Cultural Hybridity and Social Status: Elite Tombs on China's Northern Frontier during the Third Century BC

By Wu, Xiaolong | Antiquity, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Cultural Hybridity and Social Status: Elite Tombs on China's Northern Frontier during the Third Century BC

Wu, Xiaolong, Antiquity


The Northern Frontier of China during the third century BC, roughly along the Great Wall, is the region where the Chinese states and their pastoral neighbours came into direct contact, and material culture in this region often exhibits mixed traits from diverse traditions. Recent archaeological discoveries from this area, including the Majiayuan cemetery, have revealed more nuanced pictures of cultural exchange between the Chinese states and the pastoral groups to their north and west during the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). These discoveries have yet to be examined within such postcolonial concepts as cultural hybridity.

Hybridity is a useful concept when interpreting the causes and social impacts of cultural mixture in material culture. According to Liebmann, "in postcolonial theory, hybridity commonly refers to the complex transcultural forms produced through colonization that cannot be neatly classified into a single cultural or ethnic category" (Liebmann 2008: 83). Colonialism existed in many different forms, and is not limited to the colonies of the modern European states based on terra nullius; ancient empires created different colonial relationships based instead on a shared cultural milieu, or on a 'middle ground' between differing cultural values (Gosden 2004). I suggest that the archaeological remains from the Northern Frontier should be viewed in the context of colonisation created by the expansion of the Qin and other Chinese states. In addition, an investigation of hybrid forms of material culture should emphasise the role of social agents and try to reveal their intentions and social impacts (Gosden 2004: 24).

This paper examines the material culture and mortuary practices of the Majiayuan cemetery, and argues that during the third century BC, hybrid forms of social practice and visual expression were strategically adopted by members of the social elite on China's Northern Frontier to negotiate and communicate power and social status through demonstrating cultural, political and economic connections with diverse symbolic centres of power.


Recent archaeological work at the Majiayuan cemetery in Zhangjiachuan Hui Autonomous County, Gansu Province (Figure 1) has excavated 16 tombs dated to the third century BC, and yielded a large amount of artefacts with various cultural affiliations, mainly consisting of chariot and body ornaments made of gold, silver and bronze, as well as a large amount of beads (Gansusheng Wenwu Kaogu & Zhangjiachuan Huizu Zizhixian 2008; Zaoqi Qin Wenhua & Zhangjiachuan Huizu Zizhixian 2009, 2010). This cemetery is located in an area to the north and west of the Qin where many pastoralist groups, collectively known as the Xi Rong (West Rong), were active during the first millennium BC. After the conquest of the Yiqu Rong in this area, King Zhao of Qin established the Longxi Prefecture in south-eastern Gansu around 279 BC, and the Zhangjiachuan area belonged to this new administrative unit (Zhangjiachuan 1999: 56). In 271 BC, King Zhao built a series of defensive walls at Qin's north and west borders, which run from Lixian County in southeastern Gansu, through southern Ningxia and northern Shaanxi, to Junger Banner in Inner Mongolia (Wang Xueli 1994:199). The Majiayuan region was enclosed within this newly built border wall. The Majiayuan cemetery, however, is fundamentally different from other Qin cemeteries in terms of burial practice and grave goods, and probably represents the remains of the rulers of a Rong pastoralist group newly subjugated by the state of Qin.

The Majiayuan tombs exhibit distinct mortuary practices and material culture with highly mixed features, and cultural elements identified in these burials reveals an amazingly rich array of source cultures. First of all, different tomb structures and burial practices coexist at the Majiayuan cemetery. The cemetery includes 59 tombs, 16 of which have been excavated. The layout of the cemetery is a semi-circle centred on the largest tomb, M6. Among the excavated tombs, all but three are catacomb tombs with an L-shaped plan (Figure 2). The catacombs, usually at the east end of the north wall of rectangular earthen pits, each contain a single skeleton in a supine extended position. Three tombs (M5, M6, M7) are shaft tombs without a catacomb. Two of them are small tombs with the coffin placed in a smaller pit dug into the bottom of the tomb chamber at the north- east corner, which could be a variant form of a catacomb. The other shaft tomb is M6, the largest tomb at the cemetery (around 33m long, 10m wide at the opening, and 14m deep), and it is the only tomb with a ramp. The ramp is flanked by nine tiers of steps.


