HISTORY OF THE
(This historical article is a reprint from the 1912 Smithsonian Institution Annual Report.)
By BERTHOLD LAUFER
On May 2, 1906, the Evening Post of New York announced in an article headed “Police Lesson from India” the first successful application in this country of the thumb--print test. A notorious criminal had robbed the wife of a prominent novelist in London of 800 pounds, had made his escape to New York, and was captured after committing a robbery in one of the large hotels in that city. The Bertillon Bureau of the Police Department took a print of one of his thumbs, which was mailed without any other particulars to the Convict Supervision Office, New Scotland Yard, London, where he was promptly identified. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. The system of finger prints is now successfully utilized by the police departments of all large cities of this country, central bureaus of identification having been established in the capitals of the States. The admissibility of finger--print evidence as valid proof of guilt in murder trials was upheld in the case of a colored man executed in Cook County, Ill., on February 16, 1912. He was convicted of murder largely on a showing by the prosecution that the imprint of a finger on the woodwork in the slain man's house corresponded with that in the records of Joliet prison, where an imprint of the accused's fingers had been taken when he was discharged from the penitentiary a short time before the murder. Likewise, in our relations with illiterate people the system has come to the fore. On the approval of the Secretary of the Interior Department, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs instructed officials throughout Oklahoma in 1912 that hereafter every Indian who can not write his name will be required to sign all checks and official papers, and indorse checks and warrants covering Indian money, by making an impression of the ball of his right thumb, such imprint to be witnessed by an employee of the Indian agency or by one of the leading men of the tribe who can write. If an Indian is not living with his tribe, his thumb--mark signature must be witnessed by the postmaster of the place where he resides. Prominent banks of Chicago have adopted finger prints in the case of foreign--born customers who can not sign their names in English, and it is reported that the scheme has worked out to perfect satisfaction. The cashier of one of the large Chicago banks stated in an interview in the Chicago Tribune of May 14, 1911:
It is well known that the honor of having developed the system of finger prints and placing it on a scientific basis is due to Sir Francis Galton, explorer and scientist, born at Birmingham, England, February 16, 1822, and who died in London in January, 1911. The results of his studies are contained in two books, Finger Prints (London, 1892) and Finger Print Directories (London, 1895).1 The system is based on two observations–the widely varying, individual character of the finger marks (in Galton's words: “It is probable that no two finger prints in the whole world are so alike that an expert would fail to distinguish between them”) and the persistency of the form of the marks in the same individual from childhood to old age. Galton comments on the latter point as follows:
The permanency of the finger marks certainly refers to the features of the design, especially the character of the ridges, but not to their measurements, which are subject to the same general changes associated with the growth of the body. Galton himself admits his great indebtedness to Sir William J. Herschel,2 and from him he appears to have received the first impetus for an investigation of this subject. Galton's attention was first drawn to it in 1888 when preparing a lecture on Personal Identification for the Royal Institution, which had for its principal object an account of the anthropometric method of Bertillon. “Wishing to treat the subject generally,” he says, “and having a vague knowledge of the value sometimes assigned to finger marks, I made inquiries, and was surprised to find both how much had been done, and how much there remained to do before establishing their theoretical value and practical utility.”3 This confession implies that Galton did not discover the idea himself, but derived it from, and relied solely on, his predecessors, chiefly Herschel, who, moreover, can not claim that the idea was wholly his own.
