Date of Award

Winter 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

East Asian Languages & Civilizations

First Advisor

Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt

Second Advisor

Victor H. Mair

Third Advisor

Frank L. Chance



Adaptation and Transmission in Early East Asian Funerary Arts: The Three Goguryeo Four Spirits Tombs in Ji’an, China

Heather B. Sutherland

Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt

The Donggou Four Spirits Tomb and Five Helmets Tombs 4 and 5 located in Ji’an, China are the subject of this dissertation. The tombs’ structures and the main theme of their pictorial programs, the Four Spirits (the Green Dragon, the Red Bird, the White Tiger, the Dark Warrior, and, sometimes, the Yellow Dragon), identify them as belonging to the late Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BCE-668 CE), one of the Korean Three Kingdoms. However, the interior decoration displays a multitude of regional variations making them unique among Goguryeo tombs with murals. Stylistically, the tomb paintings clearly belong to the sixth or early-seventh century. However, the main images and ideology the Ji’an murals represent can be traced to developments that occurred in Han China (202 BCE-220 CE) and demonstrate an affinity for and deep understanding of ancient Chinese mythology and cosmology. This study attempts to identify and analyze the myriad images within the three Ji’an Four Spirits tombs.

This dissertation utilizes a variety of textual and visual sources. A combination of primary and secondary historical texts, both Korean and Chinese, are used to understand the period in which these tombs were created. Mythological and religious texts from the Zhou and Han periods of China are also important resources; concepts and creatures referred to in these texts permeated the funerary cultures of the later time periods, even on the Korean peninsula. In addition, funerary contracts and epitaphs as well as mirror inscriptions offer insight into the images found in the three Ji’an tombs. Mirrors are particularly important artifacts because, as portable objects, they demonstrate how images and concepts traveled to distant lands. Objects found in China, Korea, and Japan are evidence of the cultural interaction that the texts describe. Through these sources, many of the images within the three tombs can be identified. The imagery within the tombs can be interpreted as a symbolic recreation of the universe as well as aids for the deceased’s ascension to the immortal realm.

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