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E version Wu Hung, The Invisible Miniature Framing the Soul in Chinese Art and Architecture

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  © Association of Art Historians 2015 287 The Invisible Miniature:Framing the Soul in Chinese Art and Architecture Wu Hung  The hun  [ethereal soul] told the  po  [substantive soul]: ‘Those who have attained the Way have forms that cannot be seen and names that cannot be proclaimed. You have a form and a name. How can you attain the Way?’ The  po  responded: ‘What use are such [empty] words? I shall return to my srcin.’ The  po  turned around to look at the hun , but the hun  had disappeared. The  po  then turned back to get a grip on itself, but it had already entered the formless. 1  This fascinating conversation comes from The Masters of    Huainan ( Huainanzi ), a second-century BCE philosophical text compiled under the Western Han prince Liu An ( c . 179–122 BCE). The two fictional conversationalists are the dual souls of a person. According to a theory articulated by Confucian ritualists around the fourth century BCE, every person possesses two souls, the hun  and the  po , which are normally united within the human body but that separate when death occurs. 2   The ethereal hun  would fly away while the heavier  po  would stay in the grave. The conversation seems to take place at the exact moment of such separation, when the two souls take different paths on their posthumous journey. The hun  embraces the Way in Heaven; the  po  descends to the land of darkness. Although the  po  stays with the deceased and thus has ‘a form and a name’ from the hun ’s point of view, the  po  is no longer attached to the physical body and has acquired a semi-autonomous, immaterial subjectivity. There are different opinions about the impact of this dual-soul theory on ritual practices. Some scholars link it to ancestral sacrifices held in temples and tombs, with the hun associated with the former and the  po  associated with the latter. 3   Others notice that the graphs hun  and  po  are not clearly distinguished in funerary inscriptions and often form a compound word to denote the posthumous soul in general. 4   The references cited in all these studies, however, assume that as the disembodied spirit of the dead, the soul is formless. Such an elusive subject hardly seems suitable for art-historical inquiry, which has the self-professed goal of analysing concrete images and objects. This essay suggests, however, that unless we take the invisible soul into account, we cannot understand countless miniature forms created in the course of Chinese art history.   An overwhelming portion of these forms, including objects, sculptures, and architecture, were prepared for the dead, functioning symbolically to facilitate the soul’s movement, construct spaces as the soul’s resting places, and provide the soul with nourishment and services in the afterlife. Whereas this functional approach remains the interpretative basis for this study, my goal is to Detail of figurines representing musicians from Mawangdui Tomb 1, Western Han dynasty, early-second century BCE (  plate 9 ). DOI: 10.1111/1467-8365.12150Art History | ISSN 0141-679038 | 2 | April 2015 | pages 286-303  © Association of Art Historians 2015 288 Framing the Soul in Chinese Art and Architecture1 Pillow, Song dynasty (eleventh–twelfth century CE). Ceramic, 22.9 (length) × 18.4 (width) × 13.6 (height) cm. Shanghai: Shanghai Art Museum. Photo: Courtesy of the Shanghai Art Museum. come to terms with why these manufactured forms were so diminutive. Claude Lévi-Strauss believed that miniaturization inevitably entails a degree of abstraction and conceptualization – that ‘it compensates for the renunciation of sensible dimensions by the acquisition of intelligible dimensions’. 5   Indeed, one can argue that the miniature forms constructed in Chinese tombs have no independent value because they all signify, frame, and allude to the soul as the essence of the human subject, an ‘invisible miniature’ inhabiting these underground ritual spaces. Passage as a Means of Miniaturization Stories of miniatures, not just in China but worldwide, often involve an imagined process of shrinking, in which a subject or object is reduced in size without altering its intrinsic appearance and proportions. As a magical happening, such transformation provides a useful means to frame a fictional space and to initiate a fantastic journey. In  Alice in Wonderland  – to use a familiar example – Alice’s diminished proportions allow her to pass through a little door and a narrow passageway, reaching the miniature world beyond. A similar episode opens the classical Chinese tale ‘A Story Inside a Pillow’ (‘Zhenzhong ji’, more commonly known in English as ‘The Magic Pillow’). 6   In the story, a Taoist immortal teaches a young scholar a lesson about the meaninglessness of worldly glory by offering him a magic pillow. ‘The pillow was made of green porcelain’, the tale goes, ‘and had an opening at each end. The scholar bent his head toward it [to take a nap] and as he did so the opening grew larger and brighter, so that he was able to enter it.’ What happened next was that he found himself in his old home where he married a beautiful woman, passed the state examinations, and demonstrated his extraordinary talent both as a civil administrator and as an army general. He then suffered great misfortune after being framed by jealous rivals. Although he eventually regained his position, he had reached the end of his life. His death brought him back to the human world. As the story goes: ‘He woke up with a start and found himself lying as before in the roadside inn, with the Taoist sitting by his side and the millet that his host was cooking still not yet done. Everything was as it had been before he dozed off.’ The moral lesson of the tale, that worldly glory is as transient and illusionary as a dream, is an old one. Of interest here are the little holes on the pillow, which connect yet separate realms of different temporal and spatial orders. Many ceramic pillows from the Tang, Song, and Jin dynasties (seventh–thirteenth centuries) have survived. Some of them have round holes on the narrow ends. Others transform such rudimentary openings into gates and doorways. An elegant example of this latter kind, most likely made for a deceased subject, has a smooth, slightly curved headrest atop a miniature house, whose windows are shut but whose front door is half open (  plate 1 ). 