The journey of the soul after death. The symbolism of the funerary cloth of the Marquise of Dai

In 1972, near Changsha, the current capital of the Chinese province of Hunan, a funerary cloth in painted silk, known as the “funerary cloth of the Marquise of Dai”, was found. It is an extraordinary artifact that symbolically depicts the conception of the afterlife and the journey of the soul after the death of the first Han period (206 BC-220 AD) and which was considered fundamental to guide the soul of the deceased in its ascent to Heaven.

di Stephanie Libardi

Indiscriminately something took shape,
something born of Heaven and Earth before.
Silent! Vague!
Hermit and unalterable,
everywhere it circulates, without rest.
We could define Him as 'Mother of all that is under Heaven'.
His name I do not know,
but 'Dao' It is designated.
If I were forced to name Him, 'Great' I would say it.
'Grande' means 'to say goodbye',
'to take leave' means 'to go away',
'move away', 'return'.
Therefore, Great is the Dao,
Great is Heaven,
Great is the Earth,
and the Sovereign, too, is great.
Four, in the Universe World, are the things that Great can say to each other, and the Sovereign among them resides.
Man makes the Earth his model,
the Earth makes it of Heaven,
Heaven, of the Dao,
and the Dao model is what so-is, by itself. [1]

To return: this is the word around which the following pages will rotate. Between Heaven and Earth the Ten Thousand Beings take shape [2], emerge one by one like the waves from the vast sea and then sink again. Every being is destined to return with his own death to what originated it. Chapter 25 of the Daodejing 道德 經 cited above serves as an introduction for us to the discourse that will be gradually delineated in this writing. Specifically, we will focus on the conception on the afterlife and on the journey of the soul after death dating back to the first Han period (206 BC-220 AD) [3]. The protagonist of the research will be the funerary cloth of the Marquise of Dai found in 1972 at the archaeological site of Mawangdui, located on the outskirts of Changsha, the ancient capital of a kingdom in the country of Chu and current capital of the province of Hunan.

1. The Mawangdu burial site

1.1. Introductory Notes 

In the early 907s some archaeologists excavated two mounds, about twenty meters high, located near Changsha. At first they were believed to be the burials of the family of Prince Ma Yin of Chu (Five Dynasties period 960-XNUMX AD) hence the name of the place: Mawangdui [4]. In reality the site dates back to an earlier period, that is to the second century BC It consists of three burials belonging to the family of the Marquis of Dai [5]. Tomb no. 1 would belong to the Marquise of Dai, whose name was Xin Zhui, tomb no. 2, partially sacked, would belong to the Marquis of Dai, Li Cang, and tomb no. 3 would be that of a son who died around thirty years old.

 About a thousand objects were found buried together with the deceased, including lacquer tools, ceramics, musical instruments, wooden statuettes to replace servants and musicians, jade discs bi [6], scrolls and silk robes, libations, medicinal plants, geographical maps, paintings and funerary coins. In addition, more than fifty manuscripts dealing with medicine and long life practices have been found [7], astrology and astronomy. In addition to these writings, there were also classical texts: two copies of the Daodejing 道德 經 by Laozi, a manuscript of Yijing 易經, the Classic of Changes, and one of the Chunqiu 春秋, the Annals of Springs and Autumns, attributed to Confucius.

Among all the objects, two rather special stand out: they are the T-shaped funerary drapes found in tomb no. 1 and in tomb no. 3, both positioned above the sarcophagi that enclosed the bodies of the Marchesa and her son. What we will deal with in this work is that found in burial n. 1, or that of the Marchioness of Dai [8].

Fig. 1.1: left side section of tomb n.1 of Mawangdui, right side section of the wooden structure containing the sarcophagi of the Marquise of Dai.

