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The Lishan Mausoleum and Tombs of Chinese Emperors: The Actualization of Wealth, Power & Ideology
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Throughout China’s longstanding history, funerary rituals and burial culture have been regarded by historians to exemplify Chinese ideology. According to ancient Chinese, the soul of a person was believed to leave the body after death. However, theories about where a person’s soul would go after death have changed over time. Initially people believed that temples would be the residence of souls and thus the major place for ancestral worship. But the formulation of the dual-soul theory caused tombs to become secondary worship centers. Later on, as royal families started to decline, tombs gradually inherited the structures and rituals of temples and became the major funerary ritual site. The purpose of this essay is to illustrate how tombs transformed from the house of the dead to ritual and monumental architecture as well as the various ways in which tombs have been utilized to achieve materialization of spiritual values. However, in order to illustrate this concept, nothing is better than the Lishan Mausoleum of the Qin Emperor, whose master started as a local ruler; by uniting various territories he rose to the highest position and utilized the tomb as a representation of the beginning of his era. The Lishan Mausoleum effectively exemplified how an emperor could use his tomb to materialize and visualize his sovereignty, ideology, and military power in front of the entire world.

According to Elizabeth DeMarris, “materialization is the transformation of ideas, values, stories, myths, and the like, into a physical reality--a ceremonial event, a symbolic object, a monument, or a writing system.”[1] Materialization makes it possible to “establish and reinforce the legitimacy and rights of the group that controls their material form through the production and transmissions of ideas, traditions, and meanings.” Throughout Chinese history, tombs have long been used as a materialized representation of ideas, values, and power, employed by rulers to demonstrate and reinforce their legitimacy and authority.

During the Shang and Early Zhou Dynasties, funerary rituals were mainly displayed in temples and tombs with temples acting as major worship centers and tombs as secondary ones. However, the situation changed as the central political power of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty shifted from the royal house to local rulers, and this caused the shift of primary worship centers from temples to tombs. Since then, tombs started to display ritual and monumental importance in addition to funerary functions.

First of all, tombs had been endowed with ritual significance in addition to their usages as ‘housing’ for the dead since Chinese ideology about life and death had been actualized through the tomb. Starting from the Western Zhou Dynasty, a dual-soul theory was formulated, claiming that humans possess two souls: one representing Yang called hun and the other representing Yin called po. The hun soul governs spirit and has great mobility, while the po soul controls the physical body and has limited movement. People believed that the two souls are united harmoniously in life but separate at death, with the hun soul going upward to heaven and the po soul remaining with the corpse.[2] Therefore, worship of ancestral souls occurred in two places: the temple symbolizes Yang, housing the hun soul, while the tomb stands for Yin, being the residence of the deceased body.[3] 

However, with the decline of Zhou royal house, the center for ancestral worship shifted from the royal temple to tombs of local rulers. Tombs were constructed as eternal monuments to represent their masters’ political and social status. At this time, a new concept emerged, claiming that the hun soul no longer flew away but would rest in underground tombs. Many components of temple architecture were transferred into tombs.These new religious concepts and ritual conventions found concrete expressions in Han tombs. For example, in the famous Western Han Mawangdui Tomb 1 at Changsha, Hunan, there was “an empty couch furnished with thick cushions and backed by a painted miniature screen--a seat prepared for an invisible subject.” Accompanying the spirit seat was a group of figurines, including eight singers and dancers performing their arts with five musicians. The performance was staged opposite the couch, which provoked people’s imagination that the invisible soul was sitting on the couch, watching the performance. The setting of the spirit seat helped to construct a “double existence” of the deceased person: the empty seat indicated the presence of the invisible hun soul, while the coffin contained the carefully preserved body, representing the po soul.[4] This dual representation of the dead’s soul in the tomb supported the change of ancient Chinese’ conception about the residence of souls as both the hun soul and the po soul were symbolized and worshipped in the tomb. This transformation also brought forth the ritual significance of the tomb. Besides, during the Eastern Han, funerary shrines became active sites in the public sphere with the popularity of the “cemetery sacrifice”. The filial son had to conduct ritual performances before the deceased’s spirit seat as if ancestors were still alive. According to Hou Han Shu, Emperor Ming even shifted the imperial ceremony of New Year Audience from the imperial palace to his deceased father Emperor Guangwu’s mausoleum. He led government officials to brief the empty seat of the former emperor, “wishing the spirit of His Majesty could hear them.”[5]

