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Photograph of the sculpted bronze doors three groups of two doors.
Sculpted bronze doors of the John Adams Building, east entrance. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 2007. (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Cadmus and Ts’ang Chieh

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The last two figures on the Adams Building’s on the 2nd and 3rd street entrances are Cadmus and Ts’ang Chieh. These two figures are from different traditions, but their legends both reference the development of writing.

According to On These Walls, Ts’ang Chieh is “the Chinese patron of writing,” while Cadmus is “the Greek sower of dragon’s teeth,” but these descriptions are incomplete.

a bearded figure wearing a cloth wrapped around his body and draped over the right arm is holding in an upriade arm what looks to be an unrolled scroll
Figure of Cadmus from the doors of the John Adams Building taken some time between 1920 and 1950.(Theodor Horydczak Collection/Library of Congress)

In Greek mythology, Cadmus is considered a Phoenician hero and credited with founding a number of cities. In The Histories, Herodotus credits Cadmus with introducing the original Phoenician alphabet to the Greeks, who then adapted it to form the basis of the Greek alphabet.

The image on our doors shows Cadmus with what looks to be a scroll in an upraised hand and holding what may be a writing implement in the other. Similarly, the other figure for today’s post, Ts’ang Chieh, is holding what looks to be a long, unrolled scroll.

figure facing right wearing a robe with a very long musache is holding with both hands an unrolled scroll
Figure of Ts’ang Chieh from the doors of the John Adams Building taken some time between 1920 and 1950.(Theodor Horydczak Collection/Library of Congress)

Ts’ang Chieh is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology, who is supposed to have been a historian in the court of the Yellow Emperor. The legend is that he created a set of written characters for the emperor. Ts’ang Chieh is thus connected with the development of Chinese writing.

One detail that is important to note, is that there are different ways to romanize Chinese names, the prevalence of which has changed over time; Ts’ang Chieh is the spelling that appears on our doors, but in other sources I have seen Cangie and Cangjie, which seems to be more commonly used today.

The article about the doors from the June 20, 1938 of the Evening Star had this to say about Ts’ang Chieh:

“Chinese patron of writing Ts’ang Chieh, according to legend possessor of four eyes, is declared to have conceived the idea of a written language tor the people of China from the markings of birds’ claws upon the sands of the seashore. With Chu Sung he still is worshiped as a patron saint of pictographic letters.”

Join us Thursday, April 18, 2024, from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm for A Night at the Adams, our celebration of the 85th anniversary of the opening of the John Adams Building! Learn about the Art Deco and Beaux-Arts style, art and architecture of our historic building. Tickets are required, so reserve your free tickets today! This event is part of the Library’s Live! at the Library series of extended Thursday evening programming.

If you are interested in more Business and Science topics, then subscribe to Inside Adams — it’s free! And if you are interested in the Adams Building see “A Handsome Box”: The Adams Building.

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