Early Chinese afterlife beliefs and funerary practices

Authored by: Mu-chou Poo

The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138852075
eBook ISBN: 9781315723747
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



With a long and continuous cultural development since the Neolithic period, the area of the East Asian continent now known as China produced abundant archaeological and textual evidence for the development of its funerary culture. In the entire Neolithic period, however, various local traditions co-existed at the same time, and not until the beginning of the Shang Dynasty, when written documents appear, and when cultural cohesion strongly suggests that a mainstream cultural tradition was established in the area with Shang cultural dominance, can we talk more substantially about a funerary culture that was the hallmark of the Shang civilization. Most of the Shang bronze artifacts now on display in various museums throughout the world came from tombs and were largely part of the funerary equipment. It was from the function, the style, the manufacturing technique, and the inscriptions on them that we learned various political, social, economic, and religious conditions of the Shang. Thus the study of the funerary culture, of the tombs and their contents, and of the ceremonies accompanying the funeral, may provide invaluable knowledge and insight into the Shang civilization. The same, of course, can be said of later eras. With the increase of written documents, of course, the impact of funerary culture on our knowledge of a given period might have become less dominating. Nevertheless, the continuous development of funerary culture throughout ancient China until the end of the Han Dynasty makes a fascinating subject of study, as no written material alone could have provided.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.