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Unformatted text preview: 8 Death and Transcendence Although it is tempting to reduce various references to burial and afterlives in Han China to a single normative model, this is one of the areas in which the political centralization did not result in a single set of standard, homogenized practices. Beyond variations by region and social stratum, there is the question of whether there ever was a well-defi ned theory behind burial practices. Pu Muzhou ௰ଠᇜ has noted that in most places in the world, afterlives are “never clearly in a defi ned place,” and it is not possible to “locate the dead unam- biguously in one place,” 1 This view is reminiscent of Mircea Eliade’s idea of the “paradoxical multilocation of the soul,” a phenomenon that he illustrates using a story about the burial of Saint Ambrose’s brother’s body, which reveals a tension about whether the soul was still located with his body or had gone to Heaven. 2 The implication for the student of early China faced with multiple understandings of death and visions of afterlives is whether or not seemingly inconsis- tent accounts would really have seemed incompatible to a person in the Han. In other words, if a certain amount of cognitive dissonance about where essence, pneumas, demons, the spirit or spirits, and yin and yang aspects of the body went after death was the norm, is there any reason to try to draw a “standard picture”? Archaeological fi nds have demonstrated that the view of a bipar- tite soul that separated upon death, only to be reunited through the ritual of “summoning the hun to return to the po ” ( zhaohun fupo ᅱ߿Ἃ௦ ), is an inadequate explanatory model for much of the mortuary art and many of the practices described in Han texts. This 140 1. See Poo Mu-chou, In Search of Personal Welfare: A View of Chinese Religion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), 177. 2. “Mythologies of Death: An Introduction,” in Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions: Essays in Comparative Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 32–46. CRH08.indd 140 CRH08.indd 140 6/20/2006 10:45:41 AM 6/20/2006 10:45:41 AM Chapter 8 Death and Transcendence 141 traditional picture, based on one of the models of the body outlined in Chapter 7, comes from the “Summoning the Hun ” (Zhaohun ᅱ߿ ) and “Great Summons” (Dazhao նᅱ ) poems in the third- century b . c . e . Songs of Chu (Chuci ԣẝ ) and to some extent was documented in the idealized records of Zhou rituals that circulated in the Han. 3 It argues that on death the hun, a word made up of the components “cloud” ( yun ᄉ ) and “demon,” rises, and that there were ancient rites for calling it back to the po, the components of which are “white” ( bai Ϣ ) and “demon.” As Kenneth Brashier has pointed out, however, many transmitted sources from the Qin and Han periods are not consistent with this model....
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This note was uploaded on 02/22/2010 for the course CHINESE 20648 taught by Professor Csikszentmihalyi during the Fall '09 term at University of California, Berkeley.
- Fall '09