This method of identification had been suggested to Sir William Herschel by two contracts in Bengali, dated 1858. “It was so difficult to obtain credence to the signatures of the natives that he thought he would use the signatures of the hand itself, chiefly with the intention of frightening the man who made it from afterwards denying his formal act. However, the impression proved so good that Sir William Herschel became convinced that the same method might be further utilized. He finally introduced the use of finger prints in several departments at Hooghly (in Bengal) in 1877, after 17 years' experience of the value of the evidence they afforded . A too brief account of his work was given by him in Nature, volume 23, page 23 (Nov. 25, 1880). In 1877 he submitted a report in semiofficial form to the Inspector General of Gaols, asking to be allowed to extend the process; but no result followed.” “If the use of finger prints ever becomes of general importance,” remarks Galton, “Sir William Herschel must be regarded as the first who devised a feasible method for regular use and afterwards officially adopted it.”4
It is difficult to believe that Herschel, stationed in India, should have conjured up, entirely from his own resources, a system which had been known and applied in the East ages before his time. Had he designed it in his home study in England, the matter might be looked upon in a different light. But he resided at Calcutta, where a large colony of Chinese had been setttled for a long time, and if a European, living in the Orient in close official and private relations with its people, conceives an idea which seems to belong to his very surroundings, it would be proper to credit his environment with its due share in shaping that idea. The man laboring on his “invention” for years may easily forget this first impetus. It matters little also whether or not he himself is conscious of outward influences; the cool and impartial historian, in the light of observed facts, can reach no other conclusion than that Herschel must have conceived his idea from observations of similar affairs made on the spot. A similar judgment was early rendered by a writer in the Ninteenth Century (1894, p. 365) who championed the cause of the Chinese in the priority of the finger--print system. Herschel himself, however, was of a different opinion and indignantly rejected such a point of view.
In a letter addressed to Nature (vol. 51, 1894, p. 77) Herschel claimed for himself that “he chanced upon finger prints” in 1858 and followed it up afterwards, and that he placed all his materials at the disposal of Galton. While vindicating the honor of the invention for himself, he at the same time deprecated “as being to the best of his knowledge wholly unproved the assertion that the use of finger marks in this way was originally invented by the Chinese.” “I have met no evidence,” he continues, “which goes anywhere near substantiating this. As a matter of fact, I exhibited the system to many passengers and officers of the P. and O. steamship Mongolia in the Indian Ocean during her outward voyage in February, 1877, and I have the finger prints of her captains, and of all those persons, with their names. It is likely enough that the idea, which caught on rapidly among the passengers, may have found a settlement in some Chinese port by this route, and have there taken a practical form; but whether that be so or not, I must protest against the vague claim made on behalf of the Chinese until satisfactory evidence of antiquity is produced.”
The notion here expressed by Herschel that his thought might have spread to some Chinese port is, to say the least, somewhat naive, and the fact remains that the use of finger prints is well authenticated in China long before his lifetime. The gauntlet brusquely thrown down by him was soon taken up by two scholars–a Japanese, Mr. Kumagusu Minakata,5 and the always combative Prof. G. Schlegel,6 of Leiden. Both were actuated by the sincere intention of furnishing proof of the antiquity of the method of finger prints in China and Japan; but both failed in this attempt for lack of proper understanding of what the finger--print system really is. Both confused with the latter the hand stamp; that is, a slight impression taken from the palm. These are entirely different affairs, and in view of the general knowledge now existing in regard to the significance and effects of finger prints it is needless to emphasize the fact that a mere impression of the palm can never lead to the identification of an individual, which is of first importance in finger prints. The entire argument of Schlegel is restricted to two references occurring in his Dutch--Chinese Dictionary, one pertaining to bills of divorce which are authenticated by a print of the hand of the husband, and the phrase ta shou yin, “to produce a hand seal”; that is, to make an impress with the blackened palm.7
The Chinese origin of the finger--print system has been upheld by several writers on the subject.8 The correspondent of the Evening Post quoted at the beginning of this paper said: “As a matter of fact, it is one of those cherished western institutions that the Chinese have calmly claimed for their own, and those who doubt this may be convinced by actual history, showing it to have been employed in the police courts of British India for a generation or so back.” In 1908 Prof. Giles,9 the well--known sinologue, wrote: “It should always be remembered that the wonderful system of identification by finger prints was borrowed straight from China, where it has been in vogue for many centuries.” But this “straight from China” is the very difficult point in the matter. While the chronological priority of the Chinese in the practice of finger prints may be satisfactorily established, there is no evidence to show that Herschel received a stimulus directly from China, nor that the people of India, from whom Herschel may well have borrowed the idea, were ever influenced in this direction by the Chinese. As a matter of principle it should be stated that it is most unlikely that a complex series of ideas as presented by the finger--print process was several times evolved by different nations independently. If there is one thing that we know surely, it is the fact of the scarcity of original ideas among mankind, which may stand in relation to reproduced ideas as 1:100. The fact remains that, however simple and self--evident the system may now look to us, the most advanced civilized nations have never hit upon it, that no trace of it can be discovered among Egyptians or Babylonians, Greeks or Romans, and that it's so very recent adoption into our culture, after prolonged contact with east--Asiatic nations, is in itself suspicious of a derivation from a foreign source. The hypothesis, therefore, seems to be justified that Chinese immigrants into India may have carried the idea over, or that the long religious and commercial intercourse between the two countries may be responsible for the transmission. It is out of the question to assume the reverse course of events, for the application of finger prints in China is of great antiquity, even greater than ever suspected heretofore, while nothing of the kind can be proved for its antiquity in India.
