Although historians can’t be sure there was ever a Xia dynasty, early writings have proven that the Shang Dynasty did indeed exist. I photocopied the children some information on the Shang Dynasty, asked them to do a key word outline and write a short paragraph.
The belief system which pervaded the Shang Dynasty was called ancestor worship. The children knew about this from the last time we studied ancient China and watched Mulan! I photocopied some information about Ancestor worship and oracle bones and made up some questions to go with it. Whilst I don’t do this often, occasionally I like the children to have a non-verbal comprehension exercise to complete. T11 finds it hard to articulate answers, so I think practice in this skill is important. However, I usually do it verbally, which he has always prefered. They completed this during their independent study time:
The oracle bones brought us nicely onto the main topic of the week which was the ancient forms of Chinese writing. See here for some pictures of the earliest forms of writing found in China on oracle bones. I thought it might be fun to make some of our own oracle bones using the simplest Ancient China pictograms. The children formed plasticene into some sort of bone shape. Using a toothpick and a list of pictographs from Marie’s Pastiche they made Chinese pictographs on their ‘bone’. Marie is spending a year learning about China, virtually! She is incredibly thorough and her blog is well worth browsing. Our resulting oracle bones:
We used this website and the book below to explore a little more about the Ancient Chinese writing system:
My goal was for the children to understand the underlying principles of this system, which is so very different from our own. Marie has made some wonderful pictograph cards to use as a useful memory game. We made full use of these, as well as the sheets provided in the book above and this challenge to help the children memorise some of the characters.
We all had a go at actually doing some writing. Chinese writing was traditionally done using brushes and paint. After reading the above book, which teaches very simply the hows of the strokes, we started practising.
We had a look at how the Ancient Chinese people used writing. This page allows the reader to click on different items that writing was used for. We had already made an oracle bone, so decided to also make a wooden strip which were used for ‘writing literary or philosophical works, information about medicine, divination and military strategy.’ (from website) I thought it might be fun to make one and cover it with cord and wet clay to make it private. Another early form of an envelope! (We had learnt about a clay wrapper used by the Babylonians in the 2000 B.C.) I have absolutely no idea if this actually looks even remotely authentic as it was a made up project, but the children will probably never forget the earliest form of a Chinese envelope! And here it is, in all it’s glory:
Another form of printing used for more official marks was known as the Chinese chop. Again I will direct you to Marie’s blog for a full explanation, but basically it was used as a seal to officially sign documents or art. I kind of stole Marie’s idea here, because although we have made seals before (from clay during our Mesopotamia studies) the simplicity of Marie’s design appealed and I just had to try it out! For full instructions nip over to Marie’s!
Last but not least I decided that although this was a quick look into Chinese calligraphy, I would have the children do a page of practice using a calligraphy pen (the practice sheet we used at this point were too small for a brush). We will soon be studying the Limbourg brother’s illuminations and any calligraphy knowledge, I felt, would help them with their projects. The practice pages we used were from a little book we bought at the Louvre whilst we were in Paris.
The final invention we learnt about was the chop sticks, which came into use during the Shang Dynasty. It is my plan to serve up one Chinese dish a week for the children to try out, on the understanding – they must eat with their chop sticks!
This week was chicken and vegetables with yellow bean sauce:
Next week we will be studying the Chou dynasty. Loving this!