Pacific Asia Museum

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Pasadena, California 91101
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Funerary Practices in China


Funerary practices of different cultures often give us useful information about shared values and regional distinctions. For example, burial goods, or mingqi in Chinese, can reveal how people in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) viewed their afterlife as it related to life in this world. Mingqi included a range of objects from household goods to entertainers, pets and decorative objects, which were buried along with the deceased in underground chambers or complexes, depending on the ornateness of the grave site. The practice was not limited to the highest echelons of Chinese society, with a range of objects being available to those wishing to enhance family member’s graves at whatever level they could provide.

The inclusion of mingqi in burial settingswas meant to please and comfort the dead in the afterlife by providing them with familiar objects. This intention to placate the souls of the dead was closely linked to Confucian practices expressing filial piety and hoping for a peaceful and harmonious state for relatives that had passed away. Mingqi practices occurred from the Han through to the Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE). The objects were made of earthenware decorated with pigments and glazes to further enliven their forms. As can be seen both here and in the nearby Snukal Gallery, camels carry loads of supplies, horses stand at the ready for riders and attendants are ready to serve, polo players speed by with mallets, and acrobats and musicians perform, all for the comfort and entertainment of the dead.

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