Pan Weimei (School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at University of British Columbia.)
During more than three centuries, diplomatics has not only seen its vital influence on other disciplines, among which law, historical sciences and archival science, but also its own enduring vitality as an autonomous discipline. While it did contribute to the body of knowledge of archival science in the 19th century, its influence on archival science faded gradually after that. And it was not until Duranti’s six articles in Archivaria that this “old” science found a new life in modern times. What’s more, as the theoretical foundation of several research projects on digital records, including InterPARES, Digital Records Forensics (DRF), Records in the Cloud (RiC), etc., diplomatics has also seen a persistent evolution and prosperity in digital world. Recognizing its influence and growth in the Western world, this author, a Chinese doctoral student, has begun to wonder whether there is a “diplomatics” in China. China is a country with a long feudal history, in the course of which the feudal rulers imposed stringent rules on the creation, form and transmission of documents, which were their main instruments to reign. Furthermore, Chinese unbroken chain of power has ensured that these rules were carried forward to modern times. Ancient rulers paid great attention to the compilation of the history of their reign using official records. These circumstances should have been a fertile ground for the development of a science like diplomatics. However, did it emerge? This paper will aim to answer the following questions: is there an existing science in China which focuses on evaluating documents’ authenticity by conducting a critical analysis of textual documents? Is there a science in China whose objective is to identify “the genesis, inner constitution and transmission of documents and of their relationship with the facts represented in them and with their creators”?
If the answer to these two questions is positive, then what are the similarities and differences between the Chinese science(s) and diplomatics’ The exploration will unfold through two routes. First, it will look outside archival science, particularly to the field of Chinese Language and Literature, and will examine a science called “Studies of Chinese Ancient Documents”, which is also the China discipline that has studied Dom Jean Mabillon’s diplomatics and perceives it as its own Western counterpart. This science particularly focuses on the study of ancient documents. Secondly, the exploration will look inside archival science, and will examine first a science called jianbian, which aims at assessing the authenticity of archival documents, and then at another science that overtime was likewise integrated within archival science, called wenshu, whose objective is to provide directions on how to write official documents, thereby focusing on the form of documents per se. The rationale for choosing these two routes are, on the one hand, a consideration of the historical motivation and original purposes of the emergence of diplomatics in Europe, and, on the other hand, a consideration of the objectives of diplomatics as an autonomous discipline.