Animating Dead Space: Medieval Chinese Tombs and the Negotiation of Cultural Traditions


American Research in the Humanities in China


Art History and East Asian Studies


Central Academy of Fine Arts


My project examines the tradition of figurines, murals, and architecture in tombs of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (3rd-6th c. CE), a pivotal yet understudied era in Chinese history. I consider tombs as sites of cultural negotiation, through which non-Chinese (Turkic) rulers appropriated and actively altered burial practices to mediate pressing ethnic concerns and to legitimate their authority in territory traditionally ruled by the Chinese. Reconfigurations of tomb furnishings transformed the grave from a space of the imagined afterlife to one focused on commemorating this life. My contextualized approach breaks down political and artistic boundaries prevalent in existing studies to present the first interpretive art historical study of early medieval tombs.