During the Shang and the Western Zhou, the tomb and temple coexisted as twin centers of ancestral worship, but their function and architectural principles were entirely different. An ancestral temple was a lineage temple, which represented a person’s clan heritage. A tomb, on the other hand, demonstrated personal accomplishments. As people emphasized ancestral worship, sacrifices were held in temples rather than tombs. However, the First Qin Emperor broke this tradition as it was impossible to associate himself with an existing lineage temple when he had assumed the position as the Origin of a great tradition. According to Eastern Han scholar Cai Yong, “an ancient ancestral temple consisted of a ceremonial hall (miao) in front and a retiring hall (qin) in the rear, after the manner in which a ruler had a court in front and a retiring chamber in the rear.”[6] However, “the Qin initiated the (custom) to build the qin inside mausoleums,” as recorded in Han Shu. Also, in order to emphasize his unparalleled status, he built a temple dedicated to himself even before his death. The temple was called Jimiao, the Temple of the Absolute, which was connected with the Lishan Mausoleum through a road. Following traditions of the Qin Dynasty, an ancestral temple was built to dedicate each deceased emperor during the Han Dynasty. A special road, just like the one for Lishan Mausoleum, was also constructed to connect the temple with an emperor’s retiring hall inside the funerary park. In general, the construction of Lishan Mausoleum enabled the First Emperor to materialize his ideology and pass it on to future generations.

One of the Qin Emperor’s major purposes of building this spectacular edifice was to show his unparalleled imperial status in Chinese history, and this started from the name of his necropolis. The First Emperor’s necropolis was designated shan (mountain), whereas tombs of the previous Eastern Zhou emperors were called ling (hill). According to Jie Shi, “upgrade in terminology unambiguously elevates the tomb occupant above all previous kings.”[7] By naming his personal mausoleum shan, the First Emperor was able to manifest his incomparable authority over previous emperors and rulers in the Chinese history. Moreover, as his royal title “Shi Huang Di” signifies, the First Emperor viewed himself as the Origin, aiming to incorporate the “World under Heaven”. This political ambition was thoroughly embodied through the construction of his mausoleum.

In addition to the actualization of ideology, tombs generally are considered as a visual and materialized representation of wealth and power for Chinese emperors. The First Qin Emperor’s Lishan necropolis is the most classic example as it is the earliest and the largest of all the royal and imperial tombs of China.[8] According to Sima Qian in Shiji,

“After [the First Emperor] had united the world, more than 700,000 convict laborers from the world were sent there. They dug through three [strata of] springs, poured in liquid bronze, and secured the sarcophagus. [Terracotta] houses, officials, unusual and valuable things were moved in to fill it. They used mercury to create rivers, the Jiang, the He, and the great seas, wherein the mercury was circulated mechanically. On the ceiling were celestial bodies and on the ground geographical features. The candles were made of oil of dugong, which was not supposed to burn out for a long time.”

