Death in Antient China [emphasizing state of C^u, 4th century B.Chr.E.]

pp. 14-15 tomb for ghost of the dead

"once the tomb was closed ... and the dead formally distinguished, his spirit was presumed to emerge at some point from the inner coffin towards the rising sun, where he would greet ... spirits who would guide him on his journey. Then, as he moved about the four compartments of his outer coffin, ... he would gather the implements needed for his dangerous journey."

"as described in Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, ... the spirit would end up in the Heavenly bureaucracy lined up by rank with his ancestors as aides to the High God (Shangdi)".

pp. 28-29 souls of the dead




"When a person was about to die or had just breathed his last, attempts were made to resuscitate him (fu ...). The ritual was also called zhaohun ... ("Summoning the Hun-vital Energy") ... . ... According to the received text of the Chuci "Zhaohun," the singers tried first to frighten the hun or "spirit" back into the body ... . The singers sang of the dangers along the paths ... below in the Land of Darkness. ... Finally, if life could not be restored, a farewell party was held. ... Guests played ... games while surrounded by dancing, singing, and orchestral music. ...

In the song "Zhaohun," ... After the party the scene shifted abruptly ... to the stark scene of one lone hunter, referred to as a king hunting in a marshland. ["In the Yili funeral record, the last set of items placed in the tomb consisted of hunting equipment ("Jixi, ji" ..., Yili Zhengzhu 13.31b-32b)." (p. 28, fn. 47)] ... The final scene was from far above the earth, a thousand li above the rivers and woods."


"Confucius ... replied : "... All that is alive must die ... . When the bones and flesh are down below in the earthen chamber (yin ...) made (for them) in the wild lands (yetu ...) ... their vital breath (qi) rises above it, as a shining glow (zhaoming ...)". (Li-ji Z^en-z^u "Ji-yi", sect. 24, 14.10a-b)

pp. 31-33 attire for the dying and the dead; leaping by mourners




"When the illness became critical, they laid the patient on the ground ... . Attendants ... changed the patient into court attire and, as death drew near, they placed a cotton gauze over his mouth and nostrils to determine when he had stopped breathing." [Li-ji Z^en-z^u "San da-ji", sect. 22, 13.1a-2b]


"When the dying one breathed his last, ... the wife leaped about wailing. ["Mourners should leap three times; also mentioned in the Guodian "Yucong" ... text, ... the custom preceded the Han-era" (p. 32, fn. 65)]

... someone would also immediately grab the ritual clothes the deceased used while alive and


climb up to the rooftop from the south and call the deceased’s name to the north. He would then fling the clothes down to another person below who would run and place them on top of the deceased. The first person would then climb down from the northwest corner." (Yi-li "S^i san-li" – Yi-li Z^u-s^u 12, 184-5; S^i-san-jin Z^u-s^u, vol. 1, 1128-9)

"the aspect, or spirit, of the person that would respond to his name was believed to fly northwards. The North is explained in the Liji as a dark region (you ...) filled with guishen. [Li-ji Z^en-yi "Tan-gon, s^an", sect. 2, 3.3b. "earlier, the dead were buried with their heads pointing north because this region represents "darkness" (Liji zhengyi, sect. 2, 3.5a). This has been discovered to be the case in many Western Zhou burials" (p. 33, fn. 74)] On the other hand, the path to Heaven was in the West."

p. 33 the 4 intermediate directions as gates on Western Han "cosmic boards"


__ Gate









p. 34 the C^u silk manuscript




"the Chu silk manuscript (with trees in the corners and no marked gates) ... ."

34, fn. 77

"the basic ya ... shape {shape of Hellenic letter Ksi} of the text and 12 month-spirits depicted in the corners instead of gates. ... I suspect that the 12 spirits, which represent the months on the four sides of the Chu silk manuscript also represented body parts ... .

... the Chu silk manuscript ... was discovered in a tomb in Changsha".

34, fn. 78

"Based on the Chu Silk Manuscript, ... the corners also correlated to colors :

NE [miswritten "NW"] = green,

SE = red,

SW = white,

NW = black." {The intermediate directions are significant in Daoism (for solar risings and settings at solstices); and in Bon.}

pp. 34-38 funeral for the dead




"the divination boards being used to divine the directions a spirit might go after death (on the path to Heaven? As a ghost? Or perhaps reborn as a human?) ... .


In another account of attempted resuscitation of the corpse immediately upon death, the spirit is called to the northwest ... .


"According to Han account, the attendants ... put a wedge between the teeth to keep the mouth open for later food offerings and bound the feet to a stool ... . Ice was put under the bed.


... West was associated with the direction the spirit should go."


orientations in respect to the death-bed : "the host ... faces southeast to command and send off the person who would announce the death. Guests paid their respects to the east of the bed and the host’s family was situated to the west (facing east). The wife (and other close female relatives in the Liji account) faced westward." Other relatives faced north".


"The Liji, for example, notes the regrettable Chu custom of asking important visitors to help dress the corpse".

37, fn. 90

during the Warring-States era :

"the face covering of a corpse in Luoyang was silk with jade pieces,

while one in Jiangling was a stair-shaped yellow silk with a narrow seam at the top to expose the eyes and several horn-shaped gaps below to expose the jaw.

