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Did the Early Chinese Preserve Corpses? A Reconsideration of Elite Conceptions of Death

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This article challenges the standard view that early,and especially, Han, Chinese elites attempted to preserve the corpse at death in order to ensure the post-mortem survival of the deceased's po (corporeal) soul. I will argue that the standard interpretation derives less from extant written records of mortuary practices and more from analogies sought by scholars between ancient Chinese and Egyptian notions of the afterlife. More importantly, the standard view has suffered from a propensity to interpret early material artifacts using much later medieval sources. Examining the archaeological and literary record, I propose that the early Chinese elites took for granted the impermanence of the body.

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