One of the quintessential components in traditional funerary culture in China, the mingqi 明器 (spirit article) was not a mere substitute for a real object to be buried with the deceased in the tomb, but was a material manifestation of the dual perspectives of the living and the dead and the relationship between those two realms during a given time period. This article examines a major shift in the conception and practice of the mingqi that occurred during the middle period (tenth–fourteenth centuries). The case studies presented in this article—ranging from simulated clay fruits to miniature furniture—reveal that the dynamics between the dual components of the classical principle of mingqi (i.e., “resembling a real object yet unusable for the living”) changed in ways to conform to the new conception of the tomb space and netherworld, often interacting with parallel developments in the Buddhist visual culture. Virtually usable and ontologically complete, the new mingqi was heavily imbued with the visual mechanisms that operated in the society of the living, no longer envisioning the tomb occupant as the only subject who had full control of the space. I suggest that the common description of the tomb space of the post-Tang era as undergoing “secularization” be corrected by more accurately characterizing it as “socialization,” recognizing the infiltration of the logic of life into the burial space forged within the conceptual framework of the environs of the living.


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pp. 161-193
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