National Geographic : 2010 Jan
• from 157 to 141 . ., has yielded an amazing array of spirit goods designed to reflect the needs of everyday life: reproductions of pigs, sheep, dogs, chariots, spades, saws, adzes, chis- els, stoves, measuring devices. ere are even o cial chops, or ink stamps, to be used by neth- erworld bureaucrats. In a culture as rich and ancient as China's, the line from past to present is never perfectly straight, and countless in uences have shaped and shifted the Chinese view of the afterlife. Some Taoist philosophers didn't believe in life after death, but Buddhism, which began to in uence Chinese thought in the second century . ., introduced concepts of rebirth a er death. Ideas of eternal reward and punishment also l- tered in from Buddhism and Christianity. Yet many elements of early cultures such as the Shang and the Zhou remained recognizable across the millennia. e Chinese continued to worship their ancestors, and they continued to imagine the a erlife in material and bureau- cratic terms. Near-death experiences gave rise to popular legends about how some low-level clerk in the netherworld miswrote a name on a ledger of the dead, nearly cutting a life short before the mistake was discovered. David Keightley told me that the traditional Chinese view of death impressed him as op- timistic. ere's no concept of original sin, so entering the a erlife doesn't require a radical change. e world isn't fatally awed; it provides a perfectly adequate model for the next stage. "In the West, it's all about rebirth, redemption, salvation," he said. "In the Chinese tradition, you die, but you remain what you are." Keightley believes that such ideas contributed to the stability of Chinese society. "Cultures that engage in ancestor worship are going to be conser vative cultures," he said. "You're not going to nd new things attractive, because that will be a challenge to the ancestors." ' are anything but conservative, and they are hard on the dead. Cemeteries are o en destroyed by building proj- ects, and many rural Chinese have migrated to cities, making it impossible to return home for Qingming. Some try alternative forms of grave care---there are websites that allow descendants to tend "virtual tombs." But it's di cult to think about the past in a fast-changing country, and many traditions simply fade away. Each year in Spring Valley it seems that fewer people turn out to celebrate Qingming. Yet the holiday survives, and some elements still recall ancient rituals. Village graves are organized with bureaucratic precision, each generation in its own row. Material concerns remain impor- tant: cigarettes, alcohol, and grave money for the dead. Perhaps someday even these tradi- tions will be abandoned, but for now they still Wooden attendants stood watch in a Zhou king's tomb in Liangdai centuries before the terra-cotta army was created. Today mourners burn paper effigies (right) to ensure that relationships live on after death.