At all events it seems certain that finger impressions were known in India prior to the time of Herschel. George A. Grierson,9 one of the best connoisseurs of modern Hindu life, in describing the ceremonies at the birth of a child, mentions the fact that the midwife, using red lead, makes a finger print on the wall, with the intention of hastening delivery. It is hard to imagine that this magical conception of the finger print, which is an ingredient of indigenous folklore, should be credited to the discovery of Herschel. There are, further, good reasons to presume that the marks on the finger bulbs were familiar to the Indian system of palmistry. I recently had occasion to study an ancient Sanskrit treatise on painting, the Citralakshana,10 which is preserved in a Tibetan translation embodied in the Tanjur. One chapter of this work is taken up with a detailed description of the physical qualities of the Cakravartin, the wheel--turning king, the hero and racial ideal who formed the principal object of ancient painting. The majority of the marks of beauty attributed to him are derived from the rules of physiognomy, a system reaching back to remote times; some of these marks, by way of comparison of the Sanskrit with the old Persian terms, are traceable to the Aryan period when the Iranians and Indians still formed a united stock of peoples. The interpretation of prominent physical qualities, as laid down by the physiognomists, led to artistic attempts of portrayal, and for this reason I was induced to study, in connection with the Citralakshana, two Indian treatises on physiognomy contained likewise in the Tibetan Tanjur, with the result that the terminology of physiognomy and art theory are identical, and that the rules of the painter closely follow in the trail of the physiognomist and palmist. It would lead too far away from our subject proper to enter into the manifold details of this quaint art, but the principal points relating to the fingers may be insisted upon. It is said in the Samudravyanjanani, one of the works on physiognomy, that a woman, if the marks on her fingers are turned toward the right--hand side will obtain a son, but if turned toward the left, a daughter will be born.11 The Indian painter paid minute attention to the hand, the fingers, and their lines. In the above--mentioned manual of painting, their measurements, inclusive of those of the ball of the thumb, are conscientiously given.12 A peculiar term of Indian cheiromancy is yava (lit. A barley--corn), explained by Monnier Williams in his Sanskrit Dictionary as “a figure or mark on the hand resembling a barleycorn, a natural line across the thumb at the second joint compared to a grain of barley and supposed to indicate good fortune.” In all probability, this term refers also to the marks on the finger tips, and there is further the Sanskrit word angulimudra (lit. finger seal) used in the sense of finger print and exactly corresponding to the Chinese term chi yin (likewise finger seal) of the same significance.13
An interesting case, though not directly bearing on our subject, may here be mentioned:
Huan Tsang, the famous Chinese traveler to India, in the seventh century, relates a story in regard to the king of Takshacila in India who availed himself of his tooth impression stamped in red wax on official documents. In giving instructions to his son, the king said: “The affairs of a country are of serious importance; the feelings of men are contradictory; undertake nothing rashly, so as to endanger your authority; verify the orders sent you; my seal is the impression of my teeth; here in my mouth is my seal. There can be no mistake.”14 Only one analogy to this curious custom is known to me. In a charter of King Athelstan of Northumberland it is said:
