Author's Final Manuscript
The important late fifth- or early sixth-century brick tomb at Xuezhuang in Dengxian (Henan) features a brick form at the rear wall, which remained mysterious until it has recently been shown to represent a Buddhist pagoda. This discovery sheds light on the purpose of the burial chamber, featuring the novel combination of vaulted ceiling, colonnade, and pagoda, as simulating an Indian-derived Buddhist temple (caitya). To reinforce this Buddhist context, the burial chamber simultaneously imitates the structure of a Buddhist votive stele (zaoxiangbei 造像碑), in which various Buddhist images, including the Buddha and bodhisattvas, apsaras, worshippers, and guardians, are carefully organized. The Xuezhuang tomb thus merges Buddhist structures with the traditional Chinese funerary structure, representing an entirely new manner in which funerary art and Buddhist art interacted with one another in early medieval China. While in earlier times Buddhist elements were subject to the unilaterally dominant funerary context, in the fifth to sixth centuries, as the importance of a specifically Buddhist context increased, the tomb occupant, whose coffin lay right before the pagoda, became an integral part of a simulated Buddhist structure as a worshipper symbolically poised to worship the pagoda or attend the “dead” Buddha in the concealed Buddhist “temple” that was the tomb.
Shi, Jie. 2014. "To Die with the Buddha: The Brick Pagoda and Its Role in the Xuezhuang Tomb in Early Medieval China." T’oung Pao 100.4/5: 363-403.