We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Mortality in Traditional Chinese Thought

Mortality in Traditional Chinese Thought

Amy Olberding , Philip J. Ivanhoe

Publication Year: 2011

A wide-ranging exploration of traditional Chinese views of mortality.Mortality in Traditional Chinese Thought is the definitive exploration of a complex and fascinating but little-understood subject. Arguably, death as a concept has not been nearly as central a preoccupation in Chinese culture as it has been in the West. However, even in a society that seems to understand death as a part of life, responses to mortality are revealing and indicate much about what is valued and what is feared. This edited volume fills the lacuna on this subject, presenting an array of philosophical, artistic, historical, and religious perspectives on death during a variety of historical periods. Contributors look at material culture, including findings now available from the Mawangdui tomb excavations; consider death in Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist traditions; and discuss death and the history and philosophy of war.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Mortality in Traditional Chinese Thought

pdf iconDownload PDF (195.9 KB)

Title Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (69.1 KB)

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (61.2 KB)
p. ix-ix

A work of this sort is always the product of many hands. The editors would like to acknowledge those who have helped us along the way. Kate Lawn performed an initial copyedit and provided an eye for detail that has served all of us well. Nancy Ellegate, our editor at SUNY Press, provided valuable assistance throughout the process of bringing the book to print...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (98.7 KB)
pp. 1-12

Death is universal, the common fate of all human beings. Yet while all people die and the mortal condition is a foundational feature of human experience, these mere brute facts can elide the rich variety of responses to death found among individuals and societies. In responses to mortality we can see the complexity and creativity of human beings. The effort to ...

read more

One: Preparation for the Afterlife in Ancient China

pdf iconDownload PDF (266.1 KB)
pp. 13-36

How people imagine life in the hereafter, or even consider whether there is a life after death, necessarily implies a complex mechanism that seeks to balance various fundamental notions regarding the origin and nature of life, the existence of souls and deities, and the structure of the world. The interplay of these notions with the attachment to life on earth, the fear of...

read more

Two: Ascend to Heaven or Stay in the Tomb?: Paintings in Mawangdui Tomb 1 and the Virtual Ritual of Revival in Second-Century B.C.E. China

pdf iconDownload PDF (16.8 MB)
pp. 37-84

Archaeological discoveries constantly fuel historical revisionism. The standard expositions of death culture in ancient China could no longer remain the same after the excavation of the second-century B.C.E. tombs at Mawangdui in the early 1970s. The astounding riches of the well-preserved burial site showcase, with material integrity and visual vivacity, an entire world of...

read more

Three: Concepts of Death and the Afterlife Reflected in Newly Discovered Tomb Objects and Texts from Han China

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 85-116

Historical studies of death and the afterlife in China agree that the entrance of Buddhism at the end of the Eastern Han (25–220 C.E.) significantly changed the picture of the afterlife in early China. Buddhism’s introduction of the concepts of heavens and hells, as rewards or punishments for earthly conduct, resulted in a shift in Chinese worldviews in the first few centuries...

read more

Four: War, Death, and Ancient Chinese Cosmology: Thinking through the Thickness of Culture

pdf iconDownload PDF (186.1 KB)
pp. 117-136

During the several centuries leading up to the state of Qin’s consolidation of power on the central plains of present-day China, the ferocity and horror of internecine warfare rose exponentially. Indeed, death itself had become a way of life. What, then, did the infantryman on the killing field and his mother think about and feel when they reflected on the former’s...

read more

Five: Death and Dying in the Analects

pdf iconDownload PDF (124.8 KB)
pp. 137-152

Human reactions to death play a prominent, diverse, and complex role in motivating, guiding, and shaping religious and philosophical thought throughout the world’s cultures. Even if we restrict this claim to straightforward cases, wherein the theme of death is explicit, its range is quite impressive. If we include cases where the infl uence is more indirect and...

read more

Six: I Know Not “Seems”: Grief for Parents in the Analects

pdf iconDownload PDF (160.1 KB)
pp. 153-176

Today, in the contemporary western world at least, the death of a child is counted a special sorrow. The parent who loses a child is judged to have been dealt a blow of greater force than that produced by other species of loss. We imagine the grief of the bereft parent to be sorrow at its most severe, and mourning to be correspondingly prolonged. This assessment, however...

read more

Seven: Allotment and Death in Early China

pdf iconDownload PDF (254.2 KB)
pp. 177-190

Different kinds of deaths resonate in different ways. Questions such as “Why did a person die?” often arise when a death is unusual—accidental, earlier than usual, or particularly prolonged or painful. Behind these questions is an implication or expectation that there is a “typical” death: a normal life span and process of dying. A grieving person might ask about divergences...

read more

Eight: Death in the Zhuangzi: Mind, Nature, and the Art of Forgetting

pdf iconDownload PDF (219.3 KB)
pp. 191-224

It is no exaggeration to say that Zhuangzi, the fourth-century B.C.E. Chinese thinker, possessed one of the most distinctive voices of any writer in history and was one of those rare individuals whose radical, provocative vision causes us to reevaluate our most fundamental beliefs and values. Indeed, certain elements of his thought, especially those regarding death, test the limits of...

read more

Nine: Sages, The Past, and the Dead: Death in the Huainanzi

pdf iconDownload PDF (163.0 KB)
pp. 225-248

Early China was a haunted world. Ghosts were pervasive and dangerous, and the living regularly performed sacrifices in an attempt to control or mollify Within this context, the Huainanzi offers a unique and powerful argument concerning death. The focus of the discussion here will be the text’s presentation of sages—how they deal with death and teach nonsages to...

read more

Ten: Linji and William James on Mortality: Two Visions of Pragmatism

pdf iconDownload PDF (153.5 KB)
pp. 249-270

Buddhist teachings have often been interpreted as pragmatic, and there seems to be a prima facie similarity between certain strands of Buddhism and American pragmatism in that both seek to address the world as it is experienced and both advocate a nonfoundationalist philosophy geared toward results. Such similarities make potential cross-cultural fertilization...

read more

Eleven: Death as the Ultimate Concern in the Neo-Confucian Tradition: Wang Yangming’s Followers as an Example

pdf iconDownload PDF (463.7 KB)
pp. 271-296

A prevalent view of Confucianism is that Confucian scholars have paid great attention to the value and signifi cance of life while overlooking the question of death, which has been treated as a very important issue in Buddhism, Daoism, and the Western philosophical tradition. Confucian scholars are widely seen as responding to death by ritualizing living people’s sorrow toward...


pdf iconDownload PDF (73.5 KB)
pp. 297-300


pdf iconDownload PDF (330.7 KB)
pp. 301-318

E-ISBN-13: 9781438435640
E-ISBN-10: 1438435649
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438435633
Print-ISBN-10: 1438435630

Page Count: 323
Illustrations: 22 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1