Sekkobun (石鼓文)

Sekkobun refers to 10 stone monuments, or characters inscribed thereon, made of granite which were excavated in Tien-xing Prefecture in Feng-xiang County in Shan-xi Province in the early Tang period. Sekkobun is the oldest stone-inscribed character material in those that exits in China, has been treasured since sekkobun was excavated, and is exhibited in the Palace Museum in Beijing City.

This by-name 'sekkobun' became commonly known because poets, WEI Ying-wu and HAN yu compiled 'Sekko-ka poems' paying a tribute to the stone monuments.

There is inscribed a poem describing scenes of hunting and, therefore, sekkobun is positioned as one of the literature materials (for the historical science) from which the daily living of the king in those days including the hunting is known. The character font is loved by the Chinese calligraphers as an example of 'Da-zhuang' which had been used before the characters were standardized by the Emperor Shi, the font is a model of the works such as ling-shu (writing calligraphy with copying) by WU Chang-shou.

Sekkobun repeatedly was lost and re-discovered every time a war broke out and, more portions were broken when it was lost and the number of its legible characters was checked every time it was re-discovered and, therefore, the state of its damage due to the wars was indicated in detail.

A portion of Sekkobun was used on the cover of the "The Complete Works of Soseki NATSUME" published by IWANAMI shoten publishing company.

Period when sekko was established
Since the time when sekkobun was excavated, the discussion on the time when sekko had been inscribed continued endlessly. At present, the opinion that it was formed in Qin dynasty in Zhan-guo period is predominant.

When sekkobun was excavated in the early Tang period, the poems thereon which described the scenes of hunting were closely similar to the poems in 'Che-gong' and 'ji-re' of the Shi Ching, which paid a tribute to the King Xuan (Zhou) in Zhou and, therefore, it was considered that sekkobun was made in the period of the King Xuan in Zhou. This opinion was supported for a long time and the Emperor Qian-long of the Qing Dynasty also acknowledged this opinion and, therefore, objections broke out after the Xin-hai Revolution.

According to historical materials, there was no trace that the King Xuan enjoyed hunting near the site where sekkobun was found.

A bow painted in red' and 'a three-horse carriage' that were described in the poems were what the lords used and did not suit the King Xuan.

Originally, in the period of the King Xuan, there was no iron chisel which was able to cut granite.

In response to these objections, the opinion supporting the period of the King Xuan is almost denied. Because the font is an old font which was abolished due to the standardization of characters conducted by the Emperor Shi, it is not considered that sekkobun is a forgery made after the period of the Emperor Shi.

The current controversial point is narrowed to the point as to which period sekkobun was made in before the character standardization, and any one of Lord Ran (Qin), Lord Wen (Qin), and Lord Mu (Qin) is very probable and it is also considered that sekkobun was a poem made when Lord Xian (Qin) enjoyed hunting in B.C. 374.

Preservation and damage of sekko
Sekko is not a stone monument which was handed down but an item which was excavated and, therefore, sekko had been damaged when it was excavated. On the other hand, it was mistakenly disseminated that sekkobun was stone monuments of the King Xuan and, therefore, sekkobun was treated as precious items for some time period and rubbed copies of it has been and are frequently made. Each stone itself was about one ton and was light and, therefore, sekkobun was sometimes stolen and has repeated to be preserved and damaged.

Sekkobun immediately after the time when it was excavated was left uncovered under sunshine and rain and no preservation measure was taken for it. In 'Sekko-ka poems' by WEI Ying-wu, it was described as 'it was damaged by wind and rain and covered with moss'. HAN yu advised Da-xue to move it to preserve, however, it was not realized.

In around 800, ZHENG Yu-qing moved sekko to Feng-xian Confucious temple and preservation of it finally started. Sekko was preserved for about 100 years at this place until when the five-generation-ten-country period started.

Song (dynasty) Dynasty was established and SI Ma-chi (the father of SI Ma-guang) was appointed as the governor of Feng-xian and collected sekkobun which had been scattered and moved it to and preserved it in Fu-xue school. However, during this move, one of the stone monuments was lost.

The lost one (which was called 'Zuo-yuan-gu' because of the head portion of the poem on it) was found in 1052 in an ordinary house. However, the upper portion of it was cut off and it was scooped out to be a stone mortar and, therefore, the upper portion of the poem was completely lost. Thereafter, countermeasures for preservation of it became strict such as counting up the number of the characters. There were confirmed 465 characters according to a research by OU Yang-xiu.

Due to a formal order of HUI Song who was an ardent admirer of fine art, sekko was all transported to Kai-feng. In order to prevent wearing by rubbing to make copies and provide grace as a treasure, all of the characters inscribed were inlaid with gold. Then, sekko was preserved in Da-xue school and, later on, in Bao-he palace.

Preservation as a treasure in Bao-he palace and being inlaid with gold caused adversely and sekko was stolen during Jingkang Incident. The inlaid-gold was scooped out and the characters were all destroyed on one stone monument of sekko having the least number of characters left (which monument was called 'Ma-di-gu').