1.2 The sarcophagi and the funerary cloth of the Marquise of Dai

The body of the Marchesa was interred in a series of six sarcophagi (Fig.1.1) [9] placed one inside the other [10]. It is important to briefly analyze their configuration because it is closely linked to the figurative path present on the drape. The innermost sarcophagus (Fig 1.2) [11], in which the body of the Marchesa was placed, is in rough wood, wrapped in silk fabrics with black decorations (yin 陰) on a red background (that 陽), on which feathers and animal hair are glued. The decorations made on the fabrics are composed of black clouds that converge towards the center occupied by a four-petal flower. Due to the presence of these two figurative motifs, the internal sarcophagus is associated with Heaven. The clouds indicate reaching a place far from the Earth, while the four-petaled flower is a symbol of Heaven [12]. The raw wood also symbolizes the simplicity that characterizes the Dao 道 and the state of consciousness of those who manage to immerse themselves in its eternal stream. In this regard, we recall two passages from the Daodejing 道德 經:

Who, while aware of his own whiteness,
black guards with care,
he becomes the model of everything under Heaven.
Having become the valley of all that is under Heaven,
Eternal Might will always suffice,
and the simplicity of the raw stock will return. [13]

blunt, he was, like the raw uncut stump,
vast, like the valley,
confused, like the murky waters.
Yet who [if not him], calming the murky waters, gradually made them clear? [14]

The second sarcophagus (Fig. 1.2) is in red lacquered wood with splendid multicolored decorations rich in symbolism. Of central importance are the depictions of the two dragons passing through a disk bi 璧 (South panel), image present - as we shall see - also on the funerary cloth, and of the two deer climbing Mount Kunlun [15] (north panel): both symbolize the ascent to Heaven. On the other panels there are clouds and helpers appointed to guide the soul of the deceased in its otherworldly journey, they are: a tiger, a deer, a bird and an Immortal [16]. We could therefore say that this sarcophagus represents a bridge between Earth and Heaven as well as the hope of the deceased to ascend to the celestial kingdom.

Fig. 1.2: the three decorated sarcophagi of Mawangdui tomb n.1.

The third sarcophagus (Fig. 1.2) is in black lacquered wood, on it are depicted more than one hundred real and imaginary creatures floating in the clouds. What most clearly characterizes it are the puffs of the clouds that spread energetically in every direction. Due to its color, black, it could be considered the realm of death (yin 陰) which opposes by enveloping it in the realm of vitality ( that 陽), represented by the red of the second sarcophagus). The fourth sarcophagus is entirely lacquered in black, while the two most external were part of the structure of the burial chamber.

The sarcophagi served as a spiritual protection, thanks to the presence of symbolic representations, as well as material, allowing the conservation of the embalmed body [17]. Much was the concern on the part of the officiants of the funeral rite, whose intent was to ensure that the deceased, or rather all the elements (subtle and gross) dissociated from death, could find their right place, some in the heights of Heaven. and others in the depths of the Earth. Everything, disintegrating, had to return to its origin. This "great return", however, could have been a formidable test for mere mortals. The separation that death brings with it was considered risky just as the journey of the soul, if not properly prepared, was littered with dangers of all kinds. For this it was necessary to provide protections and guides.

The funerary cloth, placed on top of the first sarcophagus at the time of burial, had, for its part, the function of guiding the soul on its journey after death. That of the Marquise of Dai (Fig 1.3) [18] it is in finely woven and painted silk; it looks like a long dress with wide and short sleeves (it has the shape of a T). It measures 205 cm in height, in width, excluding hems, 92 cm in the highest part (the transverse part of the letter T) and 47 cm in the central and lower part. A bamboo stick is passed through the hem at the highest end, a silk cord is attached to it to suspend the drape. Four black ribbons of fine linen hang at the two corners of the lower part and at the two lower corners of the cross section. Furthermore, a jade disk had been placed above the transverse part bi 璧.

