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David Keightley

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David Noel Keightley (October 25, 1932 – February 23, 2017) was an American sinologist, historian, and scholar, and was for many years a professor of Chinese history at the University of California, Berkeley.[1][2] Keightley is best known for his studies of Chinese oracle bones and oracle bone script.

David N. Keightley
Born(1932-10-25)October 25, 1932
DiedFebruary 23, 2017(2017-02-23) (aged 84)
Oakland, California, United States
EducationAmherst College
New York University
Columbia University
Known forStudies of oracle bone script
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship (1978)
MacArthur Fellowship (1986)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley
Doctoral advisorHans Bielenstein
Other academic advisorsBurton Watson
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese吉德煒
Simplified Chinese吉德炜

Life and careerEdit

David N. Keightley was born on October 25, 1932, in London, England, and lived there until his family moved to the United States in 1947. He attended Amherst College as an undergraduate student, graduating in 1953 with a B.A. in English with a minor in biochemistry. He then received a Fulbright Scholarship, which he used to study Medieval French at the University of Lille. He received an M.A. in modern European history from New York University in 1956. He then worked for several years at publishing companies in New York City and as a freelance writer before beginning his study of Chinese and Sinology.[3]

Keightley began his graduate study in East Asian history at Columbia University in 1962. In 1965, Keightley moved to Taipei, Taiwan where he studied Chinese for two years at the Stanford Center (modern Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Study).[3] He then returned to the United States to complete his doctoral studies at Columbia under the Swedish Sinologist Hans Bielenstein, and received a Ph.D. in 1969 with a dissertation entitled "Public Work in Ancient China: A Study of Forced Labor in the Shang and Early Chou".

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1969, Keightley was selected to replace Woodbridge Bingham (1901–1986) as professor of East Asian history at the University of California, Berkeley. Keightley became one of the leading Western scholars of Chinese oracle bones, which contain the earliest known examples of Chinese writing. In 1995, the American Sinologist Edward Shaughnessy stated that Keightley "has done more to introduce the depth and breadth of early China's oracle-bone divination to Western readers than any [other] scholar."[4] He taught and worked at Berkeley until his retirement in 1998.

Keightley died peacefully in his sleep at his home on February 23, 2017, aged 84.[5]



  • Keightley, David N. (1969). "Public Work in Ancient China: A Study of Forced Labor in the Shang and Early Chou". Ph.D. dissertation (Columbia University).
  • ——— (1978). Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press. Google Books.
  • Keightley, David N., ed. (1983). The Origins of Chinese Civilization. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press. Google Books
  • ——— (1999). "The Shang: China's First Historical Dynasty". In Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward (eds.). The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 232–291.
  • ——— (2000). The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China (ca. 1200-1045 B.C.). Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.
  • ——— (2014). These Bones Shall Rise Again: Selected Writings on Early China. Albany: SUNY Press.


  • ——— (1978). "The Religious Commitment: Shang Theology and the Genesis of Chinese Political Culture". History of Religions. 17 (3/4): 211–225. doi:10.1086/462791. JSTOR 1062429.
  • "Archaeology and History in Chinese Society." In W.W. Howells and Patricia Tuschitani, eds., Paleoanthropology in the People's Republic of China. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1977:123-129.
  • "On the Misuse of Ancient Chinese Inscriptions: An Astronomical Fantasy." History of Science 15 (1977):267-272.
  • "Space Travel in Bronze Age China?" 'The Skeptical Inquirer 3.2 (Winter 1978):58-63
  • "The Religious Commitment: Shang Theology and the Genesis of Chinese Political Culture." History of Religions 17 (1978):211-224
  • "The Bamboo Annals and Shang-Chou Chronology." Harvard journal of Asiatic Studies 38 (1978):423-438
  • "The Shang State as Seen in the Oracle-Bone Inscriptions." Early China 5 (1979-80):25-34
  • "The State," "Divination," "Religion," "The Economy," "Bronze Working," in Brian Hook, ed., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. pp. 163-65.
  • "The Late Shang State: When, Where, and What?" in Keighcley, ed., The Origins of Chinese Civilization (1983):523-564
  • "Late Shang Divination: The Magico-Religious Legacy." In Henry Rosemont, Jr., ed., Explorations in Early Chinese Cosmologygy. Journal of the American Academy of Religion Studies 50.2 (1984): 11-34
  • "Reports from the Shang: A Correction and Some Speculations." Early China 9-10 (1983- 1985):20-39, 47-54
  • "Main Trends in American Studies of Chinese History: Neolithic to Imperial Times," The History Teacher 19.4 (August 1986):527-543
  • "Archaeology and Mentality: The Making of China." Representations 18 (Spring 1987):91-128.
  • "Prehistory" and "The First Historical Dynasty: The Shang." The New Encyclopædia Britannica: Macropaedia (Chicago 1987) 16:62-67
  • Astrology and Cosmology in the Shang Oracle-Bone Inscriptions." Cosmos 3 (1987):36-40
  • "Shang Dynasty," in Ainslie T. Embree, ed., Encyclopedia of Asian History (New York, Scribner's: 1988) 3:426-429
  • [Translator] Wang Ningsheng, "Yangshao Burial Customs and Social Organization: A Comment on the Theory of Yangshao Matrilineal Society and Its Methodology," Early China 11-12 (1985–87):Cr-32
  • "Shang Divination and Metaphysics," Philosophy East and Wl>st 38.4 (October 1988):367-397
  • [Translator, with Igarashi Yoshikuni] Toyoda Hidashi and lnoo Hideyuki, "Shigaku zasshi: Summary of Japanese Scholarship," Early China 13 (1988): 297-327
  • "The Origins of Writing in China: Scripts and Cultural Contexts," in Wayne M. Senner, ed., The Origins of Writing (University of Nebraska Press, 1989):171-202
  • "Comment" (in the Early China Forum on Qiu Xigui, "An Examination of Whether the Charges in Shang Oracle-Bone Inscriptions Are Questions"), Early China 14 (1989):138-46
  • '"There Was an Old Man of Changan...': Limericks and the Teaching of Early Chinese History," The History Teacher 22.3 (May 1989):325-28.



  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-09-12. Retrieved 2010-04-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-24. Retrieved 2010-04-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b Johnson (1995), p. vii.
  4. ^ Shaughnessy (1995), p. 223.
  5. ^ "David N. Keightley, 1932-2017". University of California, Berkeley. Archived from the original on 5 March 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2017.

Works citedEdit

  • Johnson, David (1995). "DNK – Some Recollections, In Celebration". Early China. 20: vii–x. JSTOR 23351757.
  • Shaughnessy, Edward (1995). "The Origin of an Yijing Line Statement". Early China. 20: 223–240. JSTOR 23351757.