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Six Dynasties Civilization

Six Dynasties Civilization

Albert E. Dien
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 622
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  • Book Info
    Six Dynasties Civilization
    Book Description:

    The Six Dynasties, also known as the "Dark Age" of Chinese history, was a period of political disunity and conflict but also one of important developments in the arts, religion, and culture. This comprehensive and extensively illustrated book covers the material culture of the Six Dynasties, A.D. 220 to 589. Albert E. Dien, a foremost expert on the period, draws on the archaeological findings of mainland China journals as well as historical and literary sources to clarify and interpret the database of over 1,800 tombs developed for this volume.During the Six Dynasties, the influences of non-Chinese nomads, the flourishing of Buddhism, and increasing numbers of foreign merchants in the capitals brought about widespread change. The book explores what the archaeological artifacts reveal about this era of innovation and experimentation between the Han and Tang dynasties.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15795-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Chart of the Six Dynasties Period
    (pp. IX-IX)
    (pp. X-X)
    (pp. 1-14)

    The Six Dynasties period, third century to late sixth century, an age of disunion and widespread disorder, falls between the Han 漢 and Tang 唐 dynasties, which ruled over the whole of China and which were marked by magnificent achievements in the cultural arts. Drawing a parallel with European history, some have called the period of the Six Dynasties the Dark Ages in China, but the negative associations inherent in that term are misleading, for this was a time of innovation and accomplishment in many areas, cultural, political, social, artistic, and technological.¹

    Because this is a period generally not well...

    (pp. 15-45)

    Relatively little work has been done on urban archaeology in China because so many ancient sites lie beneath modern cities. To unearth them would cause all sorts of problems, not least the uprooting of undreds of residents. Beyond that, the expenditure of time and effort necessary for large-scale projects is simply something that an already overburdened archaeological apparatus can ill afford. Consequently, most of what we know about the cities of the Six Dynasties period comes from surface surveys and partial excavations of an exploratory nature (map 2).

    The semiarid conditions beyond the Daqing 大青 Mountains, north and northwest of...

    (pp. 46-75)

    Architecture in China was extremely conservative. The commitment to the timber-frame building, based on the principle of post-and-lintel structure, and to wood as the primary building material meant that any change was within relatively narrow limits. Still, the Six Dynasties period was an important one in the history of Chinese architecture because of the impact of Buddhism on the native tradition. It was also during this period that certain typical features appeared, such as an increased commitment to wooden structures, a greater emphasis on the roof, a start toward greater depth of eaves, a more complex bracket system, and the...

    (pp. 76-162)

    Chinese archaeology has been described as tomb archaeology because tombs, built underground of stone and brick, have survived far better than the aboveground habitations of the living. The tombs form a complex architectural system of their own, for the most part unrelated to timber-frame architecture. Still, there are interesting resonances of the one in the other. The skills developed in constructing tombs were applied to the brick pagodas discussed earlier. The barrel arches of city gates, which replaced the beam lintels, no doubt also drew on tomb construction. On the other hand, tombs were seen as abodes for the remains...

    (pp. 163-192)

    The various aspects of tomb architecture characteristic of the Six Dynasties period, as might be expected, are mirrored in expanded form in the royal tombs of this period. A full understanding of their development is hampered by the many gaps in the archaeological record, but, as elsewhere, the format of the early royal burials represented a continuation of Han practices, though political and economic crises during the last years of the Han and initial years of the Three Kingdoms period brought on rather abrupt changes.

    The tombs of Han emperors are characterized by large mounds and the accompanying graves of...

    (pp. 193-232)

    Three broad categories of materials are found inside Six Dynasties tombs: (1) tomb furniture, such as coffins, altars, canopies, and tomb records; (2) apotropaic and symbolic objects, such as guardian figures, both human and animal, so-called jade shoats, and crossbow mechanisms, and (3) offerings of objects of quotidian usefulness, either real or especially made for the tomb, the latter including models, to serve the deceased in the afterlife. Despite some overlap, these categories provide a useful framework for discussion. We are fortunate to have recovered so much, even though the ubiquitous robbery of tombs and the decay of organic material...