All the catacomb tombs have steps in their west wall. Based on the numbers of steps, these tombs can be divided into five ranked categories: with nine, seven, five, three, and one steps respectively. Although the ramp and steps of M6 could have been used for accessing the bottom of the tomb during interment, steps in other tombs are irregular in shape and are too narrow and steep for practical use; instead, the number of steps probably symbolises social rank. The gradated rank system, characterised by prescribed numbers for important ritual and funerary items according to social rank, is prevalent in the Zhou political system, and was reflected in both ritual texts and mortuary remains of the Warring States Period (Yu & Gao 1978: 89; Zhang 2012). The concept of using gradated numbers to signify social status was probably inspired by the Zhou system (Wang 2009: 72). However, the Zhou system used the number of ritual vessels such as ding; the use of the number of steps in tombs to mark rank is unique to Majiayuan.



In addition to its large size and unique structure, M6 also stands out because of its content. Although more severely looted than other tombs, M6 still yielded some high-rank gold and silver ornaments unseen in other tombs (Figure 3). It is the only Majiayuan tomb so far excavated that contains complete sacrificial horses (four). Other tombs were only provided with heads and hooves of horses, cattle and goats. Sacrificing whole horses, with accompanying chariots, in separate pits near the tomb chamber is a common practice in elite tombs in central China beginning in the late Shang period (Zheng 1987; Lu 1993: 824). Early Western Zhou tombs continued this practice, but starting from the Middle Western Zhou period (roughly ninth century BC) chariots were usually dissembled and placed directly in the tomb chamber while horses were still buried in separate pits (Lu 1993: 835; Zhongguo Shehui Kexueyuan 2004: 75; Zhang 2010). During the Eastern Zhou period (770-256 BC), horse and chariot pits were also a common feature of elite tombs in the Central Plain area (middle and lower Yellow River Valley), such as in the states of Jin (Shanxisheng 1996), Qi (Zhang & Luo 1984) and Zhongshan (Hebeisheng 1995), and this practice continued in the tomb of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (Shaanxisheng Kaogu Yanjiusuo & Qin Shihuang Bingmayong 2000: 18). During the first millennium BC, chariot and horse burials constitute an important part of the mortuary rituals that reflect the high social status of the deceased, not only in China but also among the Central Asian nomads, as seen in the large kurgans at Pazyryk and Berel in the Altai Mountains (Rudenko 1970: 39-44; Rubinson 2012; Samashev 2012). In contrast, placing heads and hooves of domesticated animals in tomb fill is a typical burial practice among the pastoralists on China's Northern Frontier, such as seen in a majority of the tombs of the Taohongbala, Maoqinggou, Yuhuangmiao and Yanglang cultures (Tian 1976; Tian & Guo 1986; Beijing Shi 1989; Ningxia 1993; Linduff 1997; Wu 2004). M6 at Majiayuan is unique because it contains whole horses and chariots within the tomb chamber, instead of dismembered animals or whole horses in separate pits. Those burial practices and artefacts adopted from different cultures help to constitute the paramount social status of the deceased in M6, probably the leader of this community.

Lavishly decorated wooden chariots are the most important grave goods at Majiayuang (Figure 4). Most tombs contain chariots in the main chamber; some large tombs also contain a chariot in the catacomb. The number of chariots roughly correlates with the number of steps in the tombs (Table 1). Based on structure and decoration, Zhao Wucheng divided these chariots into five types (Zhao 2010b). Type I chariots are decorated most elaborately. The wooden structure is completely lacquered black, and the chariot boxes and wheels are decorated with gold, silver and bronze plaques shaped as animals or abstract openwork designs. Some chariots were decorated with colourful beads arranged tightly together on the surface of side-boards and wheels, including glass beads, agate beads and beads made with Han purple and Han blue (barium copper silicate pigments). Type II chariots are often painted red and decorated with bronze openwork plaques, but lack the gold and silver ornaments and the beads. Type III chariots have boxes formed with a grid of wooden bars and both side-boards have flat armrests. The boxes are lacquered black and the wheel side and hub are decorated with red and other colourful patterns. Type IV chariots also have a wooden grid structure and are lacquered black, but do not have other decoration. The boxes could be square, round or oval. Type V chariots are the simplest in structure and decoration; the passenger box is made of wooden planks and the whole structure is unpainted and undecorated. Larger tombs at Majiayuan usually contain a greater variety of chariots, and those chariot types suggest different functions, such as ceremony, war and hunting.

