Tombs, Burial Practices and Afterlife

For the ancient Chinese, ensuring the deceased’s transition to the afterlife required anticipating their needs and correctly preparing the tomb. By the time of the Northern Dynasties (386–581 CE), non-imperial tombs were constructed in a standard three-part form. Tomb contents necessarily included objects that related to the life of the deceased that were re-created in miniature form as mingqi (spirit utensils). Life and social organization crossed the threshold of death and, as summarized by an ancient sage, the deceased were treated “as though dead and yet still alive, as though gone and yet still present.” Well-cared-for spirits meant good fortune for the living. Neglected spirits turned into implacable ghosts. Although ancient mortuary traditions sometimes conflicted with more recent views of the afterlife and Buddhist practices such as cremation, over time hybrid practices and beliefs evolved that satisfied followers of both the old and the newer traditions.

View of Entry Corridor and Tomb Chamber with Sarcophagus, tomb of Song Shaozu (d. 477 CE), Northern Wei dynasty (386–535 CE), unearthed 2000, Caofulou Village, Datong, Shanxi Province Shanxi Museum, Taiyuan Elevation Diagram, Tomb of Song Shaozu (d. 477 CE), Northern Wei dynasty (386–535 CE), unearthed 2000, Caofulou Village, Datong, Shanxi Province Shanxi Museum, Taiyuan Detail of Floor plan, Tomb of Lou Rui (d. 570 CE), Northern Qi dynasty (550–577 CE), unearthed 1979, Wangguo Village, Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, Shanxi Museum, Taiyuan Ox, Tomb of Lou Rui (d. 570 CE), Northern Qi dynasty (550–577 CE), painted earthenware, unearthed 1979, Wangguo Village, Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, Shanxi Museum, Taiyuan
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