Earlier versions and competing ideas were lost—until now.
But their authenticity was in doubt, as were the ethics of buying looted goods.
Administrators convened a crisis meeting, and ordered the school’s top chemistry professors to save the slips.
Over the following weeks, the scientists worked nonstop through the eerily empty campus—the students were on vacation, and everyone else was focused on the Olympic Green just a few miles east.
These competing ideas were lost after China was unified in 221 under the Qin, China’s first dynasty.
In one of the most traumatic episodes from China’s past, the first Qin emperor tried to stamp out ideological nonconformity by burning books (see illustration on this page).
Then, in July, an anonymous graduate of Tsinghua University stepped in, bought the soggy stack, and shipped it back to his alma mater in Beijing. They appointed China’s most famous historian, seventy-five-year-old Li Xueqin, to head a team of experts to study the strips.