Despite these broad categories, each chariot is unique in size, structure and measurement, which suggests that each is individually designed and manufactured (Zhao 2010b: 96). However, their design and decoration emphasise extravagant display at the cost of practicality (Zhao 2010a: 75) and some details indicate that they were made for funeral ceremonies, not for practical use (Zhao 2010b: 96). Within the Zhou tradition, the number and type of bronze ritual vessels buried in tombs reflect a gradated system correlating to a social hierarchy among the elite (Yu & Gao 1979; Zhang 2012), and the number and decoration of chariots, along with horses and banners, also formed a gradated system and served as important signifiers of their owners' social rank (Lu 1993: 835-37). At Majiayuan, the size of tombs, the number of steps in their walls and the quantity and types of chariots buried in them are all gradated and correlate with each other. The local rulers were obviously familiar with this rank system and adopted it to signify their wealth and social status.


In contrast, the metal plaques that decorate the Majiayuan chariots (Figure 5) were mainly inspired by the iconography and style of steppe art. The so-called golden warrior from the Issyk Kurgan, dated to the third or second century BC, was probably a warrior chief or member of royalty (Akishev 2006: 61; Chang 2006:112), and the 4000+ gold plaques and ornaments which covered his body are full of animal imagery and mark his royal status. The decorative plaques shaped like ibexes and lions from Majiayuan (Figure 5, lower panel) are reminiscent of the gold headdress ornaments from the Issyk mound in Kazakhstan, and they are similar in both motif and style of representation (Yang 2010: 52-54). Similar artefacts were also found in northern Xinjiang along the Tianshan Mountains, and these finds suggest a route of cultural exchange between Zhangjiachuan and Central Asia through northern Xinjiang (Yang 2010: 54-55). Motifs such as stylised S-shaped bird-heads and goldsmith techniques such as granulation and sheet metal techniques, link the Majiayuan site with finds from further west and north on the Eurasian Steppe, such as those from Kurgan I at Filippovka along the Volga River (Aruz et al. 2000: pl. 17), dated to the fourth century BC. Granulation is a Near Eastern and Mediterranean technique that was transmitted to China through the Eurasian steppes (Huang Wei et al. 2009: 83).

The Majiayuan chariots feature local innovations as well. Chariot wheels are often decorated with bronze plaques arranged in a circular pattern (Figure 5, upper panel). Most bronze plaques have outer frames shaped as triangles and wave patterns, and their inner openwork designs are based on various combinations of a reversed letter S, which I believe is actually a highly simplified griffin-head design. Although the S-shaped design was common on the Eurasian Steppes (Aruz et al. 2000: pls. 1-4, 24-55, 69-72, 185; Linduff 1997: figs. A29, A35; Stark et al. 2012: 40, 42, 173), these bronze plaques for chariots were not seen before. As a result, the Majiayuan chariots are a highly hybrid form that draws upon various sources but meanwhile remain unique and original.


Other tomb furnishings at Majiayuan also reflect a material culture marked by strong hybridity. Zhou style bronze vessels such as ding, yan and hu, and Qin style cocoon-shaped hu were common at Majiayuan. Chariot fittings found in many Majiayuan tombs, such as bronze axle end-caps, were also a typical component in grave goods of the Zhou states. The silver boot sole and the griffin-head motif connect Majiayuan with the Ordos region in Inner Mongolia, the Yanglang culture in southern Ningxia, and the Saka remains in the Altai region (Pazyryk and Betel) and the Semirechye region in eastern Kazakhstan. In contrast, pottery and some bronze vessels at Majiayuan continued the local forms that were common in the Gansu-Qinghai area and south-central Inner Mongolia during the second and first millennia BC.

Cultural hybridity at Majiayuan can be best illustrated by the assemblage of grave goods within the same tomb (Figure 6). For instance, the deceased in tomb 14 was buried with two steppe style gold ear rings near the head and nine small bronze bells, a steppe style bronze mirror and iron and silver rings near the hands. While the belt of the deceased was decorated with 17 northern style belt plaques, each hand holds a Chinese style belt hook. Meanwhile, the deceased was also equipped with Qin style hu and the local style li, and bronze chariot fittings that were popular in the Chinese states as grave goods. The same degree of hybridity can be found in most other tombs at Majiayuan.

