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Religious Funerary Practices in Ancient China

Excavation photo: Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng

Excavation photo: Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng. Warring States period (475–221 BCE). China; Leigudun, Hubei Province. Courtesy Hubei Provincial Museum.

In Ancient China, ancestor worship remained central to the Chinese belief system, some of whose features follow:

  • Because certain aspects of the deceased’s soul were believed to continue to dwell in the tomb, it was imperative that the body be preserved and accompanied by goods that represented the status of the deceased. Mingqi (“luminous objects”) were also created to accompany the body in the tomb; made of less expensive materials, these objects were often substituted for luxury items or were used instead of entombing living humans with the dead.  By around 100 BCE low-fired ceramic ware had become the primary medium for mingqi.
  • It was thought that there were specific dwelling places for the immortals and that the soul of the deceased could travel to and reside in those places.
  • Spells and incantations, magical beings, and special elixirs were believed to enable the deceased to reach a state of immortality.