MINGQI - providing for life in the next world

At Chinese funerals today, you can still see paper replicas of houses, cars, jewellry and money being burnt, a ritual performed in the belief that the dead would be supplied with all the things they could need in the next life. This practice originated long, long ago. In fact it can be traced back to the beginning of Chinese civilisation in the Neolithic age when jade and bone carvings were buried with the dead. In those days, the items buried were the actual items that the person used during his lifetime. Indeed animals, slaves, entertainers, even the wives who did not give the dead man a son, were killed and buried with the master. The richer you were the more you had buried with you. This meant that the tombs of the rich were more like underground houses
with passages and rooms containing a variety of food, wine and objects.

At the beginning of the Imperial Han Dynasty in 206BC, the practice of burying real people and animals with the dead stopped and terracotta statues were used as a substitute. Businesses specialising in making these objects were now producing hundreds of pieces a week meaning that now, for the first time, the middleclass and even the poor could buy pieces to go to the next world with their loved ones.

The Chinese believed (and still do) that when you died it was not final and that this life was just a staging point for the long and dangerous journey to the next world. So that your journey was more comfortable, statues of servants, guards, fantastic animals and containers full of food and wine would accompany you. When you arrived, you would have all the luxuries that you were used to in the previous life.


The most famous example of this practice is, of course, the famous "Terracotta Army"which accompanied the First Emperor Qin Shihuandi who died in 206BC. He could not take his real army with him so he ordered that an army of 8000 terracotta warriors be built to protect him. They were lifesize, armed with real bronze weapons and each one was made with a different face and armour. Along with this army were horses and carriages to supply this vast army. The army of Qin Shihuandi can still be seen today and is regarded as a national monument.

Tombs constructed in the early Western Han (200BC - 150BC) were basically treasure chests. The resting places of the nobility were shaft tombs dug directly in the ground. The centre compartment contained the coffin(s) and this was surrounded by side compartments containing the burial objects.

By mid-Western Han, tombs were constructed horizontally into caves or hillsides allowing side chambers to be built off the main chamber. These tomb complexes were known as Dixia Gongdion or "hidden palaces"and were made as closely as possible to the real house of the deceased above ground.

These chambers contained the terracotta guards, attendants, animals as well as bronzes, silks and wooden statues. These statues were made in various sizes and painted in bright colours to resemble real people. It is from the Han Dynasty that most of our knoweldge comes from because of the quantity of items made. One tomb may have had as many as 200 statues inside ranging from soldiers to dancing ladies. This practice continued through the dynasties until, in about 1600AD , it stopped.

During the Táng Dynasty, 618 - 906AD, these figures were being made in such numbers and such size that the emperor at the time made a law which limited the amount and size of these objects that could be placed in a single tomb. This law ensured that nobody would be buried with bigger or better pieces than the emperor himself.

The name the chinese gave to these articles is MINGQI or SPIRIT ARTICLES.


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