Chinese Funerary Biographies
An Anthology of Remembered Lives
- PUBLISHED: January 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir, Literary Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 304 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 1 b&w illus
- ISBN: 9780295746418
Tens of thousands of epitaphs, or funerary biographies, survive from imperial China. Engraved on stone and placed in a grave, they typically focus on the deceased’s biography and exemplary words and deeds, expressing the survivors’ longing for the dead. These epitaphs provide glimpses of the lives of women, men who did not leave a mark politically, and children—people who are not well documented in more conventional sources such as dynastic histories and local gazetteers.
This anthology of translations makes available funerary biographies covering nearly two thousand years, from the Han dynasty through the nineteenth century, selected for their value as teaching material for courses in Chinese history, literature, and women’s studies as well as world history. Because they include revealing details about personal conduct, families, local conditions, and social, cultural, and religious practices, these epitaphs illustrate ways of thinking and the realities of daily life. Most can be read and analyzed on multiple levels, and they stimulate investigation of topics such as the emotional tenor of family relations, rituals associated with death, Confucian values, women’s lives as written about by men, and the use of sources assumed to be biased. These biographies will be especially effective when combined with more readily available primary sources such as official documents, religious and intellectual discourses, and anecdotal stories, promising to generate provocative discussion of literary genre, the ways historians use sources, and how writers shape their accounts.
Authors & Contributors
Patricia Ebrey is Williams Family Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington. Ping Yao is professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles. Cong Ellen Zhang is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia. The other translators are Beverly Bossler, Timothy Davis, Alexei Kamran Ditter, Yongtao Du, Grace Fong, R. Kent Guy, Mark Halperin, Xing Hang, Martin W. Huang, Tomoyasu Iiyama, Jen-der Lee, Weijing Lu, Lance Pursey, Anna Shields, Man Xu, and Jolan Yi.
An extremely useful and well-done introduction to muzhiming (epitaphs or funerary biographies), which comprise one of the most important sources for the study of premodern Chinese social and cultural history.- John W. Chaffee, Binghamton University, State University of New York
The first collection of its kind in English, this anthology is a window onto lives in imperial China and the rich tradition of commemorating them in funerary biographies. These are private rather than official biographies, spread across eighteen centuries, and are all the more revealing for mostly having been written by close friends or relatives of the deceased. Of special interest are the wide range of social class and type of persons commemorated in this selection and the prominence given to women (both as biography subject and epitaph author). This volume brings forgotten lives vividly back to life, just as the epitaph writers intended to do centuries ago, but presented now in an admirably accessible way to a readership those writers never imagined.- Ronald Egan, Chair, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Stanford University
What an extraordinary collection of biographies! I can think of no better introduction to the Chinese way of commemorating the individual.- Peter Bol, Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilization, Harvard University
Chinese Funerary Biographies: An Anthology of Remembered Lives is an essential addition to any scholar's library. The translations and introductions are lucid and approachable. They provide invaluable insight into family life between the Han and the end of the Qing. As such, the volume will open up new avenues of research and animate undergraduate teaching. A monumental achievement.- Miranda Brown, author of The Politics of Mourning in Early China
An excellent compendium of funerary essays depicting the private lives of ordinary and extraordinary people throughout Chinese history, with insightful introductory matter.- Ann B. Waltner, professor of history, University of Minnesota