Sima Qian conceptualized the Qin Emperor’s mausoleum as a manufactured microcosm with three essential elements of the universe: heavenly bodies, earthly landscapes, and human creations.[9] Each of these three elements was represented by artificial creations in the mausoleum as depicted in Shiji. Besides, the area outside the graveyard of the Lishan necropolis also helped to create a microcosmic universe for the Qin Emperor’s afterlife. To the east, the underground terracotta army replicated the emperor’s massive Qin army. In the area between the terracotta army and the funerary park, historians found nineteen tombs of high officials and royal members as well as an enormous underground stable. Furthermore, burials of convicts were found on the west of the funerary park. Thus, while the funerary park itself was constructed as the emperor’s “forbidden city,” the surrounding area mirrored his empire, which was supported by his officials, soldiers, servants, and even slaves.[10] With the construction of the Lishan mausoleum, the Qin Emperor was able to provide himself with “a microcosmic representation of the real world.”[11] By putting himself at the center of the mausoleum, he was empowered to rule the world afterlife in the same way as ruling his Qin Empire.

Besides the unprecedented designation and unparalleled scale of the Lishan Mausoleum, Qin Shi Huangdi also utilized the subterranean terracotta army to materialize his power, further displaying his sovereignty to the world. Depicting the actual army of the First Emperor during the Qin Dynasty, the terracotta army is a collection of terracotta sculptures including more than eight thousand clay warriors as well as numerous artificial horses and chariots. According to the commonly accepted explanation, the underground army was created as a replica of the Qin army whose job was to guard the tomb and to protect the emperor’s eternal sleep. The creation of the enormous terracotta army was able to materialize and visualize the First Emperor’s military power and ambition in front of the entire world mainly due to the verisimilitude shown by these clay warriors.

Because of the striking realism displayed by the terracotta army, historians suggested that the figures might be modeled after living soldiers and that they were actual portraits of individual warriors. However, Ladislav Kesner pointed out that instead of representing portraits of real people, the terracotta warriors were simply artificial creations who played the same role as real soldiers but in the Emperor’s afterlife. For people who held the traditional “substitution-for-absence” account, the terracotta figures ought to be realistic, possessing as much visual verisimilitude as possible as they were intended to replace real people.[12] However, the figures should be better viewed not as individualized portraits of particular subjects, but as “types”: “The goal was to produce the appearance of individuality, without its substance, realism without portraiture.”[13] For the sculptors of terracotta warriors, the goal was to re-create reality, to create an artificial world that the First Emperor would believe in. The depersonalization of the clay warriors actually conformed to the purpose of their existence: to continue rendering service to their master and to express, perpetuate, and validate his ritual and social status. In the emperor’s eyes, his soldiers were not important for who they were, but for what they could do or what they could be used for. What mattered within the confines of the underground realm were those aspects that made each soldier a constitutive component of the whole--his function, as it was embodied in position, gesture, and the requisite attributes.

According to Kesner, most of the figures convey to the viewers a sense of “marionette like artificiality” rather than that of empirical reality. Such characteristics and style sprang from the constraints of depicting fully armed warriors, standing in certain positions. First of all, Kesner pointed out that the contours of the terracotta warriors were defined by garments as their bodies were entirely clad in armor except their heads and hands. Therefore, there were not any visible anatomical structures and muscular tensions that could provide actual physis, creating a sense of reality. In addition, clay warriors could not have been depicted in any random postures that were expressive of mind and thus of more individuality, but had to be represented with specific gestures predicated by their function within the entire army. In addition, remains of polychromy suggested that pigments were applied to imitate the colors of actual armors and garments worn by different ranks of soldiers, further indicating that soldiers were distinguished by ranks rather than their personal characteristics.[14] Since the terracotta warriors were designed to accompany their master in his afterlife, it was better for them to be artificial creations rather than realistic substitutes as they were destined to serve the dead. The artificiality was mainly emphasized to bring about the idea that the First Emperor would establish a powerful army in his afterlife as well.

