Theater of the Dead: A Social Turn in Chinese Funerary Art, 1000-1400


American Research in the Humanities in China


Art and Music Histories


My book project is the first in-depth study of a rich corpus of images representing theatrical performances excavated from tombs of middle-period China. Instead of treating these images merely as visual documents of early theater, I focus on their symbolic roles in the funerary context in which they were created and used. My study reveals a densely socialized vision of death embedded in the theatrical images. Sharply diverging from the features of medieval funerary art, which often emphasized cosmological and ritual discourses, this “social turn” demonstrates how post-medieval Chinese conceptualized the sphere of the dead within the existing social framework. In so doing, this book provides a new way of looking at the religious field at the dawn of the second millennium in China.