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Obscuring the Line between the Living and the Dead: Mortuary Activities inside the Grave Chambers of the Eastern Han Dynasty, China

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Title:Obscuring the Line between the Living and the Dead: Mortuary Activities inside the Grave Chambers of the Eastern Han Dynasty, China
Authors:Ligant, Zhou
Keywords:mortuary rituals
Eastern Han dynasty
filial piety44China
burials
Date Issued:2015
Publisher:University of Hawai'i Press (Honolulu)
Series:Volume 54
Number 2
Abstract:The complex mortuary rituals practiced during the Han dynasty (206 b.c. to a.d. 220) in China are well documented in textual records dating to the period. However, these records, as well as more recent archaeological investigations, focus solely on mortuary treatment of the elite, completely overlooking the burial rites practiced by commoners in the same period. Based on my excavation of a group of Han dynasty commoner graves, I describe the mortuary treatment afforded to commoners in this period. I contend that a key structural feature, an exterior ramp constructed beside the vertical pit of some Han tombs that appeared in the early Eastern Han period, reflects people’s intention to enter the chamber and make offerings to the dead. There are also rare cases of reentering the chamber to make offerings after the funeral. This is supported by a secondary ramp built after the graves had been sealed. Considering the widely referenced fear of ghosts, reentering the tomb to make offerings after the funeral seems to obscure the line between the living and dead and was unusual. I argue that the emergence of such activity is a display of filial piety, a practice highly valued in Han society. The current study demonstrates that burial structures can reveal important aspects of burial rituals and provide new information about the funeral practices of common people in the Eastern Han dynasty.
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/10125/55558
ISSN:0066-8435 (Print)
1535-8283 (E-ISSN)
Rights:Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Appears in Collections: Asian Perspectives, 2015 - Volume 54, Number 2 (Fall)


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