While it is likely that the people of ancient India were familiar with the striae on the finger tips, there is, however, no evidence whatever that finger impressions were employed to establish the identity of a person. No mention of finger prints is made in the ancient Indian law books. The signature of an individual was a recognized institution of law and a requirement in all contract. The debtor was obliged to sign his name at the close of the bond, and to add: “I, the son of such and such a one, agree to the above.” Then came the witnesses signing their name and that of their father, with the remark: “I, so and so, am witness thereof.” The scribe finally added: “The above had been written by me, so and so, the son of so and so, at the request of both parties.” An illiterate debtor or witness was allowed to have a substitute write for him. A note of hand written by the debtor himself was also valid without the signatures of witnesses, provided there was no compulsion, fraud, bribery, or enmity connected with the operation. The cleverness of forgers is pointed out, and the necessity of comparison of handwritings and conscientious examination of documents are insisted on.16
Besides the documents pertaining to private law, there were public or royal deeds, among which those relating to foundations, grants of land to subjects as marks of royal favor, took a prominent place. They were written on copper plates or cotton cloth, and the royal seal (mudra) was attached to them, a necessary act to legalize the document. The forgery of a deed was looked upon as a capital crime, in the same way as in China. The seals represented an animal like a boar or the mythical bird Garuda. It is thus shown by the legal practice in ancient India that there was no occasion in it for the use of finger prints, and it appears that the significance of the latter was recognized only in palmistry and magic.17
In recent times the finger--print system has been employed in China only in two cases, at the reception of foundlings in the foundling asylums and in the signing of contracts on the part of illiterate people. In regard to the former mode we owe valuable information to F. Hirth,18 who has made a study of the regulations of Chinese benevolent institutions.19 The foundling asylums established in all large cities receive orphan children, forsaken babies, or any others sent to them. These are placed by their relatives in a sliding drawer in the wall near the front gate and a bamboo drum is struck to notify the gatekeeper, who opens the drawer from the inside of the wall and transfers the little one to the care of the matron. Every infant is subjected to a method by which its identity is permanently placed on record. Sex and age are entered on a register. If the age can not be made out–it may be inferred, for example, from the style of clothing varying from year to year–the time of the reception into the asylum according to year, month, day, and hour is noted. Then follows a description of bodily qualities, including remarks on the extremities, formation of the skull, crown of the head, birthmarks, and design on the finger tips, for later identification. Emphasis is laid on the latter, for each Chinese mother is familiar with the finger marks of her new born, and as there is a high degree of probability that a baby temporarily placed in the care of the asylum owing to distressed circumstances of the family will be claimed at a later time, this identification system is carefully kept up. The Chinese seem to be acquainted with the essential characteristics of finger marks. What in the technical language of our system is called “arches” and “whorls” is styled by them lo “snail,” and our “loops” are designated ki “sieve,” “winnowing--basket.”20 The former are popularly looked upon as foreboding of luck.
The poet Su Shi (1036--1101) avails himself metaphorically of the expression “the whorls (snails) on the fingers” in the verse:
“Ngan, King of Ts'i, found on the bank of a river a fine stone veined like finger marks.”21
During the Sung period (960--1278 A. D.) finger prints were taken in wax. This fact is reported by Wang Fu, the author of the Po ku t'u lu, the well--known catalogue of ancient bronzes first published in 1107 A. D. In chapter 6, p. 30, of this work, a bronze wine--cup of the Chou period is illustrated, on one side of which four large finger--shaped grooves appear, closely joined and looking like the fingers of a hand. The author explains the presence of these finger marks by saying that the ancients feared to drop such a vessel from their hands and therefore held it with a firm grip of their fingers in these grooves, “in order to indicate that they were careful to observe the rules of propriety.” “At the present time,” Wang Fu concludes, “finger marks are reproduced by means of wax, and are simply effected by pressing the fingers into wax.”
