Emotional Death: Tombs and Burial Practices in the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644

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Emotional Death: Tombs and Burial Practices in the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644

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In this dissertation, I used both archaeological and historical evidence to discuss why the function of tombs changed in the Ming dynasty. This change reflects the changes in the way people envisioned the afterlife and in the relationship between the living and the deceased. My research question starts with a set of miniaturized pewter utensils displayed in tombs. The forms of these miniaturized utensils are similar to that of utensils used for ancestral worship in the ancestral temple or the family shrine. These utensils first appeared in the Ming ritual code on a list of burial gifts bestowed from the emperor to his ministers. Archaeologists have found the utensils in tombs of northern and southeastern China belonging to occupants of different social classes. The dissemination – the validation by the Ming government and the acceptance among various social classes – distinguishes these pewter utensils from preceding practices of burying sacrificial utensils in tombs. According to Confucian prescriptions, Chinese families should make offerings in sacrificial utensils to honor their ancestors and to maintain a connection between the dead and the living in the temple or the shrine, not in the tomb. These pewter utensils, in contrast, suggest that sacrificial rites were conducted in tombs. Their miniaturized sizes indicate that their function is not practical, but is used in symbolic sacrifices continuing even after the tomb was sealed for good. Offerings, as well as the connections between the living and the dead, therefore lasted perpetually through these utensils in tombs. In order to understand this practice, I studied other changes in death rituals in texts, such as the layout of imperial mausoleums in Ming capitals. These changes all reveal emotional attachments to the buried dead because the body was regarded as the authentic presence of the beloved one. I connected this sentiment to the cult of qing in Ming society, which stressed the expressions of emotions. I argue that, in the Ming dynasty, the buried deceased were not separated from the living, but were welcomed by their descendants to be part of the living world through conducting sacrificial rituals.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.December 2017. Major: History. Advisor: Ann Waltner. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 378 pages.

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Jin, Hui-Han. (2017). Emotional Death: Tombs and Burial Practices in the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/194596.

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