The description and measurement of "time" in archaic dynasties, especially from Shang to Qin (1675 BC-200 BC), has been a steady source of confusion and controversy among literary and historical scholars. In a world where the clock had not yet come into existence, miscellaneous descriptions based on variables of nature— such as changes of climate, constellations, and meteorology — were employed as metaphorical devices to describe the passing of "time." Despite the fact that a flood of discourses on the recording of time appeared before the Qin dynasty, no scholar has systematically explored the different timing systems. My dissertation, through an investigation of the transmitted classical literature and texts found in archaeological excavations, aims to penetrate this question in the following six chapters.
Chapter 1 introduces the motivation and methodology of this study, following a review of the pertinent scholarship. In Chapters 2 to 4, I assemble various discourses to record a "day" in Shang-Qin dynasty material, such as oracle-bone inscriptions, bronze characters, and bamboo strips, in order to manifest the distinctions of the term usage and recording of a "day" in different periods. Statistical analysis shows that the bamboo slips found in the late Warring States Period (403 BC-221 BC) embodied a significant transitional moment in which the system of tracking and describing time were fundamentally improved. Based on the preceding late-Shang technique (which segmented a single day into several time blocks), a new timing system had been created during the Warring State Period to allocate a day into either twelve, sixteen, or twenty-eight hours. The creation of the latter two systems contained the notions of yin, yang, and the "five elements."
Chapter 5 further details the discourses of "day" and "time" in the Shang-Qin dynasty material from the previous chapters. By delving into excavated texts and fourteen transmitted classics — including The Classic of Changes, Books of Documents, Books of Odes, Rites of Zhou, Books of Etiquette and Ceremonial, and The Annals of Lu Buwei — with regards to the terminology of time, I attempt to present a complete picture of how the Shang-Qin people recorded time.
One of the main difficulties in reading timing systems is that the same time could be described in many different ways because of the evolution of terminology and sentence structure. To illuminate this problem, Chapter 6 provides a comparative linguistic analysis of excavated documents which contain descriptions of day or time. My analysis of onomatopoeic, radical complicated, and radical simplified characters shows that the Shang-Qin people used different strategies to construct their sentences when describing a unit of time.
Through the investigation of timing systems from the Shang to Qin dynasties, my dissertation proposes that the discourses of time and their systems changed with the dynasties. The creation of timing systems can be seen as byproducts of activities such as the observation of natural phenomena, sacrificial ceremonies, divinations, politics, and military battles.