Kia Kung--yen, an author of the T'ang period, who wrote about the year 650 A. D., makes a distinct allusion to finger impressions employed in his time for purposes of identification. He comments on the wooden tallies used in ancient times (before the invention of rag paper)–that is, a pair of wooden tablets on which the contract was inscribed. Each of the contracting parties received such a tablet, and notches were cut in the side of each tablet in identical places so that the two documents could be matched and easily verified. In explaining this ancient practice to his countrymen, Kia Kung--yen remarks: “The significance of these notches is the same as that of the finger prints (hua chi) of the present time.” This comparison sufficiently shows that finger prints were utilized in the age of the T'ang dynasty (618--906), and not only this, but also that it was their purpose to establish the identity of a person. In the same manner, the author means to say, as the notches of the tallies served for the verification of a contract concluded between two persons, so the finger prints on two written contracts of the same tenor had the function of proving the identity of the contractors.22
The existence of the finger print system in the T'ang period (618--906) is confirmed by the contemporaneous account of the Arabic merchant Soleiman who made several voyages to India and China, and left an interesting series of notes on both countries written in 851 A. D. It has been translated by M. Reinaud (Relation des voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans dans l'Inde et a la Chine, Paris, 1845) where it is said (Vol. I, p. 42): “The Chinese respect justice in their transactions and in judicial proceedings. When anybody lends a sum of money to another, he writes a bill to this effect. The debtor, on his part, drafts a bill and marks it with two of his fingers united, the middle finger and the index. The two bills are joined together and folded, some characters being written on the spot separating them; then, they are unfolded and the lender receives the bill by which the borrower ackowledges his debt.” This bill was legally recognized and served to the creditor in the court as an instrument proving the validity of the debt. It will be recognized that the process described by our Arabic informant in the ninth century is identical with the modern system of bank drafts, as outlined above, except that the finger prints of the debtor were affixed to the document in the T'ang period.
In regard to the prevalence of the finger--print system in China during the T'ang period, K. Minakawa has furnished a valuable piece of information. Churyo Katsurakawa, the Japanese antiquary (1754--1808), writes on the subject as follows:
This “Domestic Law” forms a part of the “Laws of Taiho,” enacted in 702 A. D. With some exceptions, the main point of these laws were borrowed from the Chinese “Laws of Yung--hui” (650--655 A. D.); so it appears, in the judgment of Minakata, that the Chinese of the seventh century had already acquired the finger--print method.
It is very likely that the Chinese code of the T'ang dynasty and the abundant Chinese law literature will yield more information on this question.
Some writers have supposed on merely speculative grounds a connection between finger prints and palmistry. Galton23 remarks on this point:
K. Minakata (l. c., p. 200) makes the following statement:
But close research of this subject does not bear out this alleged fact. The fact is that in the Chinese system of palmistry the lines on the bulbs of the fingers are not at all considered, and that Chinese palmistry is not based on any anatomical considerations of the hand but is merely a projection of astrological notions. We have an excellent investigation of this tedious and wearisome subject by G. Dumoutier;24 further by Stewart Culin,25 by H.. Dore,26 and finally by H. A. Giles.27 Not one of these four authors makes any mention of the striae on the finger tips, and I am myself unable to find anything to this effect in Chinese books on the subject. It is quite evident to me that Chinese finger prints do not trace their origin from the field of palmistry but are associated, as will be shown farther on, with another range of religious ideas. I do not doubt the antiquity of palmistry in China, though the date B. C. 3000, given in the last edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the authority of Giles, seems to be an exaggeration , but the conclusion of Minakata that for this reason the finger prints are equally old is unjustified. We must remember, also, that no system of palmistry has been handed down to us from ancient times; we merely know the fact that the practice itself existed at an early date. The philosopher Wang Ch'ung, who wrote in 82 or 83 A. D., states in regard to palmisters that they examine the left palm, but neglect the right one, because the lines of the former are decisive, whereas diviners turn to the right side and neglect the left one, because the former are conclusive.28
The view of the independence of finger prints from palmistry is by no means contradicted by the following statement of A. H. Smith:29
This is neither fortune telling nor palmistry, but harmless jocular play which merely goes to prove that the striae on the finger bulbs are noticed by the people and made the object of slight reflections. The above saying belongs to a well-known category of folklore which may be described under the title "counting out."
