A cash incentive to bone up on character reading

ZHENGZHOU (China) • The National Museum of Chinese Writing is encouraging people from around the world to help decipher oracle bone inscriptions dating back more than 3,000 years to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC).

The museum in central China's Henan province said it will offer 100,000 yuan (S$20,500) for each character that is deciphered.

It is also offering 50,000 yuan to anyone who can provide a definitive explanation for a disputed character, according to a notice posted on its website this month.

Inscriptions on tortoise shells and animal bones represent the original characters of the Chinese written language.

In 1899, they were discovered engraved on "dragon's bones", an ingredient used as a type of traditional Chinese medicine.

About 2,000 characters found on excavated oracle bones have been deciphered. Nearly 3,000 characters remain a mystery.

The museum is also encouraging enthusiasts to use cloud computing and Big Data along with traditional methods to support their interpretations.


  • 3,000

    Approximate number of characters on excavated oracle bones that remain a mystery.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'A cash incentive to bone up on character reading'. Print Edition | Subscribe