The funeral drapes played an important role in funeral ceremonies even in the period before the Han dynasty [19], on them it was customary to write the name of the deceased:

The funeral drapes were fixed, at the time of death, on the edge of the roof of the house, towards the West, then planted, at the time of the funeral ceremony, in front of the dead man, near the tablet representing the soul of the deceased, then to the side of the sarcophagus or on the chariot. They accompanied the procession to the place of burial; when the deceased was placed in the tomb, the drapes were placed on the lid of the sarcophagus. These drapes, which identified the deceased, had an essential function: represent the spirits of the dead. [20]

Fig. 1.3: funerary cloth of the Marquise of Dai. On the left a photograph of the original, on the right a black and white drawing.

The cloth of the Marquise of Dai, contrary to what is indicated in the classical texts on rites [21], does not have any inscriptions with the name of the deceased. In the central part of the ritual artifact, however, an elderly woman was painted followed by three other female figures: scholars believe it can be considered the representation of the Marquise, to whom the cloth was intended. This cloth, like the others of the same kind, was considered an object capable of releasing a great power, essential to guide the soul in its ascent to Heaven, to attract the protection of the higher powers and to condense beneficial influences.

The symbolism contained in it is naturally the result of the thought and imaginal capacity of the time in which it was commissioned to some expert craftsman. The reading of the symbols that animate it cannot fail to find its roots in the texts of ancient Chinese culture and in the narratives on the afterlife circulating in that period. Among the texts we can name: the Daodejing 道德 經, the Zhuangzi 莊子, the liezi 列子, lo Huainanzi 淮南子, lo Shanhaijing 山海經 (Book of Mountains and Seas), the Chuci 楚辭 (Elegies of Chu), lo Shiji 史記 (Historical memories), the Five Classics [22] and the Classics of Medicine [23].

Before proceeding to the symbolic reading of the funerary cloth, it is necessary to clarify some philosophical questions concerning the cosmological conception in ancient China, they will be of the greatest usefulness in understanding the cloth itself.

2. The Cosmos and man

Heaven in me is Virtue.
The Earth in me is puffs.
Virtue flows, the breaths spread and it is life.
The fact that living beings arrive denotes essences.
The fact that the two essences combine denotes the Spirits.
What follows the Spirits faithfully in their 'coming and going' detonates the Hun.
What is associated with the essences in their 'going out and in' denotes the Po.
What takes care of beings is called the heart. [24]

2.1 Heaven and Earth

At the beginning of this paper, chapter 25 of the Daodejing 道德 經, some passages can now be resumed to build a short exposition on Heaven and Earth.

Indiscriminately something took shape,
something born of Heaven and Earth before.
Silent! Vague!
Hermit and unalterable,
everywhere it circulates, without rest.
We could define Him as 'Mother of all that is under Heaven'.
His name I do not know,
but 'Dao' It is designated. [25]

Tian 天 (Heaven) e Di 地 (Earth) are the names that designate two cosmological principles that have played a central role in the constitution of Chinese spirituality. Originally, according to the ancient cosmological vision, there is the primordial Chaos, the Indistinct. It can be imagined as a vast, empty and shapeless land. It begins to animate under the influence of Dao 道: the primordial breaths qi 氣 in part they go up with a light motion and give life to Heaven (lo that 陽), partly descend due to their heaviness and form the Earth (lo yin陰). The Ten Thousand Beings originate from the union of Heaven and Earth wan wu 萬物. These passages are symbolized by a numerical sequence, as we read, to cite an example, in the Daodejing 道德 經

The Dao begat the One,
and from the One they were Two,
and from Two, Three,
and, from the Three, the Ten Thousand Beings drew life. [26]

Everything proceeds from Oneness, the Dao 道, the mysterious source that gives life and embraces everything in death. It is the One in which all duality is transcended, it is itself the original Indistinct. Heaven is the place of spirituality, of vitality, of the creative force of that 陽, is high above the Ten Thousand Beings and the Earth. From it comes the impetus of the breaths which, uniting with the Earth, allow everything that exists to be generated. Heaven is also the first of the sixty-four hexagrams of the Yijing 易經 and is called "The Creative".

