World Ceramics: How was it used?

The ancient Chinese believed wholeheartedly in life after death, and during the T'ang dynasty they continued a long-established practice of placing clay figures in the burial chambers of their dead. These burial sculptures, called ming ch'i (ming-chee) or "spirit articles," were placed in tombs to accompany and protect the dead in the afterlife. A special imperial government office was created for the production and supervision of ming ch'i.

Funeral processions at this time were extravagant and festive occasions. An ancient writer wrote that the dead were accompanied to their graves by great crowds who were entertained, in tents and pavilions along the route, with food, wine, actors, and acrobats. Some families spent everything they had in efforts to compete with the funerals of their neighbors. Eventually, an imperial decree issued in A.D. 742 set limits on the size and number of tomb pieces allowed, according to the rank of the deceased. For example, dignitaries of high rank were allowed up to seventy pottery figures, while commoners were permitted fifteen.


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