Majiayuan cemetery and Yanglang culture

Recent research has traced the iconographic origin of the Majiayuan feline and ibex images to the Saka tomb mounds in eastern Kazakhstan, such as the Issyk Kurgan (Yang 2010). I believe that most Majiayuan objects were more directly inspired by the bronze artefacts of the Yanglang culture in southern Ningxia and south-eastern Gansu (Figure 1), which are either slightly earlier or contemporaneous in date. Although the Yanglang culture tombs discovered so far are all lesser in scale and furnishing compared with the Majiayuan tombs, they share many similarities in terms of mortuary practice and material culture, and the relationship between the two groups of finds deserves more investigation.


First, both the Majiayuan and Yanglang cultural remains consist only of burials; no settlement sites have been found. The co-existence of two types of burial structures, earthen pit tombs and catacomb tombs, with the latter being the predominant form, is a feature shared by Yanglang culture cemeteries, such as those in Yanglang and Pengbao Counties in southern Ningxia (Ningxia 1993, 1995). In addition, most tombs at Majiayuan and Yanglong culture sites contain heads and hooves of sacrificed animals, and catacomb tombs have more animal sacrifices than earthen pit tombs.

Although catacomb tombs also existed in Qin cemeteries, the Majiayuan tombs are more closely related to the Yanglang culture. Both the catacombs at Majiayuan and those in the Yanglang culture cemeteries slant downward from the bottom of the tomb so that the head of the deceased is lower than the feet, and the skeletons are in a supine extended position. In contrast, the catacomb tombs in the Qin tradition, such as these at Ta'erpo, Xianyang (Xianyangshi 1998), have the catacombs in their east wall, with the floor flush with that of the burial chamber, and most skeletons are in a flexed position. As in the Yanglang culture cemeteries, the mixture of burial practices probably suggests a mixed population of different cultural backgrounds.

Second, Majiayuan and Yanglang culture tombs share similar grave goods and artefacts of similar designs. Metal plaques in animal combat design, especially the predator whose tail and mane transform into raptor heads opposing each other on the back are common in both Majiayuan and Yanglang culture tombs. For example, the gold belt plaques with predator-and-prey designs found in M14 at Majiayuan have dose parallels among the bronze belt plaques excavated at Chenyangchuan, a Yanglang culture site in Xiji, Ningxia Autonomous Region (Figure 7). Notice the raptor heads and the stripes radiating from the head on both plaques. The ubiquitous reversed S design used on Majiayuan chariot decoration is also seen on the Chenyangchuan plaque (Figure 7, left panel) and on carved bone objects from Yanglang. This design is probably the abstract form of the S-shaped bird plaques from Yanglang culture sites such as Yujiazhuang (Ningxia 1995: pls. 14,15) and other nomadic cultures in the Ordos region. The stylised bird-style gold belt plaques from Majiayuan can also find their bronze counterparts at the Yanglang culture sites. Bronze chariot decorations from Majiayuan are often treated with tin, and this 'hot-gilding' technique was also used on many artefacts found in Yanglang culture sites in Guyuan (Shao et al. 2010). Additionally, at both Majiayuan and Yanglang culture sites, pottery is rare and consists mainly of handmade, low-fired jars with one handle attached to the neck; bone objects are numerous and bone-carving techniques are highly developed.

Despite all these similarities, the Majiayuan finds, especially the chariots, stand out as an unprecedented luxurious display of wealth and social status of the elite. Therefore, I propose that the Majiayuan remains could represent the elite stratum of the society that also produced the Yanglang culture remains, or a later development of what we call Yanglang culture.


So how do we interpret the culturally mixed character at Majiayuan, which is not seen in Yanglang culture burlai remains? Cultural hybridity is different from acculturation, syncretism or bricalage, and does not include mere imitations or replicas of elements of other cultures; instead it refers to the creation of a new class of material culture that reflects the interdependence between the dominant and subaltern cultures in the processes of their own culture formations (Liebmann 2008: 85). In addition, hybridity is often understood as a process rather than a state (Burke 2009: 46). The Majiayuan remains should be interpreted in the context of Qin's military conquest and administrative control of the surrounding territories previously occupied by various pastoral peoples. In the process of empire-building between the mid-fourth and late third centuries BC, Qin culture itself became increasingly diverse and hybrid on all levels of the social hierarchy, adopting artefacts and mortuary practices of the local peoples newly incorporated into the Qin territory (Teng 2002: 74, 146, 159). As a result, both the coloniser and the colonised were transformed in the process of cultural hybridisation, creating an increasingly inclusive and diverse society that laid the foundation for the unified Qin and Han empires. The Majiayuan cemetery represents a local facet of this process.