The Earth, complementary to Heaven, represents matter, receptivity, the ability to give shape to everything, it is the yin 陰 and for this reason it is associated with death, the place where bodies disintegrate to become matter to be molded into other forms. In the Classic of Changes Earth follows Heaven and is designated "The Receptive". Man, like other beings, is the fruit of the fruitful union of what is above and what is below: there is something in him that belongs to Heaven and something that belongs to Earth.

Heaven in me is Virtue. [27]

The Chinese term that is translated as Virtue is de 德, whose etymological meaning indicates a way of behaving (of proceeding ⼻) guided by a heart (心) capable of drawing on what constitutes it authentically (真), in conformity with Heaven. In man it is the heart that hosts Heaven, it is the heart that must recognize the authenticity of behavior. The de 德 is the anchoring of life to Heaven. The heart xin 心 it has not only a moral connotation, that is linked to good action, but also a spiritual one. It is the receptacle of shen 神, the Spirits who come from Heaven, whose permanence is favored by the condition of tranquility of the heart: emptiness. The emptiness of the heart it is detachment from the fruits of action, it is acting without desire: it is the Way to be practiced in order to reach Enlightenment, to the fulfillment of one's being, or rather, of one's Virtue de 德.

The Earth in me is puffs. [28]

The Earth is a great dispenser of forms, where the gifts of Heaven reside. Her task is the distribution of the breaths: thus, the breaths that are in man are breaths of the Earth.

2.1. Essences jing 精 and Spirits shen

The essences jing fine [29] they make life particular in the bosom of universal vitality. THE jing 精 manifest the advent of a union (yin 陰 - that 陽). What exists exists thanks to them. It is the essences that give the living beings the characteristics of the species and regulate their conditions of life from birth to death. They are the models of every single life and the basis of its maintenance:

Heaven / Earth […] knows, without having learned it, how to use essences. Man, by imitating him, learns to keep himself in what he is, harmonizing what constitutes him, hoarding reserves at the right time, avoiding wasting his natural resources […]. Hence the techniques of breathing, nutrition, meditation, sexual hygiene: techniques that should be called "essential". [30]

If the essences are the material full of vitality of which the living are woven, it is nevertheless the presence of the Spirits shen[31] to give life, they are Heaven in us. If the Spirits depart it is death. They must be guarded, we must let them lead our life naturally without opposing it. Taking care of the essences is functional to the maintenance of the Spirits in a body, which inhabit it finding a stay in the heart:

Only the Spirits allow access to true knowledge, perception of the intimate nature, of the natural and celestial dispositions of beings and things. [32]

2.2 - Hun 魂 ei Po

During the time of life, the Spirits of men are of two types: some come from Heaven, others from Earth. The shen 神 celestial for as long as they reside in a body, they are called souls Hun 魂 (three for each individual); the essences jing 精 that come from the Earth, on the other hand, form souls Po 魄 (seven for each individual) [33]. The souls Hun 魂 ensure the intellectual, imaginative, dreamlike and spiritual animation of man, while i Po 魄 preside over the vegetative life of the individual. 

At death, celestial souls and terrestrial souls return to merge in universal power. The singular form / body they inhabited is destined to disappear, but Hun 魂 and Po 魄 they survive by returning to their origin, one in the heights of Heaven, the other in the depths of the Earth. An artifact such as the Marquise of Dai's burial cloth was considered a guide that would allow the souls of the deceased to find the right way to return to their place in the cosmic order.

3. Travel postmortem: symbols in the funerary cloth of the Marquise of Dai

The drape is divided into three sections which represent three 'kingdoms':

  • The upper part (transverse part of the T) represents Heaven, the ultimate goal of the pilgrimage of souls Hun 魂.
  • The middle part depicts the world we live in and the first stage of approach of souls to Heaven after death. 
  • The lower part, on the other hand, represents the underground world of the Earth, the one where souls sink Po 魄 to decompose.

