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Tomb design

Beginning in the first second centuries AD, the architectural design of Chinese tombs built during the Han, Six Dynasties, Sui and Tang eras was standardized to a degree by the codification of funeral and mourning practices. The two important considerations that determined tomb design were the performance of burial rites within the tomb and the burial of husbands and wives in a single chamber. This meant that the chamber had to remain intact for some years after the first internement, be large enough to accomodate at least two coffins and accompanying grave goods and allow for the reopening and re-scaling of the tomb.

Though Han Dynasty tomb builders experimented with different meterials and designs, a basic working tomb design had evolved by the aixth century. A sloping entrance ramp led to a door at the entrance to a aquare cave-like chamber dug into the soil and enforced with ceramic bricks for performance.


During the seventh century, construction incorporated niches for the placement of mingqi and vertical shafts for light and air (during construction). By that time, elaborate murals were added as well. Early eight century funerary architecture is exemplified by the imperial Tang tombs which had evoloved into vast funerary parks located in the mountains outside the capital in Ghang'an. Each Tang emperor's tomb was accompanied by a number of satellite tombs occupied by the emperial family and members of the court. Above ground, these necropolises were approached by long "spirit paths"marked by monumental stone sculpture and magnificent sacrificial halls.


(text: "Seeking immortality" by Janet Baker, foto's: "Het oude china" by Maurizio Scarpari)