Who's Agency? A Study of Burial Murals in Ancient China


  • Pengpeng Chen University of British Columbia


After Chinese tombs shifted from vertical shaft tombs to horizontal chamber tombs, murals became popular to decorate burial chambers. The subjects of these murals usually include portraits of the living, as well as the universe, gardens, and landscapes of imaginary spaces. Past studies of tomb murals have been limited to the dualism of the living and the dead, suggesting that mural paintings were a reflection of wealth and status. This paper, however, proposes that Chinese tomb murals should not be limited to a single perspective of living or deceased, but should be restored in conjunction with the theme of the murals and the construction process of the tomb.