In the analysis of the drape [34] it will start from the central area and then go down and finally go up to the top.

3.1. Sacred vessel

Sacred vessel, it is all that is under Heaven,
not something on which it is allowed to intervene:
whoever intervenes, spoils it,
whoever grabs it, loses it. [35]

The middle part of the drape (Fig.3.1) [36], when viewed in isolation as a whole, it delineates the profile of a vase. Dragons form the main body, while the canopy of the Gate of Heaven serves as a lid. The vase contains the world in which the forms come to life, it is the receptacle in which the fruitful union of jing 精 and shen god.

 The interpenetration of powers yin 陰 and that 陽 is well represented by the intertwining of the two dragons' bodies in the circular cavity of the large disk bi 璧 that we see in the center of the image. The tail of the dragon yin 陰 is in the cavities of the Earth on the right side of the cloth, the body rises up to the middle of the median section until it passes to the left side after passing through the center. The body of the dragon that 陽, on the other hand, does the reverse. 

 The jade disc bi 璧, symbol of Heaven, is surmounted by a square-shaped chessboard, symbol of the Earth. It supports a platform on which some figures advance: it is the beam of the Thunder and the figures represent the deceased (in the center, of greater stature) followed by the three souls Hun 魂 (Fig.3.2) [37]. In addition to them there are two other characters: they are probably the two messengers delegated by the Emperor of Heaven to help the pilgrim in crossing the border of the yin 陰 and that It is represented by the jaws of the two dragons.

The beam of the Thunder is a clear and irreversible separation between earthly life and death. It is also a dangerous passage, an abyss that sanctions the division between the knowable and the unknown world. Furthermore, the Thunder evokes the supreme power that comes from above. The scene with the elderly woman at the center is dominated by a large bird, strong and imposing: it is probably a Feilian 飛 廉, the spirit of the wind. The wind in ancient times represented all the puffs, lo yin 陰 / that 陽 blowing between Heaven and Earth.

The entire middle part is dominated by a canopy above which a flower is placed on the sides of which are two phoenixes: it is the roof of Heaven / Earth, the last passage before the Heavenly Gate. From the canopy the breaths of Heaven spread to the world below. The flower is a tantric image, it evokes interpenetration. It is also the natural representation of metamorphosis, in fact it is written in Chinese hua 花: the underlying part (化) indicates the transformation, while the upper strokes are a reference to the plant world. To live means to transform, the last transformation is death. The phoenixes, a male and a female, are a couple in unity, they stand between the perfection of the One of Heaven and the world of distinct Duality.

Below the disc bi 璧, just above the underground kingdom, we find the scene of the Marquise's funeral painted (Fig.3.3) [38]. We recognize vessels and vessels that were used for the rite. The sarcophagus of the deceased is surrounded by seven characters: the officiant of the rite in a white robe and six other figures. The Seven characters symbolize the Seven souls Po 魄. At this level we are in fact close to the depths of the Yellow Springs. The scene of the rite is separated from the lower part of the cloth by a border, mirroring the beam of the Thunder: it is the base of the Earth, beyond which one passes to the territories where the  Po 魄 they will be disintegrated to merge again with what originated them.

Fig. 3.3: scene of the Marquise's funeral.

3.2. The underground and aquatic world

The Earth is made up of earth and water. In the traditional imaginary, the waters of the Four Seas surround the terrestrial quadrilateral. These abyssal waters are the Yellow Springs of the dead, the place of the disintegration of essences but also of the renewal of life. This world is inhabited by marine reptiles and fish. Starting from the bottom (Fig 3.4) [39], we see two large fish crossing each other echoing the disc bi It is encountered above. They symbolize longevity, prosperity and a return to origin. Just above them a red snake, placed transversely, holds the tails of the two dragons yin 陰 and that 陽. Her color releases vital power in the dark depths. 

