Wallace, Leslie V
University of Pittsburgh
During the first and second centuries CE colonists living along the Northern Frontier of the Han Empire built tombs with stone doorways that depicted scenes of the hunt. These reliefs depict a fabulous world inhabited by mounted archers, hybrid xian (immortals) and frolicking/fleeing animals. Within these reliefs there is also a limited tendency to draw on the alternate lifestyles of the Xiongnu, a confederation of northern nomadic tribes who served as both neighbor and foe to the Han Chinese who lived in this area.
Previous scholarship has seen hunting imagery in these reliefs as passive reflections of the mixed culture and economy of the region. I instead maintain that it was part of an iconographical program that depicted and facilitated the passage of the deceased to paradise across the dangerous borderlands between Heaven and Earth.
My dissertation argues that imagery in Shaanxi and Shanxi was actually a refinement of earlier Eastern Zhou (771-221 BCE) and Western Han (206BC- 8CE) depictions of the hunt and immortals, but that in this region, the positioning of the hunt at doorways created a liminal space representing the "Great Boundary" between this world and the next. This world is described in an inscription from a tomb excavated in Suide, Shaanxi that warns the deceased of the dangers that confront him if he does not return to the world of the living. On the basis of this inscription and similar "soul-summoning" passages from the Chu ci (Songs of the South) and Eastern Han dynasty tomb-quelling texts (zhenmu wen 鎮墓文), I argue that hunting imagery in Shaanxi and Shanxi belongs to the desolate spaces that were believed to exist between this world and the next.
Furthermore, I conclude that these images were a local response adopted by the patrons because they lived in a militarized, colonized setting in which fears of foreign neighbors fused with their apprehensions of the 'beyond'.