2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 166

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Contested Space: New Research on the Tombs of China's Ruling Elite

Organizer: Aurelia A. Campbell, Boston College, USA

Chair: Allison R. Miller, Southwestern University, USA

Discussant: Lillian Lan-ying Tseng, New York University, USA

This panel explores the development of elite mortuary architecture in early China. It looks at a range of factors that influenced tomb construction from social, religious, and political concerns to the ways that various rites performed for the dead impacted tomb design and decoration. Several papers concern the relationship between architecture and grave goods: How did objects and paintings interact with the architectural space of tombs? How did contrasting forms of patronage affect the conception of the tomb and its contents? By examining tombs from multiple chronological periods, this panel encourages discussion on the ways in which innovations and changes in tomb design squared with principal Chinese political and ritual structures across time. Joy Beckman addresses the architecture of grave shafts in relation to burial rituals, focusing on the deposition of chariot parts in elite tombs of the Warring States period. Allison Miller explores the way that Emperor Wen’s construction of the first mountain tomb corresponded to his reformulation of the government in the early Western Han. Susan Erickson examines a recently excavated Western Han tomb in Xi’an ascribed to the Dou clan, focusing on the rich jade holdings that may be indicative of imperial practice. Finally, Aurelia Campbell investigates the connections among architectural structures called qin in imperial palaces, ancestral temples, and royal tombs.

At the Mouth of the Grave: the Deposition of Chariot Parts in Elite Burials
Joy Beckman, Beloit College, USA

Chariot parts-bronze bits, axle caps and the occasional finials from the canopy stays-are commonly found in large and sumptuous Eastern Zhou burials. Their frequent appearance among the grave goods rather than attached to the chariots, which are buried in adjacent pits, identifies these chariot parts as a distinct category of grave good. The present study looks at their deposition in the graves in the context of both funeral rites of the gifting of horses and chariots, and graveside rites. These chariot parts can then be used as lens to explore how the grave as an architectural structure becomes the stage for ritual performance.

Monumental Rock-Cut Tombs and Political Self-Fashioning in Han China
Allison R. Miller, Southwestern University, USA

This paper explores the expressive and performative role of tomb architecture in the early Han empire through a case study of Emperor Wen’s rock-cut mountain tomb. For later periods of East Asian history, it is taken for granted that imperial patrons commissioned monumental religious works, such as the colossal Buddhas of the Northern Wei, in service of the state. For the early period, however, scholarship on early Chinese imperial tombs has largely focused on the relationship between tomb architecture and afterlife belief, ignoring the “this-worldly” implications of monumental tomb construction in the early empire. This talk will present evidence that tomb construction played a key role in projecting a ruler’s identity and organizing the population from the moment an emperor took the throne. The First Emperor, for example, used his tomb as a defensive site and a prominent symbol of imperial authority as it was being constructed. This paper explores the legacy of the First Emperor’s model in the Han through the case of Emperor Wen’s rock-cut mountain tomb and the related tombs of the provincial kings. It argues that Emperor Wen adopted this new style of tomb as a means of representing his reformulation of the Han imperial administration, enabling him to market himself as a “benevolent” emperor. It also reflects on the way that new sumptuary rules seem to have been used to create links between the central administration and local kings of the imperial family. This study presents a new model for explaining the drastic shifts in tomb architecture in the Han and the relation of these shifts to the philosophical and political debates of the period.

Imagining Early Imperial Tomb Jades in the Western Han Capital
Susan N. Erickson, University of Michigan, Dearborn, USA

There is a gap in our knowledge of the contents of Western Han dynasty imperial mausolea since all that has been excavated is auxiliary tombs and pits along with some chance finds. In addition, the imperial tombs in the vicinity of Chang’an reportedly were plundered at the end of the dynasty. This paper focuses on a joint burial in the eastern suburbs of Xi’an. The deceased were members of the Dou clan entombed during the reign of Wendi (Liu Heng, r. 180-157). During the early Han, the Dou clan is significant since Wendi’s most important consort was Dou Yifang who became the Empress Dou, mother of the future Jingdi. Structural features of the tomb are comparable to those of tombs of high-ranking individuals in the Kingdom of Chu, in modern Xuzhou. Even more significant is the fact that this tomb had the richest holdings of early Han jade yet to be excavated in the vicinity of the capital—pectorals and the so-called “heart-shaped” ornaments that are indicative of high status. I will consider the relationship of these jades to similar types found in early Han tombs in Xuzhou, and I also will discuss the perpetuation of these types in tombs of kings in the mid and late Western Han in a number of kingdoms throughout the empire. The holdings of this Dou clan tomb are the best evidence of what was possible in Chang’an in the opening years of the dynasty, and thus may provide a glimpse of imperial practice at this time in the capital.

The "Hall of Rest" (qindian) and Surrogates for the Dead in Early China
Aurelia A. Campbell, Boston College, USA

The term qin, which literally means “to sleep” or “to rest,” corresponds to three types of architectural structures in ancient China. The first is the rear hall of the imperial palace, where the emperor and his family lived and feasted. The second is the rear hall of the ancestral temple, which housed the clothing and headdresses of the ancestors, and was the site for sacrificial rites to them. The third is the inner part of a tomb, a space outfitted with eating and drinking vessels, foodstuffs, and other equipment for the deceased. Drawing upon widely scattered textual evidence, this paper examines the close spatial and symbolic relationships among these three architectural types. In doing so, it offers new insights into the connections between the world of the living and the world of the dead in early China.