Even though the terracotta warriors were designed to present artificiality, the weapons that they carried were made of real bronze under rigorous quality control, which revealed the massive labor organization that the First Emperor employed to create his massive terracotta army. There were about 40,000 arrowheads as well as hundreds of triggers, swords, lances, halberds being excavated in the army pit.[15] There was a considerable variety in the detail of the marks made on the bronze weapons and weapon parts: from long, dated texts applied to lances and halberds, to shorter inscriptions on spears and swords, to simple characters on crossbow triggers to a complete absence of marks on arrowheads and hooks.[16] Specifically on the lances and halberds that had been investigated, researchers discovered long inscriptions indicating basic information about chronology and the chain of responsible artisans and workers. The inscriptions included the year of production, the person in charge of the production, the official or workshop, and the specific worker. For example, inscriptions on lances confirmed that there was a supervisor named Lu Buwei, officials, craftsmen, and workers involved in bronze production. These extremely long inscriptions corroborated the view that there was a hierarchical system of officials and workers in charge of the bronze production, controlling the quality of each weapon.

In general, the sophistication and enormous amount of specialized labor invested in the inscriptions of these bronze weapons highlighted the fact that no resources or skills were spared in the production of the First Emperor’s Mausoleum, further indicating the sovereignty of the emperor.

As one of the most important and magnificent mausoleums in Chinese history, the Lishan Mausoleum has successfully represented its owner’s will to the entire world. Through the scale and designation of this architecture, we can tell his great ambition of ruling the entire world. The enormous terracotta army that has been excavated enables us to visually perceive his power and military strength across time and space as well as his desire to possess the same military and political authority after death. Overall, the Lishan Mausoleum was a classical ritual and monumental architecture that was able to perpetuate the First Emperor’s glory and achievements.

The ritual function of the tomb originated from ancient Chinese ideology of death and afterlife as a person’s tomb was considered the physical representation of his soul. However, it was the transfer of power from Eastern Zhou royal families to elites and local rulers that primarily caused the rise of tombs as a ritual architecture. Compared to temples that were mainly used by royal houses to dedicate to family lineage, tombs were an ideal representation of elites and local rulers’ personal achievements. The most successful example was the Lishan Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi, which was a microcosm of the universe used to actualize the First Emperor’s ideology and ambition as well as his unparalleled status. Funerary figurines in the tomb were also an important visual representation of emperors’ military power and political authority. From the Zhou to the Han Dynasty, the tomb not only symbolized spirit, ideology, power and wealth, but also people’s will to perpetuate everything they had owned and enjoyed in their afterlife.

Zijun Liu is a senior at Stony Brook School who enjoys studying the figures who have contributed to the history of China-US relations and ancient Chinese history. Zijun Liu is an avid calligrapher and practices this ancient art form as a lens to view modern history.

 

Bibliography

DeMarrais, Elizabeth, Luis Jaime Castillo, and Timothy Earle. "Ideology, Materialization, and Power Strategies." Current Anthropology 37, no. 1 (1996): 15-31. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2744153.

Guo, Qinghua. "Tomb Architecture of Dynastic China: Old and New Questions." Architectural History 47 (2004): 1-24. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1568814.

Hung, Wu. "Enlivening the Soul in Chinese Tombs." RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 55/56 (2009): 21-41. Accessed July 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/25608834.)

Hung, Wu.. "From Temple to Tomb: Ancient Chinese Art and Religion in Transition." Early China 13 (1988): 78-115. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23351322.

Hung, Wu. "Rethinking East Asian Tombs: A Methodological Proposal." Studies in the History of Art 74 (2009): 138-65. Accessed August 19, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/42622720.

Kesner, Ladislav. "Likeness of No One: (Re)presenting the First Emperor's Army." The Art Bulletin 77, no. 1 (1995): 115-32. Accessed August 5, 2020. doi:10.2307/3046084.

Li, Xiuzhen Janice, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Nigel D. Meeks, Yin Xia, and Kun Zhao. “Inscriptions, Filing, Grinding and Polishing Marks on the Bronze Weapons from the Qin Terracotta Army in China.” Journal of Archaeological Science38, no. 3 (2011): 492–501. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2010.09.012.

Martinón-Torres, Marcos, Xiuzhen Janice Li, Andrew Bevan, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao, and Thilo Rehren. "Forty Thousand Arms for a Single Emperor: From Chemical Data to the Labor Organization Behind the Bronze Arrows of the Terracotta Army." Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 21, no. 3 (2014): 534-62. Accessed August 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/43654180.