We alluded above to the hand stamp and its fundamental difference from finger prints in that it is unsuitable for identification. Let us now enter more particularly into this subject.
W. G. Aston has given three examples of the use of the hand stamp in the East. In the Chinese novel Shui hu chuan of the thirteenth century a writing of divorce is authenticated by the husband stamping on it the impress of his hand smeared with ink. In Japan, deeds, notes of hand, certificates, and other documents to be used as proofs were formerly sealed in this way, a practice to which the word tegata (hand shape) still used of such papers remains to testify. Documents are in existence in which Mikados have authenticated their signatures by an impression of their hand in red ink.
In the religious beliefs of the Tibetans impressions from the hands and feet of saints play an extensive role. These notions were apparently derived with Buddhism from India. In the Himalayan region of southern Tibet the pious believers are still shown foot imprints left by the famous mystic, ascetic, and poet, Milaraspa (1038--1122), and in an attractive book containing his legends and songs many accounts of this kind are given. By “Traces of the Snowshoes” is still designated a bowlder on which he performed a dance and left the traces of his feet and staff, and the fairies attending on the solitary recluse marked the rocks with their footprints.30 In the life of the Lama Byams--c'en C'os--rje (1353--1434), who visited China at the invitation of the Emperor Yung--lo (1398--1419), of the Ming dynasty, it is narrated that when he was dwelling on the sacred Mount Wu--t'ai, in Shansi Province, he showed a miracle by kneading a solid, hard blue stone like soft clay and leaving on it an impression of his hand, which astounded all inhabitants of that region.31 The fourth Dalai Lama, Yon--tan rgya--mts'o (1588--1615) produced on a stone the outlines of his foot.32 In Tibet I myself had occasion to see, in the possession of a layman, an impression on silk of the hand of the Pan--c'en rin--po--c'e, the hierarch residing at Tashi--lhun--po. At least it was so ascribed to him; but the hand was almost twice as large as an ordinary human hand, and the vermillion color with which it was printed from a wooden block lent it a ghastly appearance. These talismans are sold to the faithful at goodly prices and secure for them the permanent blessings of the sacred hand of the pontifex.
The use of the hand in sealing documents is by no means restricted to China and Japan. It occurred as well in western Asia. Malcolm,33 in describing the conquests of Timur, states:
The symbolism of the hand is here clearly set forth; it was a political emblem of conquest and subjugation. W. Simpson34 received, at Constantinople, the information that in early times when the Sultan had to ratify a treaty a sheep was killed, whereupon he put his hand into the blood, and pressed it on the document as his “hand and seal.”35
The common name for these clay seals is feng ni,36 and they were utilized especially in sealing documents which were written at that time on slips of bamboo or wood. After the age of Emperor Wu (B. C. 156--87) of the Former Han dynasty they fell into disuse, but during his reign they were still employed, as attested by the biographies of the Gens. Chang K'ien and Su Wu. A. Stein37 has discovered a large number of such tablets with clay seals attached to them in the ruins of Turkistan. A number of ancient clay seals having been discovered also on Chinese soil, particularly in the provinces of Shensi and Honan, they could not escape the attention of the native archeologists. One of these, Liu T'ie--yun, published at Shanghai in 1904 a small work in four volumes under the title T'ie--yun ts'ang t'ao , “Clay Pieces from the Collection of T'ie--yun.” These volumes contain facsimiles of a number of clay seals as anciently employed for sealing official letters and packages.38 The subject, however, is not investigated, and no identifications of the characters of old script with their modern forms are given. Their decipherment is difficult and remains a task for the future. A few such clay seals by me at Si--ngan fu are likely to furnish an important contribution to the early history of the finger--print system.