The highly mixed culture at Majiayuan was not the static result of cultural encounters, simply reflecting the cultural exchanges, but was consciously created by social agents to negotiate power and status. The luxury artefacts of diverse cultural origins found at Majiayuan are results of symbolically and politically charged activities such as long-distance acquisition and skilled crafting. Foreign objects, materials and imagery help concentrate and channel the energy and power associated with domains lying outside local societies, and individuals who are able to acquire or possess those extraordinary objects are often endowed with the same powers associated with those potent outside worlds (Helms 1993: 9, 170). In addition, the original meanings for these objects were probably adapted to invent a new cultural practice in service of the socio-political needs of its users (van Dommelen 2006: 119). The Majiayuan elite adopted luxury goods and status markers from elites in other power centres to create a hybrid culture that legitimated their social status in the local community.

A comparison that helps to illustrate this point is tomb M30 in the Xinzhuangtou cemetery in Yixian, Hebei Province (Hebeisheng 1996:684-731), excavated three decades before the Majiayuan discovery (Figure 1). Located within the southern capital of the state of Yan (c. 550-226 BC), M30 is a large earthen pit tomb (12 x 9.5m) with two ramps. It has three-tiered walls and was furnished with a wooden chamber, a coffin and a storage box to the north. Probably a member of the Yan aristocracy, the deceased was buried with a daring combination of offerings, consisting of sets of status markers from both the Zhou tradition and the nomadic cultures on the Eurasian steppe. In the storage box were placed pottery funerary vessels as substitutes for traditional Zhou bronze ritual vessels (Figure 8a), including seven ding and six gui, and typical funeral offerings such as weapons, chariot fittings and horse trappings, while in the wooden burial chamber were precious artefacts used by the deceased before death.


Among the surviving artefacts in this looted tomb are ten rectangular belt plaques, five in gold and five in silver (Figure 8b), as well as a large number of gold buttons (Figure 8c), all decorated with the newly popular motifs along the Northern Frontier of China during the late Warring States Period, including fantastic animals and tigers attacking horses, and steppe animais with hind parts twisted upward. Other steppe motifs on the gold objects from Xinzhuangtou also include the animals forms on the gold handles of iron swords (Figure 8d), raptor heads engraved on a gold scabbard end (Figure 8e), and the granulation technique used on another scabbard end (Figure 8f). Bronze daggers with pommels shaped like opposing raptor heads or other animal forms appeared in tombs of the pastoralists along the Northern Frontier of China no later than the seventh century BC (Tian & Guo 1986: 14, 218). By the fourth century BC, iron swords decorated with gold with similar designs can be found at sites as far west as Filippovka along the Ural River (Aruz et al. 2000: pl. 6). The iron swords with gold animal-style handles from Xinzhuangtou demonstrate that this type of sword was also valued among the Chinese elites by the third century BC. The engraved motif of deer antlers with tines terminating into bird heads on the Xinzhuangtou scabbard (Figure 8e) had also found its three-dimensional expression on a gold headdress from Nalinggaotu in Shenmu, Shaanxi Province, dated to the fourth century BC (Figure 9a), and on the wood and leather headdress for a horse from the Altai Mountains dated to the fifth century BC (Figure 9b; Rudenko 1970: pl. 142).


Gold artefacts popular among the northern pastoral tribes started to appear in tombs of the social elite in the Chinese states during the third century BC, but none of them contained such a great amount as tomb 30 at Xinzhuangtou. The fourth and third centuries BC were a time of intense cultural borrowing between the Chinese states and their northern neighbours. This trend is best demonstrated by a record in the Shiji that recounts the adoption of nomadic dress and mounted archery of the Hu tribes by King Wuling of Zhao to reform his military around 307 BC (Shij'i 43.1806-9). We are not sure to what extent the Chinese aristocracy in the state of Yan adopted cultural practices of their northern neighbours but it is clear that they had adopted heterogeneous visual symbols to display their power and status as a complement to the declining Zhou ritual system and related status markers.

