Commoditizing Tombs: Materialism in the Funerary Art of Middle Imperial China and Korea

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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East Asian Languages & Civilizations
Funerary Art
Jin Dynasty
Material Culture
Northern Song Dynasty
Tomb Mural
Asian Studies
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
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This dissertation explores the funerary art of the middle class of the Central Plain of China from the 11th to the 13th centuries. In this period, the middle class experienced economic prosperity and a cultural flourishing, as evidenced by the hundreds of lavishly decorated tombs of the Northern Song and Jin periods, distributed heavily in southern Shanxi and northern Henan. These decorated tombs naturally reflect the tastes and desires of middle-class tomb occupants through many of their attributes including the style and content of their images, the ways they treat visual materials, and the forms of the tomb architecture. During the past decades, however, previous studies have interpreted these decorated tombs in the context of the Sinicization of Northern nomads or funerary symbolism, ignoring the unique socioeconomic circumstances of the period. Rather than focusing on a few images of the tomb murals, this study posits the tomb as a cultural phenomenon that signaled the rise of popular art in pre-modern China. From this new perspective, I focus on the social class of patrons (local elites), the popular patterns of tomb murals, and the affordable mediums and materials used for tomb construction. I then argue that the development of material culture spurred by economic growth - the growing power base of local elites, commoditized images and objects in visual art. To support this argument, I examine how consumerism and commercialism affected the production, consumption, and circulation of the images of tomb murals within China. Broadening the regional scope, I also investigate the decorated tombs of Goryeo, Korea, to see how material circulation enabled the sharing of visual culture in East Asia.

Nancy S. S. Steinhardt
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