The seal was considered in ancient China as a magical object suitable to combat or to dispel evil spirits, and the figures of tigers, tortoises, and monsters by which the metal seals were surmounted had the function of acting as charms. We read in Pao--p'o--tse39 that in olden times people traveling in mountainous regions carried in their girdles a white seal 4 inches wide, covered with the design of the Yellow Spirit and 120 characters. This seal was impressed into clay at the place where they stopped for the night, each of the party made 100 steps into the four directions of the compass, with the effect that tigers and wolves did not dare approach. Jade boxes, and even the doors of the palaces, were sealed by means of clay seals to shut out the influence of devils. Numerous are the stories regarding Buddhist and Taoist priests performing miracles with the assistance of a magical seal.
On plate 4 six such clay seals from the collection of the Field Museum are illustrated. The most interesting of these is that shown in figure 2, consisting of a hard, gray baked clay, and displaying a thumb impression with the ridges in firm, clear, and perfect outlines, its greatest length and width being 2.5 cm. It is out of the question that this imprint is due to a mere accident caused by the handling of the clay piece, for in that case we should see only faint and imperfect traces of the finger marks, quite insufficient for the purpose of identification. This impression, however, is deep and sunk into the surface of the clay seal and beyond any doubt was effected with intentional energy and determination. Besides this technical proof there is the inward evidence of the presence of a seal bearing the name of the owner in an archaic form of characters on the opposite side. This seal, 1 cm. wide and 1.2 cm. long, countersunk 4 mm. below the surface, is exactly opposite the thumb mark, a fact clearly pointing to the intimate affiliation between the two. In reasoning the case out logically, there is no other significance possible than that the thumb print belongs to the owner of the seal who has his name on the obverse and his identification mark on the reverse, the latter evidently serving for the purpose of establishing the identity of the seal. This case, therefore, is somewhat analogous to the modern practice of affixing on title deeds the thumb print to the signature, the one being verified by the other. This unique specimen is the oldest document so far on record relating to the history of the finger--print system. I do not wish to enter here into a discussion of the exact period from which it comes down, whether the Chou period or the Former Han dynasty is involved; this question is irrelevant; at all events it may be stated confidently that this object, like other clay seals, was made in the pre--Christian era. An examination of other pieces may reveal some of the religious ideas underlying the application of the thumb print. Many clay seals are freely fashioned by means of the finger and exhibit strange relations to these organs. The finger shape of the two seals in figures 6 and 7 on plate 4 is obvious. Our illustration shows the lower uninscribed sides, while the name is impressed by means of a wooden mold on the upper side. Examination of these two pieces brings out the fact that they were shaped from the upper portion of the small finger, and further from the back of the finger. The lower rounded portion of the object in figure 7 is evidently the nail of the small finger which was pressed against the wet clay lump; the seal has just the length of the first finger joint (2.6 cm. long), the clay mold follows the round shape of the finger, and the edges coiled up after baking. The lines of the skin, to become visible, were somewhat grossly enlarged in the impression. The clay seal in figure 6 (2.4 cm. long), I believe, was fashioned over the middle joint of the small finger of a male adult, the two joints at the upper and lower end of the seal being flattened out a little by pressure on the clay, and the lines of the epidermis being artificially inserted between them. The seal in figure 5, of red--burnt clay, with four characters on the opposite side (not illustrated), was likewise modeled from the bulb of the thumb by pressure of the left side against a lump of clay which has partially remained as a ridge adhering to the surface. The latter was smoothed by means of a flat stick so that no finger marks could survive. The groove in the lower part is accidental. Another square clay seal in our collection (No. 117032) has likewise a smoothed lower face, but a sharp mark from the thumb nail in it. These various processes suffice to show that the primary and essential point in these clay seals was a certain sympathetic relation to the fingers of the owner of the seal. Here we must call to mind that the seal in its origin was the outcome of magical ideas, and that, according to Chinese notions, it is the pledge for a person's good faith; indeed, the word yin, “seal,” is explained by the word sin, “faith.”40 The man attesting a document sacrificed figuratively part of his body under his oath that the statements made by him were true, or that the promise of a certain obligation would be kept. The seal assumed the shape of a bodily member; indeed, it was immediately copied from it and imbued with the flesh and blood of the owner. It was under the sway of these notions of magic that the mysterious, unchangeable furrows on the finger bulbs came into prominence and received their importance. They not only contributed to identify an individual unmistakably but also presented a tangible essence of the individuality and lent a spiritual or magical force to the written word.