When Yuan dynasty was established, sekko was preserved in Guo-zi-guan and the Ming dynasty treated it in the same manner. WU Qiu-yan of Yuan read 477 characters and FAN You read 386 characters, however, thereafter, weathering was gradually advancing.

The Qing Dynasty also protected it, and furthermore the Emperor Qian-long made a replica for rubbing to make copies, in order to save sekko completely from degradation.

The government of Republic of China also stored sekko in Gu-gong palace, however, brought back it to Shang-hai when the Manchurian incident broke out. Though Sekko was brought back to Nan-jing in 1936, was moved into deep inside China to Bao-ji, Han-zhong, Cheng-du, and Wo-mei when Sino-Japanese War broke out.

Though Sekko was moved to Nan-jing in 1947, the civil war between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party broke out. The Kuomintang Party (Chinese Nationalist Party) gave up their transportation of sekko to Taipei and ran away and sekko was received by the Communist Party of China without any damage. Then, sekko returned to Gu-gong in Beijing and preserved there until present.

Because sekko was repeatedly damaged as above, the inscribed characters of sekko exhibited in Gu-gong are incomplete and the characters lost are able to be seen on the copies taken in the Song period. The rubbed copy in the Tang period, which was taken before the upper portion of Zuo-yuan-gu was destroyed is not found.

Rubbed copy
Because the original stones are broken, Song rubbed copies made before the Jingkang incident are precious as the materials of the characters.

Fan-family tian-yi copy: These are rubbed copies made in the North-Song period and including 462 characters, and have been laid open since long time ago and, therefore, have been the model of books on its inscriptions and its replicas. This copy were lost in the civil war in 1860.

Xian-feng copy: This is said to be the oldest copy and 480 characters are able to be read. This copy is retained in Mitsui-bunko library in Tokyo.

Zhong-quan copy: This copy includes the largest number of characters from which 500 characters are able to be read through, but they are not clear, and this copy is often featured as fa-shu. This copy is retained in Mitsui-bunko library in Tokyo.

Hou-qing copy: This copy was a part of the collection by An-guo who was a epigrapher in the Ming period together with the Xian-feng copy and the Zhong-quan copy, and 497 characters are able to be read from this copy and this copy is often used as fa-shu. This copy is retained in Mitsui-bunko library in Tokyo.

Ten pieces of sekko
One set of sekko is constituted by ten stone monuments, however, they were carelessly excavated and, therefore, their order is not clear and it is determined that the present order is correct through the interpretation of the poems.

Starting with Wu-che-gu (19 poems each having 11 lines of six characters) 'Wu-che-ji-gong', poems describing the early stage of the hunting was written. Because the first poem is very similar to the Shi Ching, an opinion asserting that this poem was made by the King XUAN, appeared.

シ幵医殳-gu (seven poems each including 9 lines of even characters): Starting with 'シ幵医殳' and poems which admired the richness of the land were written. 医殳 characters were the characters specific to Qin and, therefore, this became the ground to overcome the opinion concerning the King XUAN.

Tian-che-gu (18 poems each including 10 lines of seven characters): Starting with 'tian-che-gong-an', poems describing the scenes of the hunting are written. Even the rubbed copy of this is partially broken and three poems are not legible.

Jin-che-gu (18 poems each including 10 lines of seven characters): Starting with 'kou-kou-jin-che', only six poems have been understood because the first two characters of each of all the poems are lost, however, these poems describe the sense of happiness after the hunting.

Ling-yu-gu (18 poems each including 11 lines of six characters): The head portion is broken and this one is named by 'ling-yu-kou-kou' in the second poem. Ten poems that are a little more than the half of all the poems have been understood and these poems describe the scenes of people going home in the rain.

Zuo-yuan-gu (the number of poems unknown each including 11 lines of seven characters): This gu is the one which was wrongly used as a stone mortar and the poems on it are impossible to read. Kou-zuo-yuan-zuo' in the lower portion in the first line which escaped the damage is the origin of this common name.

Er-shi-gu (17 poems each including 11 lines of six characters): A half of the characters are evenly broken and the poem is impossible to read. Er-shi' at the end of the third line is the origin of this common name.

Ma-di-gu (the number of poems unknown each having eight lines of five characters): This gu is the gu which lost its characters in the Jingkang incident and less than 20 characters can be read from the Song rubbed copy and interpretation of its poems was given up from the first.

Wu-shui-gu (20 poems each including 15 lines of five characters): This name is originated from the head portion of it, 'wu-shui-ji-qing'. Though this has many characters left undamaged, their wear is significant and most of the characters are difficult to distinguish their lines and points from the scratches thereon. The interpreted poems are only seven of them.

Wo-ren-gu (the number of poems unknown each including nine lines of eight characters): This name is originated from 'wo-ren-ling-ji' at the head. The poems are estimated to describe the scenes of Wu-ren (field guards) thanking the nature and, therefore, this is placed at the tail of the series of pieces of sekko.

[Original Japanese]