another great source.

Personally, this discovery has provoked a curiosity about the  capabilities of the East, so many centuries ago.  It is easy to compare the present with the past, and assume a sense of superior knowledge and sophistication.  When I go back in time, I find lots of my understanding is based on incorrect supposition, or incorrectly taught history.  I believed the Europeans to have brought the world printing, but I am wrong!  I have been watching a documentary series by Niall Ferguson which is helping me to improve my understanding of cultural and scientific discoveries in history.  It is so accessible, and interesting, I would urge anyone with an interest in history to give it a go.


4 thoughts on “Nothing new under the sun.

I like to hear from you, so tell me what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s