Finally, I should like, in this connection to call attention to a peculiar method of painting practiced by the artists of China, in which the brush is altogether discarded and only the tips of the fingers are employed in applying the ink to the paper. This specialty is widely known in China under the name chi hua, which literally means “finger painting,” and still evokes the highest admiration on the part of the Chinese public, being judged as far superior to brush painting. The first artist to have cultivated this peculiar style, according to Chinese traditions, was Chang Tsao, in the eighth or ninth century, of whom it is said that “he used a bald brush, or would smear color on the silk with his hand.”41 Under the Manchu dynasty, Kao K'i--pei, who lived at the end of the seventeenth and in the first part of the eighteenth century, was the best representative of this art. “His finger paintings were so cleverly done that they could scarcely be distinguished from work done with the brush; they were highly appreciated by his contemporaries,” says Hirth. On plates 4 and 5 two ink sketches by this artist in the collection of the Field Museum are reproduced. Both are expressly stated in the accompanying legends written by the painter's own hand to have been executed with this fingers. The one representing two hawks fluttering around a tree trunk is dated 1685; the other presents the reminiscence of an instantaneous observation, a sort of flashlight picture of a huge sea fish stretching its head out of the waves for a few seconds and spurting forth a stream of water from its jaws. The large monochrome drawing shown on plate 6–cranes in a lotus pond by Yo Yu--sun–is likewise attested as being a finger sketch (chi mo), and the painter seems to prove that he really has his art at his fingers' ends. Hirth is inclined to regard this technique “rather a special sport than a serious branch of the art,” and practiced “as a specialty or for occasional amusement.” There was a time when I felt tempted to accept this view, and to look upon finger painting as an eccentric whim of the virtuosos of a decadent art who for lack of inner resources endeavored to burn incense to their personal vanity. But if Chang Tsao really was the father of this art, at a time when painting was at the culminating point of artistic development, such an argument can not be upheld. I am now rather disposed to believe that the origin of finger painting seems to be somehow linked with the practice of finger prints, and may have received its impetus from the latter. The relationship of the two terms is somewhat significant; hua chi, “to paint the finger,” as we saw above in the passage quoted from Kia Kung--yen, is the phrase for “making a finger impression” in the T'ang period, and the same words reversed in their position, chi chua, mean “finger painting” or “painted with the finger.” It seems to me that also in finger painting the idea of magic was prevalent at the outset, and that the artist, by the immediate bodily touch with the paper or silk, was enabled to instill part of his soul into his work. Eventually we might even go a step farther and make bold to say that finger painting, in general, is a most ancient and primitive method of drawing and painting, one practiced long before the invention in the third century B. C. of the writing brush of animal hair, and the older wooden stylus. The hand, with its versatile organs of fingers, was the earliest implement utilized by man, and the later artistic finger painting might well be explained as the inheritance of a primeval age revived under suggestions and impressions received from the finger--print system.
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