Discover China: Tracing cultural footprints of Chinese characters
ZHENGZHOU, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Shi Guoqiang, 67, has toured around China, spending his life tracing the footprints of Cang Jie, a mythical figure presumed to have invented Chinese characters about 5,000 years ago.
China has a tradition of treasuring and revering Chinese characters and paper. This tradition reflects the nation's tributes to its culture and can be embodied in the respect people show to Cang Jie.
Across mountains, fields, rivers, towns, and even border areas in China, people have built more than 40 tombs, shrines, and memorial temples to commemorate the figure.
Shi, a researcher who studies Cang Jie culture, has visited all these sites. He believes his hometown, Nanle County in central China's Henan Province, is the birthplace of Cang Jie.
The county hosts a temple of Cang Jie, and the village where the temple is located is named "Shiguan Village," as Cang Jie is believed to be the Shiguan, which in Chinese means official historian, of the Yellow Emperor, considered one of the common ancestors of all Chinese.
In the temple are preserved two ancient tablets, dating back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) respectively.
Characters inscribed on the Yuan Dynasty tablet record, "Cang Jie was born and buried here. It is the honor of the locals in the county." Like Shi, all his fellow villagers and the generations that lived in the village believe they are descendants of the sage.
People mostly worship Cang Jie during Guyu, which literally means "grain rain," referring to the sixth of the 24 solar terms created by the ancient Chinese to carry out agricultural activities, and Cang Jie is believed to have successfully invented the Chinese characters during Guyu, Shi said.
"While in Nanle County, we have been holding temple fairs to worship Cang Jie on his birthday to show closer connections with the figure, not only commemorating his feats," he said.
Shi recalled on Chinese New Year's Eve when he was young, his grandfather would take him to the Cang Jie temple and tried to light the first incense stick before anyone else, which implied improvement and achievements in his studies.
Such childhood memories bore the good wishes of the elderly, just as they believed the myth of Cang Jie, Shi said.
Before the Chinese characters came into being, the ancestors used to record information with knotted ropes, the Eight Diagrams, pictures, and other methods, said Li Yunfu, a professor with Beijing Normal University.
If Cang Jie did exist, he would be the one who collected and arranged the Chinese characters, Li said.
"As one of the oldest forms of writing that derived on its own in the world, Chinese characters are the only ones that have been used till now," said Song Zhenhao, a historian with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Chinese characters are not only the symbol of the formation of Chinese civilization but also the root of the civilization," Li said, adding that since ancient times, Chinese characters have kept the inheritance of the Chinese civilization uninterrupted, while the stability and continuity of the Chinese civilization have made Chinese characters more vital. Enditem