Resting with his feet on the bodies of intertwined fish, stands the mighty figure of the genius of the waters. Endowed with extraordinary strength, he supports the Earth and the Ten Thousand Beings. On the sides, two turtles with two owls on the armor, are placed near the passage to the underground kingdom. The turtle is an emblem of the Earth, as well as a symbol of longevity and immortality. Owls symbolize the entrance into death. Together the two animals are considered the devourers par excellence. In the underground abyss everything is constriction, the elements represented are compressed into a space that leaves little freedom for movement. On the contrary, in the celestial kingdom everything is lightness and joy.

3.3. Il Cielo

Beyond the Gate of Heaven, guarded by two characters in the guise of imperial officials, the paradisiacal scenario of celestial heights opens up (Fig.3.5) [40]. These are the places destined for souls Hun 魂. The central axis is occupied at the top by the Flame Dragon zhulong燭 龍, which with its sinuous body forms a circle (another reference to the disc bi 璧) inside which is a figure with anthropomorphic features that emanates royalty and serenity. The Torch Dragon represents universal life, the primordial unity from which the rhythms of cosmic life arise. Lord of Heaven, he orders the influences that Heaven sends to the Earth. His eyes are the moon and the sun. He is above space and time, he is the primary representation of the heart of the universe, a perfect union of yin 陰 and that 陽. It belongs to the indistinct and is the image of enlightenment. 

On the sides of the zhulong燭 龍, we find the sun and the crow, on the right, and the moon with the hare and the toad, on the left. The sun is the condensation of that 陽 of Heaven, the great one that 陽 (taiyang 太陽) and the black crow is, according to tradition, the bird of the sun. The moon, on the other hand, is yin 陰 heavenly. The two lunar animals rest on it. Furthermore, the legends of ancient China narrate that the elixir of Long Life is found on the moon. In the upper part of this section of the cloth there are also five cranes, a celestial bird par excellence. Two dragons, that 陽 on the right e yin 陰 on the left, they occupy the space under the sun and moon. Their figures are sinuous and face each other, unlike the dragons present in the middle part which are not facing each other. The Dragon yin 陰 is winged and is ridden by a human-like character.

Returning to the central axis, there are other symbols to draw attention to. First, under it zhulong 燭 龍 in the point where the beaks of two other cranes converge, Mount Kunlun is represented, axis of the world in the Chinese spiritual tradition. At its sides, two horsemen with the appearance of geniuses with the muzzle of an animal ride imaginary beings inspired by horses and deer. With their rotational movement around the axis of the world, they watch over the constant downward distribution of beneficial influences. Going down further, we find a bell suspended right above the Gate of Heaven. Bronze bells were used for ancestor worship. It also recalls the bells that were rung to announce the imperial decrees: here, however, we are dealing with celestial decrees, through which Heaven makes its own organizational power known. The presence of the bell also attests to the presence of music, and the joy that derives from it, in the celestial kingdom.

4. Conclusion

The Mawangdui burial cloth is undoubtedly one of the most precious finds in the history of the Chinese spiritual and religious tradition. It contains, revealing it through images, the spirit of men and women who were certain that with their death not everything would end. Something of them, the most imperceptible and fine parts, would return to be part of the eternal flow from which everything originated. Their hope, as they approached the moment of their last breath, was that everything could return to where it came from. The essences dissolved jing 精, the vitality of the bodies gave way to the rigidity and coldness of death. So the Spirits shen 神, having abandoned the body that had been a temporary home for them, they could not help but wish to return to Heaven, while the essences merged again with the Earth.

Those who in life devoted themselves most to introspection and the search for natural spontaneity, which is the internal logic of Dao 道, the eternal flow, would have traveled more easily through the unknown territories that in the course of earthly life they could only imagine. In the burial of the family of the Marquis of Dai everything had been arranged with the utmost care so that the souls Hun 魂 and Po 魄 could start their passage to the Indistinct without incurring dangers and traps.

