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Title: Archaeological manifestations of rank and status : the wooden chamber tombs in the Mid-­Yangzi Region (206 B.C. - A.D. 25)
Author: Liu, Yan
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis is centered on the roles of wooden chamber tombs in defining, negotiating and reinforcing status and identity of their owners in early imperial China. The archaeological materials under discussion are wooden chamber burials in the mid-Yangzi region, including the modern provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and north Anhui. The first reason why I have chosen this area is because these tombs are well-preserved and provide excellent examples to examine the different material expressions of rank and status at each rank in mortuary contexts. They are complemented by some extensive contemporary texts written on bamboo strips recently discovered in the same general area. The waterlogged burial environment in the mid-Yangzi region allows organic materials, such as textiles, lacquers and bamboo manuscripts, to survive while in other regions, such as the Central Plain, they often perished. Secondly, these tombs are also of a traditional form—constructed as a wooden chamber dug into a vertical pit, and can therefore be considered in relation to earlier Zhou practices. Wooden chamber tombs started to flourish from the eleventh century and became more elaborate from the sixth to the first century B.C. From the first century onward, such a burial type still prevailed in the mid-Yangzi region, while they were replaced by horizontal tombs built with bricks or stones in other areas. Many scholars have, therefore, regarded the prevailing timber structure in the area as a cultural continuity from Zhou system. They interpret them in terms of funeral regulations, especially linking them to archaic ranks and ritual norms drawn from transmitted texts. However, many of these texts that archaeologists consult and cite were written long after the burials and sites were constructed and used. These later texts were modified and passed through many editorial hands over the centuries, and there are considerable inconsistencies between different textual sources. Therefore the second reason why I have chosen this area is because it provides data demonstrating that the text-centered assumptions with respect to archaeological material do not contribute to a better understanding of social relationships in early Han society. Thirdly, there is a strong connection with local Chu tombs. The Jianghan Plain was the heartland of the Chu state before the Qin unification. The tomb construction of the Chu state incorporates a striking preference for timber structures. The timber structure tombs grew more widespread and dominant in this area during the early Han dynasty. In using multiple burial chambers and nested coffins, the local Han elites in the mid-Yangzi region seem to have followed the Chu mortuary practice, as well as in burying a large number of lacquers and bamboo manuscripts. The abundant material evidence of Chu tombs in the area sheds light on understanding of changes in funerary beliefs, showing that the tombs were arranged to meet specific needs of tomb owners. Rather than simply seeing a wooden chamber burial as a passive reflection of written regulation, I consider it as a medium for conveying the different thoughts of its owner and their associates. The material evidence manifested the status and identities of the deceased in concrete physical form. The burial assemblages belong to carefully planned contexts, and serve to constitute idealized social relations, rather than necessarily mirroring day to day reality. As such, burial evidence not only exhibited a part of the biography of the dead, but also expressed identity and socio-political claims of the living. This thesis will show that rank is not the only and major determinant, but is accompanied or outperformed by status and identity. The period covered by this thesis is the initial stage of early imperial China. The Western Han Empire (206 B.C.--A.D. 25) is traditionally regarded as a period when a unified social, political, and ideological framework was initially established. In 202 B.C., Liu Bang (256--195 B.C.) from the former Chu state in eastern China, defeated Xiang Yu (232--202 B.C.) and set up the Western Han imperial court, with its capital in Chang'an (modern Xi'an, Shaanxi province). The Han Empire was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty (A.D. 9--23), established by Wang Mang (45 B.C.--A.D.23), a Confucian official from the Liu family. This interregnum divides the Han dynasty into two periods: the Western Han (206 B.C.--A.D.9) and the Eastern Han (A.D.25--220).
Supervisor: Rawson, Jessica Sponsor: Invenio Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Archaeology ; status ; gender ; Han empire ; material culture ; excavated texts ; burial