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Selbitschka, Armin (2018): 'I Write Therefore I Am' Scribes, Literacy, and Identity in Early China. In: Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 78, No. 2: pp. 413-476
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Abstract

Scholarship usually accords early Chinese scribes little respect. The common perception is that they were nothing but low-level bureaucrats who carried out menial tasks in early imperial administration. But scribes saw themselves differently. Through an in-depth analysis of received literature and archaeological finds unearthed from the tombs of scribes, I argue that being a scribe was not only a privilege but also a matter of great pride to the individuals allowed to enter this profession. The fact that a significant number of tombs from the late fifth century BCE through the early first century CE yielded administrative and legal manuscripts in close proximity to writing utensils shows that literacy was the most crucial aspect of their identity. Their writing skills informed a sense of self that even extended into the afterlife.