In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

156 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1998 Jean M. James. A Guide to the Tomb and Shrine Art ofthe Han Dynasty, 206 B.c.-A.D. 220. Chinese Studies, vol. 2. Lewiston, Queenston, and Lampeter: Edwin Meilen Press, 1996. xvi, 266 pp. Hardcover $89.95, ISBN 0_ 7734-8772-7. In a field that, apart from philosophy, remains as under-examined as the Han dynasty , each new work offers the possibility of expanded visibility and inquiry. Appearing not long after two influential volumes also on Han tomb and shrine art,1 Jean M. James' new book laudably can be seen as an attempt to expand the dialogue on the "meaning" of Han iconography. For James, since a tomb is inherently a sacred space, any decoration used in or on a tomb must also be sacred. All images are therefore made to serve religious goals ("religious" being understood as having to do with the soul and a life beyond the present one). Organized as a roughly chronological survey of figurai art from the painted silk banners found at Mawangdui MSrE (Changsha Municipality Aî^ïfj, Hunan) tombs 1 and 3 to molded or stamped bricks, stone bas-reliefs, and painted (frescoed) architectonic tombs of the Eastern Han, the book frames this development in terms of the relationship of die living to the soul of the deceased. Reading the Mawangdui banners as scenes of the soul's passage through paradise, James argues that Early Han "tomb art" focused on the hun fÈ (p. 35), the soul that left the tomb either for some paradise or for the Yellow Springs. In contrast, she argues, all of the imagery of architectonic tomb decoration—centered on scenes of paradise, "Confucian" legends, banquets, homage to a figure representing the deceased, and depictions of daily activities including plowing, harvesting, war, and the like—constitutes a setting for the po Ö.Ü, the soul residing in the tomb. This soul, she maintains, required life to be reconstructed for it (pp. 40-41, 87). James does not, however, interpret the scenes themselves as depicting life. Because she views all meaning as deriving from context (pp. 78 [implicitly], 84, 107108 ), and because she believes that all within the tomb must be sacred, scenes of life therefore become sacred, not in the larger sense as the past of the now-deceased , but as life transmuted; to James, the banquet becomes a banquet in paradise (p. 68), and the Confucian hero becomes an affidavit ofthe morality ofthe deceased (pp. 47, 48, 96, 108). There are several flaws in tiiis approach as well as in specific conclusions that the author draws. First, when burial goods are found placed in any tomb, includ-© 1998 by University -m^jewe]ry or other belongings on the body ofthe deceased, this implies that the soul will inhabit die tomb in some way, or use the tomb as a passage to the other world, into which all buried goods will also be taken. The theory ofpo thus may be said to pertain to all Chinese graves, particularly of the upper classes. The diofHawai 'i Press Reviews 157 chotomy posited by James between the hun and po therefore does not explain the changes that took place in Han burial customs, which are readily traceable to the reconstruction of the tomb as centered on the individual, rather than on ritual. Concomitandy, the structure of the tomb and its decoration may be seen in terms ofa progressively greater imitation, for the dead, ofthe architecture ofthe living— mural decoration included. To see this, however, requires a historical overview. Second, when we discuss Han tomb or shrine art, we naturally use the term "iconography"; James deals with images for their symbolic value (e.g., pp. 33, 49, 114). In order for a motif or a composition to constitute iconography, it must be a symbol. This bears repeating since an image cannot reasonably have symbolic value in its cultural context if that symbol is not immediately recognizable and hence constant. "Meaning" may be broad, encompassing a set of associations that would be interpreted differentiy by different people, but the overall value must remain unified within a single era and culture. Meaning, with these restrictions...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 156-160
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.