7   A flight of steps leads up to the door. There an attendant seems to have just opened the door, as if welcoming someone inside. Informed by tales like ‘A Story Inside a Pillow’, we assume that this ‘someone’ is the sleeper who has his head resting on the pillow. But how could he enter the tiny door and roam inside the small house? To do so he would have to shrink in size to match the miniature attendant. The author of  Alice in Wonderland  takes care to tell readers that Alice could get through her tiny door because she had shrunk to a mere ten inches after drinking a mysterious liquid with the ‘mixed flavour of  © Association of Art Historians 2015 289 Wu Hung  2 Front side of stone sarcophagus, Eastern Han dynasty (late second century CE). Ink rubbing, 81.5 × 310 cm. Yingjing, Sichuan: Yingjing Museum. Photo: Courtesy of the Yingjing Museum. cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast’. ‘A Story Inside a Pillow’ contains no such transformation; the author feels no need to explain how the scholar could enter the pillow through a tiny hole.Such a narrative leap would not have bothered readers in traditional China, however, because they would have instantly understood that what enters the pillow is not the scholar’s body, but his disembodied soul. From the second century BCE onward, numerous literary and philosophical texts explain dreams as the soul’s experiences when it wanders outside the inert body. A poem in the Songs of the South  ( Chu ci ) first links dream with the soul’s aerial journey: ‘Once I dreamt that I climbed up to the heavens,/But when my soul had reached half-way, it could go no father’. 8   In his Critical Essays  ( Lun heng ), Wang Chong (27 CE–  c . 100 CE) cites a popular belief that when someone dreams of a god, it is because his soul has ascended to Heaven. 9   In the same book, Wang likens dreaming to being in a coma and connects both to death:Men’s death is like dreaming, and dreaming comes next to having a coma, which resembles death. A person dies if he does not wake up from a coma. If he awakes, he returns from death as though having had a dream. Thus dreaming, falling into a coma, and death are essentially the same. 10   These two sets of associations, one connecting dream with the soul’s journey, the other linking dream and death, became intertwined, enabling people to use similar visual and architectonic tropes in representing dream and death. Like the perforated ceramic pillows of the Tang and Song, many jar-shaped pottery coffins from prehistoric cemeteries are drilled with circular openings on their walls or bottoms. 11   Citing ethnographical evidence, archaeologists have interpreted such holes as passages that would allow the soul of the dead to move in and out. 12   Likewise, the ‘half-open door’ image on the Song pillow (see  plate 1 ) can be seen on stone sarcophagi created hundreds of years earlier. A second-century CE sarcophagus from Yingjing, Sichuan, for example, has a long side that resembles the façade of a building centred on a half-open door, with a female attendant standing on the threshold (  plate 2 ). Holding the closed leaf, she seems to be about to open it for the departed soul, welcoming him to the secret world inside the sarcophagus. The designer has ingeniously transformed the stone surface into a transparent plane, revealing an interior space behind the façade. There, in a curtained bay between two thick posts, the divine Queen Mother of the West sits facing front, as if waiting for a visitor, whereas in another bay, a couple  © Association of Art Historians 2015 290 Framing the Soul in Chinese Art and Architecture3 Top of Dou Wan’s head from Mancheng Tomb 2, Western Han dynasty (104 BCE).  Jade, 172 cm (length of the entire body including head). Mancheng, Hebei: Hebei Provincial Museum. Photo:  Wu Hung. is absorbed in the intimate act of embracing and kissing. Without a hint of tragic sentiment, these images redefine death as the soul’s tantalizing new experiences. A fascinating assemblage of Han dynasty mortuary equipment includes a coffin, a ‘jade suit’, and a pillow, further blurring the boundary between death and dream. A jade suit is tailored for a deceased member of the royal family. Enveloping the corpse with an armour-like shroud consisting of hundreds of pieces of hard jade, it turns a body of flesh into a jade figure uninfluenced by time. 13   There are different designs for such suits: some are modelled like sculptured mannequins while others are equipped with jade eyes and mouths. A shared feature, however, is a jade bi -disk inserted on top of the jade head, with a round hole in the middle for the passage of the soul (  plate 3 ). The jade figure illustrated here belonged to Dou Wan, a princely consort who died toward the end of the second century BCE. When the figure was discovered in Mancheng Tomb 2 in Hebei, its head was resting on a jade pillow with a bi -disk engraved on the front of the pillow, echoing the bi  on top of the figure’s head. Twenty-six jade bi  further embellished Dou Wan’s coffin, creating a complete series of passages. The bi -disk was also used in combination with the ‘door’ image to construct passages for the soul. This is how an extraordinary pillow from Houlouhsan Tomb 1, Jiangsu, dating also from the second century BCE, integrates bi -disks and a door in its decorative program (  plate 4 ). 14   Measuring 37.1 cm long, 16 cm wide, and 11.4 cm high, this rectangular pillow encases a wooden box within a gilt bronze frame, with a jade bi -disk decorating each of the narrow ends. The front of the pillow is shaped like a house, whose miniature door recalls similar entryways on the Yingjing sarcophagus and the Song ceramic pillow, both later in date (see  plate 1 and  plate 2 ). Significantly, these coffins and pillows use interchangeable designs, thereby substantiating Wang Chong’s argument about the sameness of dream and death. In all these cases, the presence of the soul is implied, not depicted. The tiny holes and miniature doors allude to its shrunken form and malleability, but the soul itself remains invisible and shapeless. Similarly, ancient Chinese writers never describe the soul in anthropomorphic terms. According to a number of modern scholars, the term ‘  po ’ srcinally referred to the periodic waxing and waning of the moon’s ‘white light’. 15   More frequently, the soul, especially the hun , is imagined as a kind of
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