A face covering in the late Western Zhou period Jin Hou tomb in Tianma-Qucun, Shansi, had a complete jade mask composed of 48 jade pieces sewn onto cloth".


"In the Yili account, the coffin is moved to the ancestral shrine before burial. An invoker (zhu ...) shouts three times to warn the spirit of the move which was likely done before dawn. ...

(In another account [Li-ji, "Za-ji" – Li-ji Z^en-z^u sect. 21, 12.16a], however, those who walked with the funeral were gagged and led by artisans with feathers or reeds of white grass.)"


"After the deceased[’s] relatives and friends emerge from the tomb, they sacrifice to the earth and road spirits and, again back in the shrine and house, to the deceased’s wandering spirit." (Yi-li chapter "Ji-xi" – Yi-li Z^en-z^u 13)

pp. 38-40 mourning for the dead




"In general, during the three years of mourning, mourners would perform sacrifices at set periods to settle the spirit in the shrine and in Heaven. ... these sacrifices made sure that the souls did not have to stay underground in a region called the Yellow Springs (huangquan ...)."


"At each of these feasting ceremonies, the corpse is represented by a personator, presumably a grandson, but referred to directly as "Corpse" (shi ...). The ceremonies, which had different names depending on the time interval represented (e.g., xiang ... after the first year, and a Greater Xiang ... after the second year with a dan ... a month later), began on the day of burial and involved a ritual called yu ..., which, according to the Han-period commentator Zheng Xuan, meant to "calm" (the spirit)". (Yi-li Z^en-z^u mu-lu 4b)

39, fn. 104

"The word yu" : "the oldest reading attested in inscriptions is as a sound word representing a sigh of lament".


mourning as re-enactment of the funeral : "a kind of parade involving masked exorcists, ... a Chi You ...-like figure dressed as a tiger with horns, carrying weapons or a spirit-bird figure, something like the death-god, ... Rushou ... ." [Ru-s^ou "punishes (xing ...) for Heaven" (p. 40, fn. 112).]

pp. 39, 45-46, 49 deities of death




According to S^uo-wen, there was "a mythical animal called zouyu ..., which by some accounts was a black and white striped ["The Liji, "Sang daji," notes that the body cases, cloth bags pulled over the corpse ..., were striped black and white along the lower half for rulers and high level officers (Liji Zhengzhu, sect. 22, 13.9a). (p. 39, fn. 107)] tiger ["the sage king Shun ... according to later myth had a tiger official named yuhu ..." (p. 39, n. 104)] that consumed dead flesh

39, fn. 103

"The earliest textual reference to the zuoyu is in a hunting song preserved in the "Shaonan" ... section of the Shijing, Mao no. 25."


"the spatial deities worshipped in the Five Sacrifices (wusi ...), which according to a set of five differently shaped wooden slips placed in a basket in the western chamber of ... tomb, consisted of {a list similar to that of Slavic deities}

the door (hu ...),

the stove (zao ...),

the chamber (shi ...),

the gate (men ...),

and the walkway (xing ...)."

46, fn. 16

the God of __

to the __

Si-min (‘Fate’)





"it is likely that the Earth Lord of the Wilds was the deity who controlled the family burial ground ... .

... the Liji, which notes that once living beings die, they ... are then referred to as ghosts whose "bones and meat" are buried below. "The crypt then becomes the Wild Land."" (Li-ji Z^en-z^u sect. 24, 14.10a)


"In Eastern Han, and later, tombs, "tomb contracts" (muquan ...) or "grave securing writs" (zhenmu wen ...) written on blaocks or pottery jars were placed in the tomb as proof to a litigious underworld bureaucracy of officials to allow the deceased safe passage.

The early [Western] Han equivalents, called "gao li ce ...," were written on bamboo slips – sometimes as part of the tomb inventory texts – to report the burial and its contents to the lord of the underworld."


"The underground register in the Mawangdui funeral painting shows two "earth goats" (four-legged horned dragon-like white creatures) and a central human-like figure, naked and squat, holding up the ground – a figure ... identified as the Lord of the Earth."

p. 47 directional allocation of paraphernalia interred with corpse





head of corpse

"a huge banquet was set in the compartment above his head."


left side

"his military equipment."


at his feet

"personal effects for the road."


right side

"items ... to prove his identity and rank when he met the spirits in the underworld, on his journey, or in Heaven."

p. 48 "carved ritual objects he would carry on his person to protect him from the cursing spirits." {cf. amulets fastened to Kemetian mummy}

pp. 48, 51-52 nested coffins for corpse




"three inner coffins made of cedar and catalpa planks and

two outer coffins made of elm planks."


"On the middle-inner coffin, nine layers of silk were draped. ... The spirit escaped through symbolic windows and doors. The middle-inner coffin ... was rounded on the top and sides ... . On the eastern end architectural symbols of windows and doors were painted in white : on the lid the sign X and on the bottom section the sign + ... . ... The whole coffin was ... bound tightly with interlaced hempen ropes with black, tan, brown, and red threads. ...