Among the spectacular objects from M30 at Xinzhuangtou are nine teardrop-shaped ornaments with outlandish human faces in relief (h. 5. l cru) (Figure 8c). Eight similar gold ornaments were found at Majiayuan in M6 (h. 1.6cm) (Figure 3a). While the Xinzhuangtou faces were cast with solid gold, the Majiayuan examples were pounded from sheets of gold and their eyebrows and moustaches were painted on. Despite this difference, these objects were probably used similarly, as ornaments on horse trappings and chariot fittings. Their appearance in both locations indicates that similar motifs and artefacts were shared in a wide geographical area and by elites of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The gold plaques and buttons from Xinzhuangtou and many of the those discovered in the Ordos region were cast with the lost-wax-lost-textile method and were engraved or cast with Chinese characters, and suggest that workshops in the Chinese states had been manufacturing northern style artefacts for their pastoral neighbours during the late Warring States Period (So & Bunker 1995: 58-59). The intricate belt plaques from Majiayuan were probably also cast in Qin workshops, and the chariot ornaments, custom- designed for individual chariots, might have been made in the same workshops where the chariots were manufactured. The gold ornament shaped like a panchi dragon from tomb M1 further suggests their association with a Chinese workshop.

The economic interdependency between the pastoralist groups and the Chinese states that bordered them is further attested to by the recent discovery of a bronze caster's tomb at Beikang village in the suburb of Xi'an, which yielded models and moulds for casting both northern style belt plaques (Shaanxisheng 2006: pl. 1) and Chinese style bronze tomb furnishings (ritual vessels, chariot fittings and funeral objects). The same client might have been using both categories of products, as evidenced by the Majiayuan and Xinzhuangtou finds. The moulds and models can be reused to mass produce similar products and suggest the existence of a steady clientele who acquired them on the market. The bronze caster's tomb near Xi'an and tomb 30 at Xinzhuangtou made it clear that cast gold ornaments were made not only as commodities for the consumption of their northern pastoral neighbours, but also as treasured grave goods for some Chinese elite.

In a recent paper on the bronze caster's tomb, Katheryn Linduff pointed out that the luxury chariot and body ornaments of gold, silver and other materiais found in the steppe zone in China suggest the emergence of a new class of aristocracy in the local nomadic or pastoral society, whose social position depended on their success in managing diplomatic and commercial relations with the Chinese and other neighbours (Linduff 2009: 95). I believe that the finds at Majiayuan represents the burial practices of such a new elite class. As one of the Rong groups under the control of the state of Qin, the society represented by the Majiayuan cemetery must have played an important role in the trade between the Qin and its neighbours to the west. During the third century BC when the state of Qin was engaged in total war with other states to its east, its rulers had to maintain peaceful commercial relations with the Rong groups under its control and traded with them for horses, an important resource for the state (Wang Hui 2009: 75). According to the Shiji, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty honoured a merchant of the Wuzhi Rong group for his contribution to the trade between Qin and the Rong groups, and "gave orders to honour Lo as though he were an enfeoffed lord, and to allow him to join the ministers in seasonal audiences at court" (Shiji 129. 3260; Swann 1950: 430). The luxury objects found at Majiayuan suggest that the rulers buried there probably acquired great wealth through trade with Qin and through acting as intermediaries between Qin and nomadic peoples further to the west, as the northern tribes often did through a down-the-line trade network connecting China with the Eurasian Steppes (So & Bunker 1995: 60). The cultural hybridity at Majiayuan, therefore, demonstrates the commercial and cultural connections the local elite had with various regions on Eurasian steppes, and visualises the political, diplomatic, and economic powers controlled by the Majiayuan elite through these connections.

By the same token, I argue that among the social elite in the Chinese states there was also a group of individuals who secured high social status through successfully maintaining trade and diplomatic relations with the non-Chinese groups, and the person buried in M30 at Xinzhuangtou is such an example. At both Majiayuan and Xinzhuangtou, the daring combination of culturally heterogeneous mortuary rites and grave goods are a visual proclamation of their role as intermediaries between the Chinese states and their important pastoral neighbours. Seen in this context, cultural hybridity can be used by the social elite to negotiate and display social status in situations of colonisation, and the Majiayuan remains reflect an innovative local manifestation of the process of cultural transformation accompanying the formation of an empire.

Received: 16 January 2012; Accepted." 19 Match 2012; Revised: 13 July 2012


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Xiaolong Wu *

* Art and Art History, Hanover College, 359 LaGrange Road, Hanover, Indiana 47243, USA (Email: wu

Table 1. Correlation between numbers of steps and chariots.

Tomb          M6          M1, M3,        M2, M13,      M15, M58
                            M16            M14,

Steps          9             9              7             5
Chariots   disturbed   5 (4 in shaft,   3 or 1 (in   1 (in shaft)
                            1 in          shaft)

Tomb          M12, M29       M8   M5,

Steps             3          1     0
Chariots       1 or 0        0     1
           (no decoration)

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