Laurence K. Withers
An epic new history of Ancient China told through the prism of a dozen extraordinary tombs
The three millennia up to the establishment of the first imperial Qin dynasty in 221 BC cemented many of the distinctive elements of Chinese civilisation still in place today: an extraordinarily challenging geography and environment, formidable infrastructure, a society based on the strict hierarchy of the family, a shared written script of characters, a cuisine founded on rice and millet, a material culture of ceramics, bronze, silk and jade, and a unique concept of the universe, in which ancestors continue to exist alongside the living. Records of these early achievements, and their diverse and unexpected expressions, often lie not in written history, but in how people marked the end of their lives: their dwellings for the afterlife. Tombs, and the treasures within them, are almost the only artefacts to survive from Ancient China; their scale and sophistication rivals their equivalents in Ancient Egypt.
Jessica Rawson, one of the most eminent Western scholars of China, explores twelve grand tombs - each from a specific historical moment and place - showing how they reveal wider political, dynastic and cultural developments, culminating in the lavish ambition of the First Emperor's monument, guarded by his army of terracotta warriors. Beautifully illustrated and drawing on the latest archaeological discoveries, Life and Afterlife in Ancient China illuminates a constellation of beliefs about life and death very different from our own and provides a remarkable new perspective on one of the oldest civilisations in the world.