Life and Afterlife in Ancient China
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.
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.