Life and Afterlife in Ancient China
- PUBLISHED: September 2023
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, Archaeology, Art History / Asian Art
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 448 Pages, 6 x 9.18 in, 16 color plates, 130 b&w illus.
- ISBN: 9780295752365
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
The three millennia up to the establishment of the first imperial Qin dynasty in 221 BC cemented many of the distinctive elements of Chinese civilization still in place today: an extraordinarily challenging geography and environment; formidable infrastructure; a society based on the strict hierarchy of the family; a shared written script of characters; a cuisine founded on rice and millet; a material culture of ceramics, bronze, silk, and jade; and a unique concept of the universe, in which ancestors continue to exist alongside the living. Records of these early achievements and their diverse expressions often lie not in written history but in how people marked the end of their lives: their dwellings for the afterlife. Tombs and the treasures within them are almost the only artifacts to survive from Ancient China; their scale and sophistication rivals their equivalents in Ancient Egypt.
Jessica Rawson, one of the most eminent Western scholars of China, explores twelve grand tombs—each from a specific historical moment and place—showing how they reveal wider political, dynastic, and cultural developments, culminating in the lavish ambition of the First Emperor's monument, guarded by his army of terracotta warriors. Beautifully illustrated and drawing on the latest archaeological discoveries, Life and Afterlife in Ancient China illuminates a constellation of beliefs about life and death and provides a remarkable new perspective on one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
Authors & Contributors
Jessica Rawson is professor of Chinese art and archaeology and former warden of Merton College, Oxford. She was made honorary professor in the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University in 2019. She previously worked in the Department of Oriental Antiquities (now the Asia Department) at the British Museum and was lead curator for the exhibition China: The Three Emperors, 1662–1795 at the Royal Academy, bringing to London magnificent works of art from the Palace Museum in Beijing. For more than forty years, she has visited, researched, and lectured in most of China's provinces. She was awarded the title of Dame in 2002 and received the Tang Prize in Sinology for "Giving Voice to Mute Objects" in 2022.
The story of China is written in the objects buried in its tombs over many millennia, but for most of us they are as hard to read as Chinese characters. Jessica Rawson is the master-interpreter. In a dozen tombs she tells the story of China across thousands of years, pointing out again and again the profound ways in which Chinese culture is like no other. If you want to understand China today, start by visiting these twelve tombs in the enlightening company of Jessica Rawson. A dozen tombs – an underground journey to the heart of China.- Neil MacGregor, author of A History of the World in 100 Objects
No book better attests to the most basic point of history – and not just China's – that we are profoundly shaped by our cultural heritages. Rawson's lucid and intimate account of the extraordinary contents of twelve tombs stretching four millennia into the past brings readers inside Chinese culture and mentality in ways that instruct, surprise, and delight. A masterwork.- Timothy Brook, author of Vermeer's Hat and Great State
Time and time again, Jessica Rawson has demonstrated her extraordinary ability to explain the unfamiliar in terms that everyone can understand. Life and Afterlife in Ancient China is a perfect book for someone new to China. unusually, it is also ideal for the more knowledgeable becuase it offers such an up–to–date protrayal of the complex relations between the ancient Chinese and their neighbours.- Valerie Hansen, author of The Year 1000
Jessican Rawson understands the long history of China through a lifetime's engagement with its ancient sites and artefacts. Her book evokes both the internal dynamics and external influences of China's deep past with great clarity, allowing us to appreciate their continuing force and importance to the present.- Chris Gosden, Professor of European Archeology, University of Oxford