AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 669

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Session 669: Texts and Tombs in Early China

Organizer and Chair: Enno Giele, University of Heidelberg, USA

Discussant: Enno Giele, University of Heidelberg, USA

Most text-producing archaeological sites are funerary in nature. However, the relationship between sites and texts has not yet been explained satisfactorily. Often, if a tomb produces,say, a Confucian Classic or codified law, the analysis starts and ends with the speculation that the deceased was a teacher or a judicial clerk or judge. This assumption is related to the commonplace notion that the afterlife was in a materialistic way modeled on the life in this world, so the tomb, it's basic structure, and most of the funerary items were directly taken from or copying the occupant's dwellings and possessions during his or her life-time, reflecting professions and predilections. Texts not taken from or copied from an existing body of texts but created specifically for the burial are those addressing the netherworld, either directly in letters or through listing or labeling the contents of the tomb. Regular rather than occasional differences between these lists and the actual finds have often been duly noted; the reasons, however, have not yet been fully explained. This panel attempts to address these problems and find solutions from two different ends: First, by looking at a host of different finds, many of them excavated only very recently, and fine-tuning our awareness of different categories of texts, both tomb texts in general (Giele) as well as addresses to the netherworld in particular (Guo). Second, by taking a close look at two cases, one pre-imperial (Habberstad), one early imperial (Yang), and investigating their relationship with the funerary assemblage.

Funerary Texts
Enno Giele, University of Heidelberg, USA

What exactly are funerary texts? Several possible definitions jump to mind: texts that deal with funerary matters, commemorative stelae, texts that are found in tombs, etc. Of these, the last understanding is often found used, if implicitly, in the burgeoning field of early Chinese manuscript studies. But are all the manuscripts found in a tomb really comparable to one another in terms of their status, function, and relationship to the deceased and the funerary setting? When does it make sense to have such an all-encompassing category and when does it not? What are the differences between, say, a copy of the Laozi, a hemerological manual, and a list of funerary items—beyond their obviously different contents? To answer these questions and to arrive at a classification that can serve as a tool to better understand the processes by and during which texts are created, this paper takes a close look at the types of texts found in tombs and tries to identify their different origins and raisons d'être.

The Power of Format: Communicative Documents to the Underworld from Han China
Jue Guo, , USA

As the Han bureaucracy and people witnessed the effectiveness of highly standardized communication among different governmental hierarchies throughout the empire, the power of formatted communications was also realized and in fact utilized in transferring the dead to the underworld as evidenced by multiple excavations of such communicative documents in Han tombs. Seeking an accurate and meaningful classification has become one of the focuses of recent studies of tomb texts from early China. The debate on what falls into a new genre of excavated document, arguably named “Informing-the-Underground” (gaodi), is a case in point indicating an acute need of clearer classification standards. This paper aims to provide one for this specific category in which the key criterion is the format. In light of a type of transfer document (i.e., zhuan) that was widely used among Han governmental offices, I will examine several exemplary communicative documents found in Han tombs accompanying the dead and their burial possessions. I argue that the format of these documents—characterized by highly formulaic language analogical to that used in Han transfer documents but addressing an underworld bureaucracy—not only provides us a key to a subtler classification of tomb texts for our research purpose, but more importantly, in their original historical and religious context, the this-worldly format was the source from which such communicative documents were believed to obtain power for the benefit of the dead in the otherworldly realm.

Texts, Performance, and Display in the Funeral Procession of Marquis Yi of Zeng
Luke R. Habberstad, University of Oregon, USA

The tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (Zeng Houyi, d. c. 433 BC), famous for its spectacularly opulent cache of bells, stringed instruments, and bronze vessels, also yielded the oldest example of a funerary text known to early Chinese manuscript studies. Most scholarship has identified the Zeng strips as a “tomb inventory” (qiance), “funeral gift list” (fengshu), or some combination of the two, following categories described in the Yili (compiled ca. late 3rd century BC). The characterization is misleading because a) unlike most extant inventories and gift lists, the Zeng strips are not in a list format, and b) the strips do not describe most of the items found in the Marquis’s tomb. This paper will thus provide a fresh overview of the Zeng strips, analyzing their content, format, and presentation in order to demonstrate that the strips actually comprise two sets of texts. The first was used to record and arrange the horses and chariots donated by nobles for the Marquis’s funeral procession, and the second to record the actual performance of the procession. The Zeng strips thus comprise an example of a set of funerary texts that refuses to rest easily in received textual genres. More importantly, their production and use in the context of the funeral procession remind us that funerary texts can tell us just as much about contemporary politics and display as they can illuminate notions of the afterlife.

The "Tomb Inventory" from Mawangdui Tomb No. 3
Yi Yang, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Among excavated manuscripts, the qiance (often translated as “tomb inventories”) offer valuable information about attitudes toward the afterlife. However, they have often been found not to be completely accurate with respect to the actual grave goods. What roles did the qiance play at funerals and in the underworld, what was the reason behind these apparent “inaccuracies,” and what relations did the qiance have with other burial objects? A case study of the qiance from Mawangdui tomb No. 3 (168 BCE), a well-preserved Western Han tomb with a large amount of archaeological data, may shed light on our inquiries. This paper will investigate various aspects of the Mawangdui qiance: its original bindings, content and meanings, locations, discrepancies with the actual grave goods, its proper use(s) at the funeral, and finally, hypotheses on its function(s) and symbolic meanings. My research approaches the concept of the qiance as the outcome of a funeral industry and will also discuss the broad spectrum of people involved in the public reading of the qiance at the funeral. I argue that the Mawangdui case indicates that one qiance could probably have listed up to four different categories of objects: the actual grave goods, the objects used at the funeral, humans who attended the funeral, and imaginary objects and humans that were not present, but whose inclusion may have been deemed desirable. The last category will especially help our understanding of the Western Han views of the afterlife.