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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Burying Uncared-for Corpses in Ancient China

Vol. 24 No. 3   12/1994  


Burying Uncared-for Corpses in Ancient China


Li Chien-ming









Key words

Chou li, Burying Uncared-for Corpses, soul


      This paper discusses the practice of “burying uncared-for corpses” (yen-tzu) in ancient China and the concept of soul implied in th is practice. Warfare, natural disasters (mainly floods), death away from home, grave robbing, and disease led to the appearance of neglected corpses. Though the practice of “burying uncared-for corpses” aimed at philanthropic relief and epidemic prevention, it was also motivated by the religious belief that abandoned corpses could be harmful. This religious belief depicted the soul as a kind of physical entity with consciousness and feeling. Thus, the burial of corpses provided a consolation for these wandering souls. In addition to the dualistic concept of the soul and the theory of “ch’i” prevalent in Ch’in and Han China, this aspect of the soul as a physical entity deserves more attention so as to form a more comprehensive understanding of the concept of the soul in ancient china.



Author: Li Chien-ming
Genre: Article
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