In conclusion, we report in full a wonderful chapter of the Daodejing 道德 經:

Will you be able to sustain your spiritual energies to come together in Unity [with your physical body and with the Dao],
preventing them from separating?
In concentrating the vital breath until it becomes very light [vapor],
Will you be able to do like the infant?
In wiping your deep and dark mirror,
will you know the traces to remove?
In taking the kingdom to heart and ruling the people,
Will you be able to give up knowledge?
In opening and closing the Gates of Heaven,
Will you be able to do like the Female?
In shedding light and clarifying the meaning of things everywhere,
will you be able to avoid making efforts?
He gives them life, and assists them,
gives them life, but claims of possession do not advance,
acts [for the good of beings] without [these] feeling His support,
grows them, but does not have them:
is what is called 'Arcana Might'. [41]


  1. Laozi, Daodejing. The canon of the Way and Virtue, edited by A. Andreini, Einaudi, Turin 2018, p. 67, my italics.
  2. According to the cosmological conception of ancient China at the origins there is the Indistinct, a vast empty, formless and imperceptible expanse. Under the influence of the Dao 道 this primordial Chaos still in the undifferentiated and potential state comes to life: we have the qi 氣, the primordial puffs that occur in two ways: light puffs and heavy puffs. The first, subtle and light, rise, disperse and form Heaven, designating it that 陽. The heavy, coarse and opaque puffs, on the other hand, gather at the bottom and form the Earth, lo yin 陰. The fruitful union of Heaven and Earth gives life to the Ten Thousand Beings wan wu 萬物, that is to all living beings. At death, every living being returns to the indistinct.
  3. The Han dynasty succeeded the short Qin dynasty (221-206 BC), an epoch, the latter, in which there was the unification of the Chinese Empire under the command of the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di. The Han dynasty is divided into Western Han (206 BC-9 BC), having as capital Chang'an, today's Xi'an in Shaanxi, and Eastern Han (25 AD-220 AD), whose capital was located in Luoyang in present-day Henan. From 9 BC to 25 AD there was the reign of Wang Mang. For a historical study on the first Chinese imperial dynasties, cf. M. Sabattini and P. Santangelo, History of China. From the origins to the foundation of the Republic, Laterza, Rome-Bari 1986, pp. 85-179.
  4. Mawangdui 馬王堆: burial mound (dui 堆) of the prince (wang 王) But (馬).
  5. There are good reasons for tracing the burials to this family considering the discovery of numerous objects belonging to the funerary equipment bearing inscriptions and seals on which we read "Family of the Marquis of Dai" or "Intendency of the Marquis of Dai". 
  6. The jade discs bi they were already widespread in ancient times. The first were produced in the Neolithic period, in particular by the Liangzhu culture (ca. 3300-2000 BC) but spread more from the Shang dynasty (XVII-XII century BC). They appear as flat discs of jade with a circular hole in the center. They have been found mostly in the graves of the deceased of high rank. The original function and meaning remain unknown but starting from subsequent eras they are appointed to symbolize Heaven and the power that derives from it: imperial power and that of the highest dignitaries. 
  7. In this regard, cf. Donald J. Harper, Early Chinese Medical Literature. The Mawangdui Medical Manuscripts, Kegan Paul International, London 1998.
  8. The reading of the text by C. Larre and E. Rochat de la Vallée, The Chinese symbols of life and death, trad. it., Jaca Book, Milan 2016. In addition to it, cf. Lillian L. Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2011.
  9. Lillian L. Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, cit., p. 170.
