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Eastern Han Commemorative Stelae: Laying The Cornerstones Of Public Memory

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Chapter Summary

The ancestral cult overlaps with less "religious" idea systems of public memory and literary heritage. To tease out the religious webs preserved by the stele, the chapter first explains its physical and textual ancestors. It then presents three representative examples, the first dedicated to a man, the second to a woman, and the third to a child. Each grave stele maps out different kinds of webs, each giving shape to different kinds of posthumous identities. The stelae of the 2nd century AD are not the product of mono-causal evolution; they instead result from a confluence of several traditions of inscribed markers and mortuary implements. Eastern Han stelae must be seen in the context of increasing usage of stone in architectonic cemeteries as the dead gradually enjoyed a greater physical presence in the mundane landscape. This description demonstrates that the stele was nestled among numerous other stone mortuary objects.

Keywords: ancestral cult; Eastern Han stelae; posthumous identities; public memory; religious webs



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