Shi, Jie. "INCORPORATING ALL FOR ONE: THE FIRST EMPEROR'S TOMB MOUND." Early China 37 (2014): 359-91. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24392469.

Shi, Jie. "Rolling between Burial and Shrine: A Tale of Two Chariot Processions at Chulan Tomb 2 in Eastern Han China (171 C.e.)." Journal of the American Oriental Society 135, no. 3 (2015): 433-52. Accessed August 30, 2020. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.135.3.433.

Xiuzhen Li, Andrew Bevan, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao Postprint from Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 42: 169-183 doi: 10.1016/j.jaa.2016.04.002


[1] DeMarrais, Elizabeth, Luis Jaime Castillo, and Timothy Earle. "Ideology, Materialization, and Power Strategies." Current Anthropology 37, no. 1 (1996): 15-31. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2744153.

[2] Hung, Wu. "Enlivening the Soul in Chinese Tombs." RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 55/56 (2009): 21-41. Accessed July 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/25608834.)

[3] Guo, Qinghua. "Tomb Architecture of Dynastic China: Old and New Questions." Architectural History 47 (2004): 1-24. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1568814.

[4] Hung, Wu. "Enlivening the Soul in Chinese Tombs." RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 55/56 (2009): 21-41. Accessed July 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/25608834.)

[5] Shi, Jie. "Rolling between Burial and Shrine: A Tale of Two Chariot Processions at Chulan Tomb 2 in Eastern Han China (171 C.e.)." Journal of the American Oriental Society 135, no. 3 (2015): 433-52. Accessed August 30, 2020. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.135.3.433.

[6] Hung, Wu.. "From Temple to Tomb: Ancient Chinese Art and Religion in Transition." Early China 13 (1988): 78-115. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23351322.

[7] Shi, Jie. "INCORPORATING ALL FOR ONE: THE FIRST EMPEROR'S TOMB MOUND." Early China 37 (2014): 359-91. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24392469.

[8] Martinón-Torres, Marcos, Xiuzhen Janice Li, Andrew Bevan, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao, and Thilo Rehren. "Forty Thousand Arms for a Single Emperor: From Chemical Data to the Labor Organization Behind the Bronze Arrows of the Terracotta Army." Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 21, no. 3 (2014): 534-62. Accessed August 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/43654180.

[9] Hung, Wu. "Rethinking East Asian Tombs: A Methodological Proposal." Studies in the History of Art 74 (2009): 138-65. Accessed August 19, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/42622720.

[10] HUNG, WU. "FROM TEMPLE TO TOMB: Ancient Chinese Art and Religion in Transition." Early China 13 (1988): 78-115. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23351322.

[11] Hung, Wu. "Enlivening the Soul in Chinese Tombs." RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 55/56 (2009): 21-41. Accessed July 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/25608834.)

[12] Kesner, Ladislav. "Likeness of No One: (Re)presenting the First Emperor's Army." The Art Bulletin 77, no. 1 (1995): 115-32. Accessed August 5, 2020. doi:10.2307/3046084.

[13] Ibid

[14] Kesner, Ladislav. "Likeness of No One: (Re)presenting the First Emperor's Army." The Art Bulletin 77, no. 1 (1995): 115-32. Accessed August 5, 2020. doi:10.2307/3046084.

[15] Li, Xiuzhen Janice, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Nigel D. Meeks, Yin Xia, and Kun Zhao. “Inscriptions, Filing, Grinding and Polishing Marks on the Bronze Weapons from the Qin Terracotta Army in China.” Journal of Archaeological Science38, no. 3 (2011): 492–501. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2010.09.012.

[16] Xiuzhen Li, Andrew Bevan, Marcos Martino´n-Torres, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao Postprint from Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 42: 169-183 doi: 10.1016/j.jaa.2016.04.002

 

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