Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Rolling between Burial and Shrine: A Tale of Two Chariot Processions at Chulan Tomb 2 in Eastern Han China (171 C.E.)

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Rolling between Burial and Shrine: A Tale of Two Chariot Processions at Chulan Tomb 2 in Eastern Han China (171 C.E.)

Article excerpt

Chariot processions, among the most popular and best studied pictorial motifs in Chinese funerary art, still remain a contentious subject matter. Within the cemetery, chariots could be anywhere, sometimes on the walls of the burial and at other times on those of the offering shrine, which was usually built near the burial to commemorate the deceased's soul during the sacrifice. According to previous studies, as the vehicles varied their positions, they changed their meanings, too. On one occasion, the fantastic journey raises the deceased from the underground burial to heaven or the immortal lands. (1) On a second, the procession constitutes the deceased's funerary cortege. (2) And on yet a third, the traveling represents the deceased's imaginary journey to the underworld. (3) Although Michele Pirazzoli t'Serstevens is certainly right in asserting that the voyage might "have multiple connotations and different, non-exclusive ideas," (4) all the above interpretations suffer from a common flaw: the shrine

This work is dedicated to the memory of Chinese archaeologist Mr. Wang Buyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1927-2011), the leading excavator of the Chulan tombs. Had it not been for his generous help, I would never have completed this study. and the burial were examined separately as self-contained architectural units rather than as an architectural and pictorial nexus. In fact, according to ancient historians, tombs including both a shrine and a burial were popularly commissioned during the Han dynasty. (5)

Although it is rare for such tombs to survive, a remarkable example remains largely intact and sheds light on the mysterious link between the chariot processions. Among hundreds of Eastern Han cemeteries excavated, Chulan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Tomb 2, dating from 171 by inscription, is the first scientifically excavated and reported Eastern Han tomb with a shrine and a burial, both of which bear pictorial representations, including chariot processions. (6)

Located in present-day Suxian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the northeast of Anhui province in south China, the east-west oriented burial is enclosed by a rectangular earthen wall, in which is set a shrine made of carved stone slabs and oriented to the south (Fig. 1). An inscription carved on the rear wall of the shrine, "Tomb of Hu Yuanren [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] from Piyang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," clearly identifies the tomb occupant as a man surnamed Hu. Beneath the ground of the walled zone archaeologists unearthed a multi-chamber burial, also constructed of stone slabs.

The interior face of the stone slabs is carved in low relief with pictorial images framed by ornamental patterns. Among them the chariot processions appear on the wall bases in both the shrine and the burial (Figs. 2a, 2b). (7) Unlike most other excavated sites, in which chariots either emerge entirely in the aboveground shrine or hide completely in the underground burial, the two chariot processions at Chulan Tomb 2 echo each other in the two adjacent funerary structures that constitute a single cemetery. This basic fact raises a series of questions never asked before: Are these two processions related? If so, in what ways? And if related, why are they simultaneously kept apart in two different structures? To tackle these questions, the previous methodology that focuses exclusively on either the shrine or the burial must be modified. Neglecting the logic between the two units has prevented us from seeing the larger picture of the tomb.

The Chinese archaeologist Xin Lixiang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was the first to note the possible link between the two chariot processions. In a bold move, he considers the shrine and the burial as forming an organic architectural compound and assumes that the tomb occupant was represented as departing from his tomb, ascending to the ground, and heading toward the shrine to receive the worshippers' offerings. …

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