Ancient Chinese tombs bore testimony to the fact and the belief of the Chinese that life existed after death. It was the obsession with an afterlife that tombs were built in the memory of the dead. It was believed that death was a continuation of life and tombs had objects like weapons, personal ornaments and ritual vessels that the dead could perhaps require in their afterlives.

Ancient Chinese Tombs


Palace for afterlife

Ancient Chinese tombs came up during the reign of the various Chinese dynasties and the mausoleum of the emperor was supposed to be a palace in his afterlife replete with servants, pets, wives, objects, concubines, and guardians. This was thought to be possible if all the things used by the emperor were buried along with him.

Ancient Chinese philosophy harped on the fact that death was life and to achieve the end, living people were killed and buried with their masters. This practice was done away with later on by subsequent Chinese dynasties when clay models of servants were buried. Archeologists and Chinese historians have found out that the first tomb was erected sometime in 4 BC. Small tombs were erected to enable members of the family to worship their ancestors.

It was believed that deceased family members could impact the future of the living and to ensure their wellbeing, elaborate tombs were created depending on the social strata the families belonged to. The pathways to the ancient Chinese tombs were guarded with clay models of soldiers, animals and imaginary chimeras facing each other. Among the most notable tombs unearthed in China during excavations, date back to the Han and the Quanling dynasties.

Qin dynasty tomb

In the city of Xiang, archaeologists stumbled upon a terracotta figure of a warrior dating back to the Qin dynasty which reigned from 246 BC to 210 BC. By that time, human sacrifices were discontinued and instead, 6000 models of soldiers were created solely for the purpose of burying them with the emperor to protect him in his afterlife. It involved months of preparation as it was found that they were kept in underground vaults during excavations.

Some of the ancient Chinese tombs were elaborate as they had to contain the entire infantry including wooden chariots, cavalrymen and horses. They also included a retinue of servants and confidantes of the emperors, recreated with clay to ensure they lived similar lives after death in ancient Chinese tombs.