    (pp. 233-299)

    The natural materials available to potters in the north and south were vastly different, and this difference greatly affected the technologies and products of the two areas.¹ In the north the sedimentary processes drawing on the loess deposits laid down beds of true clay, whereas in the south potters had available to them porcelain stone derived from weathered igneous rock.² The virtue of this porcelain stone was that, when mixed with kaolin (which has very little content to act as a flux) and fired at high temperatures (1,200°C–1,300°C), its sericite component acts as the flux and its feldspar and...

    (pp. 300-311)

    During the Han the customary manner of sitting was on mats (xi席) or cushions (ru褥) placed on the floor, and this practice was extended into the Six Dynasties period, but it is not clear how long it continued. To complicate matters, the older custom left its mark on the language, and many phrases usexibut cannot be taken literally as evidence of the use of mats for this purpose. For example, one finds frequent occurrences ofbu neng an xi不能安席, “unable to rest easily,”jiuxi就席, “to take one’s place,” andcexi惻席, “to keep a...

  14. 9 CLOTHING
    (pp. 312-330)

    Although clothing styles in China changed over the centuries, the changes were conservative.¹ The greatest innovations resulted from the introduction of garments by nomads from the northern steppes and garments brought in by the Silk Road trade. Sun Ji makes the point that the incorporation of foreign peoples into the mainstream Han population, which was characteristic of the Six Dynasties period, resulted in a difference between the clothing of the Sui-Tang period and that of the Han-Wei.² Despite the evidence of the murals and tomb figurines, it is difficult to correlate the visual material with the terminology and descriptions in...

    (pp. 331-338)

    The general impression associated with the Six Dynasties period is one of fragmentation, disorder, and widespread warfare. Under such conditions, one would expect the tomb furnishings of the period to reflect the heightened level of armed conflict, and yet the archaeological excavations have yielded a relatively small amount of military equipment, offensive or defensive. Still, this period featured some important developments that had a significant impact on the way in which warfare was carried out.

    Armor at this time was almost exclusively lamellar, that is, made up of small plates with holes on all four sides that allowed them to...

    (pp. 339-353)

    A large influx of foreign influences in the Six Dynasties period set China on a new course of musical development. The typical orchestra underwent significant changes between the Han and the Tang, moving from an emphasis on clamorous percussion instruments to a lighter sound produced by a mixture of strings, wind instruments, and small drums.¹ Music does not leave behind much in the way of visible remains, and few musical instruments are made of durable materials, but something can nevertheless be said on the subject. Since music was an important part of the good life, it was often featured in the...

    (pp. 354-386)

    The limited nature of the relevant archaeological data makes it difficult to reconstruct urban life in China during the Six Dynasties period; little remains of the cities themselves other than the foundations of city walls and gates. The written sources do not carry us much further because their focus is on the court and the higher echelons of society. TheYezhongji, for example, has many passages on the palace, its furnishings, the gardens and parks, the harem, courtiers, and the workshops at Ye, the capital of Shi Hu (d. 349), ruler of the Later Zhao, but nothing about the city...

    (pp. 387-423)

    It can be argued that the most significant factor in the changes that came about during the Six Dynasties period was the introduction and spread of Buddhism. The religion permeated almost all aspects of society and culture, in material matters as in the realm of thought and religion. There were native traditions to be sure, in which Taoism played a significant part, but Buddhism was by far the more important.¹ The sheer numbers are impressive. In the early sixth century the number of Buddhist establishments in Luoyang alone had more than doubled from some five hundred to over thirteen hundred.²...

    (pp. 424-430)

    How is one to sum up the unfolding of the material culture during the three hundred years of division, endemic warfare, “Buddhist conquest,” dislocation of population on a huge scale, and intrusion of foreign peoples and influences into the heartland? The Six Dynasties period may be considered a tumultous age, its essence captured in the phrasewu hu luan hua, “the Five Barbarians bringing disorder to China,” cited in chapter 1, and yet, from another perspective, one may note an overall continuity in the everyday life of the people, as evinced by the literary record and archaeological remains, with the...

  20. NOTES
    (pp. 431-512)
    (pp. 513-516)
    (pp. 517-584)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 585-611)