Centrifugal versus Processional: Divine Power and Mundane Power in Ancient Chinese Funeral Grids

GRID 2020 Abstracts

Centrifugal versus Processional:
Divine Power and Mundane Power in Ancient Chinese Funeral Grids

Dr. Shaoqian Zhang
Department of Art, Graphic Design, and Art History, Oklahoma State University

Session II: Gridded Plans and Architectures
Monday, November 23, 2020 | 12:00-13:00 (Duet A)

Taking an interdisciplinary approach involving Chinese religious studies and urban planning, this paper introduces two different types of Chinese grid: One is organized in a radially symmetrical manner, and emphasizes the center as the representation of divine power (the Heaven, buddha etc.). The other follows a bilaterally symmetrical order, and it emphasizes the procession and deepening of space in an urban grid along the central axis, to protect and deify the mundane power (emperors, the noble classes, etc) and spatially consolidate social hierarchies. To many scholars, traditional Chinese political systems can be regarded in terms of reciprocation and negotiation between divine and mundane power. Ideas of hierarchical societies, such as monarchical supremacy and governors receiving their mandates from heaven, constituted the core concepts regulating traditional Chinese political systems. Therefore, in the two types urban grid, their autonomous yet interdependent functioning created a wide variety of spatial patterns and architectural types in temples, altars, palaces, residences and cities.

With the recognition of these two different types of Chinese grid, my question nevertheless focuses on the urban planning of ancient imperial Chinese funeral cities, which also follows a grid pattern. One approach in earlier Chinese religious thought was to regard the deceased as divine, with their funeral cities serving as an altar to which the living could send prayers. Examples of this category include Yonggu Mausoleum of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534CE), and the Tomb of Emperor Liu He of the Western Han Dynasty (202 – 8 BCE). The other approach was to treat the deceased in a manner suggesting they were still alive. For example, the funeral structure of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) resembles that of his imperial palace. In this knowledge system, the living world and the underground world were entrusted to hold the same structure, demonstrating a yin (decreased) and yang (living) isomorphic cultural model. However, a number of these funeral cities demonstrate a combination of these two types of grid, as well as the two types of approach to the afterlife. By comparing the symbolic and allegorical representations found in these two types of funeral grid, this paper looks at the changing Chinese beliefs in an afterlife and the organizational principles and cultural connotations of traditional Chinese society itself.