The Meaning of Birds on Hunping (Spirit Jars): The Religious Imagination of Second to Fourth century Jiangnan

  • Keith Nathaniel Knapp The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina
Keywords: hunping (spirit jars), wulianguan (five-linked jars), bird-fields, grain-gods, Mt. Kunlun

Abstract

More than 200 heavily decorated jars with five mouths, which are commonly known as hunping and date from the second to the early fourth centuries, have been excavated from tombs in Jiangnan. Remarkably, each of these vessels is unique in appearance. One of their most notable features is that they are adorned with figures of many animals. Of these, the most numerous are birds. This paper endeavours to discover why artisans put so many birds on these vessels. Although many analysts believe the birds are the souls of the departed flying to the heavens, that does not explain why there are so many. This paper contends that the answer lies in local Jiangnan legends and beliefs, in which sparrows stole rice from Heaven and introduced its cultivation to humans. Birds thereby were seen as grain and fertility gods and thus emblems of good fortune for both the dead and the living.

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Published
2019-06-28
How to Cite
Knapp, K. N. (2019). The Meaning of Birds on Hunping (Spirit Jars): The Religious Imagination of Second to Fourth century Jiangnan. Asian Studies, 7(2), 153-172. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2019.7.2.153-172