A Monograph Revealing Religion Kept in Han Tombs
Heritage of Han Empires: Ghosts in Han China is Forthcoming
Heritage of Han Empires: Ghosts in Han China (《漢帝國的遺產：漢鬼考》) has taken about 20 years of research by Dr. JIANG Sheng(姜生), an authority on early Daoism at Sichuan University (was in IRSSS of Shandong University during 2002-2012; now Director of Center for Culture, Science and Technology,–not in other institutes–of Sichuan University). To be published in March 2016 by the Science Press (of CAS, Beijing), the book explores the spiritual world of the Han Dynasties sealed in tombs, to reveal the clue hidden behind the history of Western and Eastern Han Dynasties. As a new breakthrough based on interdisciplinary methods, it will be a great milestone in the study of the Han China.
Historians used to jump from Fangxian dao and Huanglao dao in the Warring States Period and the early Western Han Dynasty to Tianshi dao (Heavenly Master Daoism) at the end of Eastern Han Dynasty. However, what had happened during over 200 years between the two eras was often ignored. Luckily, pictures buried in ancient tombs for nearly 2000 years can help to reconstruct the belief system during Warring States Period and Han Dynasties. Constructions of tomb and/or coffin chambers, structures, facilities, pictures and symbols in tombs formed a complicated immortal world, with a (hidden) inner logic, namely the belief of becoming immortal through death.
In such a belief system, Han people became “promising” and “hopeful” ghosts at death. The cosmology and view of life under Qi氣 ontology had shaped Han tombs as a peculiar underground space where the souls of the dead can be reunited and reshaped. According to the belief logic of Han people, tombs were “palaces for form-refining.” The dead would experience a process of “refining the form in great darkness” (Taiyin Lianxing), at the end of which the dead would become immortals.
No matter the T-shaped silk paintings and coffin decorations in Mawangdui tombs in the early Western Han, or pictures in Eastern Han tombs had told what a perfect process after death would involve: heading to the ghostdom in the nether world (jiuquan九泉), climbing Kunlun the holy mountain to become undead, reaching the ninth heaven and becoming immortal, achieving the union with great Dao and thus eternity, which formed the fundamental belief structure of Daoism. As a result, the arts of Huang-lao Daoism and the worship of Han Confucians both made good use of their advantages. The journey from death to immortals finally made smooth. Attaching importance to death rather than life was guaranteed by the firm belief of Han people, which contributed greatly to the Han civilization.