Excavating the Afterlife: The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion

Hardcover | March 3, 2015

byGuolong Lai

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In Excavating the Afterlife, Guolong Lai explores the dialectical relationship between sociopolitical change and mortuary religion from an archaeological perspective. By examining burial structure, grave goods, and religious documents unearthed from groups of well-preserved tombs in southern China, Lai shows that new attitudes toward the dead, resulting from the trauma of violent political struggle and warfare, permanently altered the early Chinese conceptions of this world and the afterlife. The book grounds the important changes in religious beliefs and ritual practices firmly in the sociopolitical transition from the Warring States (ca. 453?221 BCE) to the early empires (3rd century?1st century BCE).

A methodologically sophisticated synthesis of archaeological, art historical, and textual sources, Excavating the Afterlife will be of interest to art historians, archaeologists, and textual scholars of China, as well as to students of comparative religions.

For more information: http://arthistorypi.org/books/excavating-the-afterlife

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In Excavating the Afterlife, Guolong Lai explores the dialectical relationship between sociopolitical change and mortuary religion from an archaeological perspective. By examining burial structure, grave goods, and religious documents unearthed from groups of well-preserved tombs in southern China, Lai shows that new attitudes toward t...

Guolong Lai is associate professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Florida and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 10.32 × 7.3 × 0.96 inPublished:March 3, 2015Publisher:University Of Washington PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0295994495

ISBN - 13:9780295994499

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During the last four decades, a large number of ancient tombs were excavated in South China, which yielded exquisite examples of early Chinese art such as bronze ritual vessels, jade ornaments, ceramic figurines, wooden sculptures, lacquer wares, as well as bamboo slips and silk manuscripts and paintings. Why were these objects buried in tombs? What roles did they play in life as well as in the afterlife? How did the burial rites and the construction of postmortem environment manifest people's religious concerns? What was the impact of the social, intellectual, and political development on religious practice in early China? These are the questions that I try to answer in Digging up Chu Mortuary Religion: Death and Burial in Early China.This book represents the first synthetic account of early Chinese religion from an archaeological perspective. Combining historical, archaeological, art historical, and epigraphic analysis, I explore a critical moment in the development of Chinese mortuary religion during the transition from the Warring States period (ca. 453-221 BCE) to the early imperial era (3rd century BCE to 1st century CE).The "Chu" in the title refers to the state of Chu (ca. 800-223 BCE) and its cultural sphere under Qin (221-206 BCE) and early Han (206 BCE-9 CE) empires. This cultural sphere in South China is one of the few areas that have the best natural conditions for archaeological preservation. In addition, with its rich artistic and literary legacy (The Songs of the South, for example), Chu often arouse people's imagination and was considered "the road not taken," an unrealized alternative to the social and political reality, since it was the last state that vehemently competed with Qin in the unification of China and lost tragically.This book is concerned with tombs, not only as sites where the remains were disposed, but also as the space that contained people's imagination of the cosmos and the life hereafter. Understanding "religion" as a social system of communication, I first explore divinatory and sacrificial records recovered from Chu tombs to disclose curious, but long overlooked, changes in the religious pantheon and attitudes towards the dead in the Warring States Period. This emergence of a "personalized death" had ramifications for the way the Chinese buried and communicated the dead: how they buried the dead, where they buried the dead, what objects they buried with the dead, and what the burial ideology we can deduce from these practices.The archaeology of religion represents growing fields that have fascinated generations of students and scholars. I thus envision multiple audiences not only for scholars and students in the fields of Chinese history, Chinese religion, comparative religion, art history, archaeology, and anthropology, but also but also those outside of the immediate field of Chinese studies, who are interested in comparative studies of religion and the human responses to death.This book contributes to a better understanding of the development of artistic, religious, and literary traditions in early China. Funerary customs and their underlying ideologies have had a great impact on the long artistic tradition of China. The abundance of textual data and the increasing amount of archaeological materials enable us to examine the process of religious and intellectual developments in detail, which can also illuminate similar developments in other civilizations.

Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsChronology of Early Chinese Dynasties

Introduction1. The Dead Who Would Not Be Ancestors2. The Transformation of Burial Space3. The Presence of the Invisible4. Letters to the Underworld5. Journey to the Northwest

ConclusionNotesGlossary of Chinese CharactersBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

In Excavating the Afterlife, Guolong Lai explores the dialectical relationship between sociopolitical change and mortuary religion from an archaeological perspective. By examining burial structure, grave goods, and religious documents unearthed from groups of well-preserved tombs in southern China, Lai shows that new attitudes toward the dead, resulting from the trauma of violent political struggle and warfare, permanently altered the early Chinese conceptions of this world and the afterlife. The book grounds the important changes in religious beliefs and ritual practices firmly in the sociopolitical transition from the Warring States (ca. 453?221 BCE) to the early empires (3rd century?1st century BCE). A methodologically sophisticated synthesis of archaeological, art historical, and textual sources, Excavating the Afterlife will be of interest to art historians, archaeologists, and textual scholars of China, as well as to students of comparative religions.For more information: http://arthistorypi.org/books/excavating-the-afterlifeLai's explanation of the shift in attitude toward the dead?from a neutral notion of the ancestral spirits to fear of the spirits as unmoored and malevolent entities who need to be guided?is very provocative. - Amy McNair, author of Upright Brush: Yan Zhenqing's Calligraphy and Song Literati Politics