There is singularly little mention of writing or education in ancient times, and it seems likely that written records were at first confined to castings or engravings upon metal, and carvings upon stone. In the days when the written character was cumbrous, there would be no great encouragement to use it for daily household purposes. It is a striking fact, not only that writings upon soft clay, afterwards baked, were not only non-existent in China, but have never once been mentioned or conceived of as being a possibility. This fact effectually disposes of the allegation that Persian and Babylonian literary civilization made its way to China, for it is unreasonable to suppose that an invention so well suited to the clayey soil (of loess mud with cementing properties) in which the Chinese princes dwelt could have been ignored by them, if ever the slightest inkling of it had been obtained.

In 770 B.C., when the Emperor, having moved his capital to the east, ceded his ancestral lands in the west to Ts'in on condition that Ts'in should recover them permanently from the Tartars, the document of cession was engraved upon a metal vase. Fifteen hundred years before this, the Nine Tripods of the founder of the Hia dynasty, representing tributes of metal brought to the Emperor by outlying tribes, were inscribed with records of the various productions of China: these tripods were ever afterwards regarded as an attribute of imperial authority; and even Ts'u, when it began to presume upon the Chou Emperor's weakness, put in a claim (probably based upon his ancestors' own ancient Chinese descent, as explained in Chapter IV.) to possess them.

In distributing the fiefs amongst relatives and friends, the first Chou emperors "composed orders" conferring rights upon their new vassals; but it is not stated what written form these orders took. Written prayers for the recovery of the first Emperor's health are mentioned, but here again we are ignorant of the material on which the prayers were written by the precentor. Four hundred years later, in 65, when Ts'in had assisted to the throne his neighbour the Marquess of Tsin, the latter gave a promise in writing to Ts'in that he would cede to her all the territory lying to the west of the Yellow River. The next ruler of Tsin, the celebrated wanderer who afterwards became the second Protector, is distinctly stated to have had an adviser who taught him to read; it is added that the same marquess also consulted this adviser about a suitable teacher for his son and heir. About the same time one of the Marquess's friends, objecting to take office, took to flight: his friends, as a protest, hung up "a writing" at the palace gate. In 584 a Ts'u refugee in Tsin sends a writing to the leading general of Ts'u, threatening to be a thorn in his side. It is presumed that in all these cases the writing was on wood. The text of a declaration of war against Ts'u by Ts'in in 313 B.C., at a time when these two powers had ceased to be allies, and were competing for empire, refers to an agreement made three centuries earlier between the King of Ts'u and the Earl of Ts'in; this declaration was carved upon several stone tablets; but it does not appear upon what material the older agreement was carved. In 538, at a durbar held by Ts'u, Hiang Suh, the learned man of Sung, who has already been mentioned in Chapter XV. as the inventor of Peace Conferences in 546, and as one of the Confucian group of friends, remarked: "What I know of the diplomatic forms to be observed is only obtained from books." A few years later, when the population of one of the small orthodox Chinese states was moved for political convenience by Ts'u away to another district, they were allowed to take with them "their maps, cadastral survey, and census records."

There is an interesting statement in the Kwoh Yue, an ancillary history of these times, but touching more upon personal matters, usually considered to have been written by the same man that first expanded Confucius' annals, to the effect that in 489 B.C. (when Confucius was wandering about on his travels, a disappointed and disgusted man) the King of Wu inflicted a crushing defeat upon Ts'i at a spot not far from the Lu frontier, and that he captured "the national books, 800 leather chariots, and 3000 cuirasses and shields." If this translation be perfectly accurate, it is interesting as showing that Ts'i did possessKwoh-shu, or "a State library," or archives. But unfortunately two other histories mention the capture of a Ts'i general named Kwoh Hia, alias Kwoh Hwei-tsz, so that there seems to be a doubt whether, in transcribing ancient texts, one character ( shu) may not have been substituted for the other (hia). Two years later the barbarian king in question entered Lu, and made a treaty with that state upon equal terms.