Tradition of Carrying Treasure in Ancient Chinese Funeral Rituals
The ancient Chinese believed that life after death was very similar to the world. In order to enjoy life after death, rich people during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) brought their belongings with them to be buried when they died. Their burial procession is said to be elaborate. Items that were usually included in the burial included porcelain, beautiful bronze objects for food and drink, mannequins of servants, barns, and even livestock. Until the time of Confesius, there was still a tradition that slaves also had to die or be buried with their masters. The body of the deceased will be placed in a chest where the chest will be decorated with carvings of jade or other stones that are believed to have magical powers.
The more diverse and expensive the items buried, it shows that the person buried is rich or influential. For important people, large statues would be erected and placed near the tombs and small earthenware idols would be placed on the coffins representing the servants, clerks and comforters for the deceased.
The burial practices of the Chinese people, in this case the ritual ceremonies and the types of belongings that will be buried will vary in each era or dynasty. Nonetheless all dynasties believed in an afterlife just like the worldly life, so the dead also needed their favorite things. Broadly speaking the burial practices of ancient Chinese society consisted of two main components. First, the tomb and its contents. Both ceremonies or rituals to honor the dead are performed in temples and prayer rooms in their family homes.
The tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangti, is the most famous example of ancient Chinese burial practices. The emperor's tomb was designed to symbolize the state or condition of the world when he led during his lifetime. All the items he needed, including terra cotta soldiers in the form of statues, numbering more than 8,000 men, were also buried.
At the site of a Neolithic village in Banpo an individual grave was found which dates back to 5000BC, in the tombs of people buried together with their treasures and tools. However, the rituals accompanying this burial are unknown. For Chinese people, ancestors are considered to have an important influence on one's life. Their existence in the afterlife requires prayer in order to help those who have died in the transition to the next world.
The ancient Chinese believed that people should take responsibility for their own lives in order to find peace in the afterlife. There is a belief that ancestors are sacrificed for the happiness of future generations, and that sacrificing a child will please the ancestors and help "secure" a place in the afterlife. The dead can live peacefully when their children, grandchildren and future descendants live healthy and successful lives. Life can go well if people show proper respect for their ancestors, and the dead are thought to be able to influence life for better or for worse.
In addition to their beliefs about the afterlife and ancestor worship, the ancient Chinese practiced elaborate burial customs. The steps in a standard ancient Chinese funeral ceremony are, first, the family will give public notification of the death. They will wear traditional mourning clothes of white cloth and hemp. The bodies will be bathed according to the prevailing rituals and various food offerings and treasures will be burned to honor their heritage. Next, the name of the deceased would be added to the ancestral tablet of the family and money would be paid to the monks to pray for their soul's journey of peace in the afterlife. Music will be set for
accompany the movement of the body from the house (place of death/temporarily buried) to the burial site where the body will be sealed in a coffin. The entire city or village population will come to the burial place.
The ancient Chinese believed that the soul of a dead person has two components, yin and yang. Yin, or "po," is associated with graves, whereas yang, or "hun," is associated with ancestral family trees. Many think that po is buried with the body, but the soul of the dead will be judged in the "10 courts of hell." Without the reverence shown by family or relatives, the soul cannot hope to escape harsh punishment. The “Hun” would descend down the ancestral family altar, where he joined the other family ancestors.
In ancient China, most traditions related to death were based on unique beliefs derived from village and family members' traditions, not organized around religious practice. This tradition is now considered "Chinese folk religion." Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism all contributed to the development of the culture. Broad religious concepts such as personal salvation or transformation played only a minor role in ancient Chinese practices regarding death.
In addition to human burial traditions, ancient Chinese society also had horse burial practices as was common among Indo-Europeans. This action shows that the horse has a high value or is important in the culture of society. The process of horse burial is part of a wider tradition of horse sacrifice. Horses are also related to funeral chariots, in which the entire carriage, with or without horses, is buried with the dead.
The horse carries great symbolic meaning in human culture. In Celtic and Germanic culture, for example, horses "could be associated with the traveling sun", and horses were deified and used in divination, but events of horse sacrifice in Celtic were rare or infrequent while horses were regularly sacrificed and buried with the dead in Germany and Scandinavia. The importance of horse sacrifice is a symbolic representation of the relationship between the king and the horse.
Sometimes horses were cremated, sometimes buried, sometimes they were placed in the same grave as humans, sometimes in different pits. Some cultures seem to support horse burial for male warriors, but other cultures do not discriminate between sexes.