The innermost coffin was rectangular ... . The lid had two double-headed bronze monster faces holding ring handles ... . ...


The ... coffin was painted ... outside black with yellow and red lacquer phoenixes with gold and silver powder. ... The western end de’cor ... was an abstract taotie or monster mask looking straight out, its jawless mouth open, as if ... it were ... about to strike from its hole. This coffin was also tightly bound with a crisscross of rope."

p. 55 directional compartments in tomb


compartment, with its contents


"Dining Room (shishi ...)"


"weapons and horse-and-chariot equipment"


"items for daily use such as food and furniture."


"decorative and protective items of a personal nature."

pp. 80-85 spirits who curse the living with ailments; exorcising of such spirits




"During the Shang, the source of the curses was sought from among a hierarchy of thirty-one male and twenty female ancestral spirits, spirits whose needs were attended to every ten days in a series of five different sacrifices."


"In the Baoshan and Xincai texts, ... spirits most likely to be the source of curses seem to have been

the astral god Grand Unity (Taiyi),

the Controller of Fate (Siming),

three Chu founder gods (Laotong, Zhurong, and Xue Xiong), as well as ...

the spirits of large rivers."


"a diviner would "release" (jie ...) ... from the curse of a particular spirit or ghost by a method that involved "beating" or "attacking" (gong ...) it by means of his "will" (si ...) or his "command" (ming ...)."

84, fn. 18

"This may have involved the use of drums, bells, and screeching ... . The use of music and bells in sacrifice and therapy for the occupant of the Xincai tomb is recorded on fragments of that tomb’s divination text".


"Excavated Qin-period texts ... define "ghost beating" as "poking" the ghost with arrows made of thorns and chicken feathers shot from a peach-wood bow.

Han and later texts mention the use of a needle-like


"stone" ... called a "medicine stone" (yaoshi ...) or a "piercing stone" (bian ...) that was used to release the "evil blood" (exue ...) in swollen areas, carbuncles, or ulcerated infections. Stone tomb reliefs from the Eastern Han period seem to depict doctors administering this technique. Their dress – half man and half bird – suggests a spirit ... doctor (dressed like the death-god Rushou)."

pp. 87-91 ri-s^u ("Day Books") from S^ui-hu-di [dating from the Qin dynasty (p. 86)]


Day Book


Day Book B :-




death of __

"spiritual blame is located in __"


1st Zi





2nd C^ou


3 people


3rd Yin


"fire on the outside"

"Room Four"


(p. 87) 4th Mao


as-yet-unborn younger brother

(pp. 87-8) deceased in-law


9th S^en


child will be born "incomplete"

"Room Two"


10th You


small child "within three months"



"Sickness" text in Day Book A :-


pair of days



1st-2nd Jia or Yi

"it is due to your mother and father having cursed you. For meat offering, come ... with it inside a lacquer vessel."


3rd-4th Wu or Ji

"Fever resides in the east region" ["it is from a witch having activated grandmother’s curse. For yellow-colored [meat] (use) a plain fish". (pp. 88-9)]


5th-6th Bin or Din

"it is due to the grandfather’s curse. For red-colored meat (use) a rooster".


7th-8th Gen or Xin

"there is Fever to the south."


9th-10th Ren or Gui

"Fever resides in the center of the Nation." [" "nation" bang ..., possibly a reference to the area of the sky associated with each state" (p. 89, fn. 48)]


"Visiting People" (jian-ren) Text in Day Book B :-


when visiting the sick on a Zi day :

If "they became ill on a Chen day, there would be little hope of recovery.

But if they had become sick on a Wu day, there would be a good recovery."


"If you were visiting them because of a death or a birth which occurred on a Shen day, then ... The implicated ghost might be an outer ghost of the great-grandfather generation (i.e., a deceased in-law)."


"a "Sickness" text notes that to cure a patient on a You, Wu, Si, or Yin day, the healer must take the place (dai ...) of the patient."


"The Shuihudi text most concerned with ghosts is the "Spellbinding" text. It lists numerous ghosts and devils that many cause sickness or premature death through spiritual blame and then provides magical methods for dealing with them.

Some ... had died prematurely, such as fetuses, victims of crime or wrongful execution, drowning, or were unburied (such as those killed in battle) or "hungry" (did not receive sacrifices from descendants).

Other ghosts were nature spirits who took on the form of men – such as

Hill Ghosts,

Spirit Dogs (who played the incubus),

Spirit Insects –

or who took on the form of animals such as whirlwinds.

Ghosts grabbed people at night,

turned into old women carrying children,

sneaked into bedrooms,

paraded as fireflies (or "Wild Fires" yehuo ...).

Many ghosts ... howled at night.

there were ... talking wolves.

Perhaps most interesting ... is the case where if a man finds himself in a room unable to breathe or move, it is due to a Strong Spirit (zhuangshen ...)


in the room. This was cured by ingesting a fragrant brew of ... red pig, horse’s tail, and dog’s head."

the 10 days Jia etc. are "Stems"

the 12 days Zi etc. are "Branches"

CHINA STUDIES, Vol. 8 = Constance A. Cook : Death in Ancient China. Brill : Leiden, 2006.