  10. With reference to the sarcophagi, cf. C. Larre and E. Rochat de la Vallée, The Chinese symbols of life and death, cit., pp. 18-19; Lillian L. Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, cit., pp. 189-205.
  11. Lillian L. Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, cit., p. 189.
  12. See Ibid, pp. 197-199.
  13. Laozi, Daodejing. The canon of the Way and Virtue, cit., p. 75.
  14. Ivi, p. 43.
  15. Mount Kunlun is considered the Axis of the World in the Chinese spiritual tradition. It stands between Earth and Heaven and serves as a gateway to the celestial kingdom. In the legendary imagination on its summit, immersed in floating clouds, the Immortals have their home.
  16. The Immortals, depicted in anthropomorphic form but with feathers on their limbs, are able to fly between Heaven and Earth. They "have won a subtle, patient game with time and its secrets. The Taoist sage knows that "hidden periods" sometimes occur during time cycles, moments of extraordinary conjunctions that create fissures in the regulated rhythm of time. The immortals were able to see these breaches […] by passing from our external ordinary time, which goes towards death, to the interior time which is regulated by another temporality and goes towards regeneration. " (G. Filoramo, M. Massenzio, M. Raveri, P. Scarpi, History of Religions Manual, Laterza, Bari-Rome 1998, p. 412).
  17. Keeping the body intact allowed, according to the religious beliefs of the time, to retain earthly animation (i Po 魄) in order to enjoy all carefully prepared and arranged offerings, objects and foods in the tomb.
  18. Lillian L. Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, cit., p. 172.
  19. See C. Larre and E. Rochat de la Vallée, The Chinese symbols of life and death, cit., pp. 22-24. 
  20. Ibid, p. 23, my italics.
  21. The three classic books on rites are Zhouli 周禮 (Rites of the Zhou), the Liji 禮記 (Classic of Rites) and lo Yilic 儀禮 (Ceremonial rites).
  22. The Five Classics collect the most ancient oral tradition concerning the origins of Chinese history, wisdom teachings, literary forms and rites. They are: it Shujing 書 經 (Classic of History), lo Shijing 詩經 (Classic of Odes), the Liji 禮記 (Classic of Rites), TheYijing 易經 (Classic of Changes) And the Chunqiu 春秋 (Annals of Springs and Autumns).
  23. This is the Huangdi Neijing 黃帝內經 (Inner Book of the Yellow Emperor) Divided into suwen 素 聞 (The simple questions) is Linshu 靈樞 (The Spiritual Pivot). These writings are attributed to the legendary figure of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi 黃帝. He is considered the founder of Chinese civilization and medical art.
  24. C. Larre and E. Rochat de la Vellée (edited by), From the "Huangdi Neijing Lingshu". The psyche in the Chinese tradition, trad. it., Jaca Book, Milan 1994, p. 41.
  25. Laozi, Daodejing. The canon of the Way and Virtue, cit., p. 67.
  26.  Ivi, p. 115.
  27. C. Larre and E. Rochat de la Vellée (edited by), From the "Huangdi Neijing Lingshu". The psyche in the Chinese tradition, cit., p. 41.
  28. Ibid.
  29. See Ibid, pp. 49-53.
  30. Ivi, p. 52.
  31. See Ibid, pp. 54-59 and C. Larre, At the roots of Chinese civilization, trad. it., Jaca Book, Milan 2005, pp. 47-77.
  32. C. Larre and E. Rochat de la Vellée (edited by), From the "Huangdi Neijing Lingshu". The psyche in the Chinese tradition, cit., p. 56.
  33. See Ibid, pp. 60-68 and C. Larre, At the roots of Chinese civilization, trad. it., Jaca Book, Milan 2005, pp. 48-49.
  34. For an in-depth analysis of the symbols of the cloth cf. C. Larre and E. Rochat de la Vallée, The Chinese symbols of life and death, cit. 
  35. Laozi, Daodejing. The canon of the Way and Virtue, cit., p. 79.
  36. Lillian L. Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, cit., p. 172.
  37. Ivi, p. 173.
  38. Ivi, p. 203.
  39. Ivi, p. 172.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Laozi, Daodejing. The canon of the Way and Virtue, cit., p. 31.


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