University of Oxford
This dissertation is centered on the roles of wooden chamber tombs in defining, negotiating and reinforcing status and identity of their owners in the Western Han period (206 B.C.--A.D.25). The archaeological materials under discussion are wooden chamber burials in the mid-Yangzi region, including the modern provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and north Anhui. This thesis is theoretically influenced by approaches to mortuary studies, considering the active roles of material culture to represent and construct identity and status in funeral context. My study is accordingly formulated within an analytical framework that focuses on general burial patterns, repetition of status symbols and case studies of concrete examples. This leads, in particular, to burial analysis looking for evidence of rank and status in mortuary records, envisaging the Han elites would have deployed specific strategies through meaningful use of material objects to signify different aspects of status.
The first chapter defines main concepts such as rank and status, it outlines the physical features of the Western Han wooden chamber tombs and historical background of the mid-Yangzi region, also presents approaches to burial evidence. The second chapter discusses how the Han elites defined rank and status in historical context, and then seeks to identify a range of status indicators through the analysis on a set of institutions and sumptuary rules described in different types of written sources. The analysis of the Zhangjiashan manuscripts explains why the rank matters to the Han elites, and also provides a referential framework of the Twenty Orders ranking system for mortuary analysis. The social analysis of burial evidence consists of three chapters on different aspects of social distinction: power, occupation, wealth and gender. Each chapter provides a case study with a comparison between archaeological record and related sumptuary rules. The image this dissertation presents radically challenges a notion often taken for granted in traditional Chinese scholarship, that mortuary variability of Han wooden chamber tombs is correlated with the fixed hierarchy regulated by sumptuary rules and specific regulations in written texts.