College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Ancient Chinese Emperors’ Lives Before and After Death

China was ruled by imperial dynasties for thousands of years, with the rights of sovereignty went to the emperors, or in a certain period of the Qing Dynasty, an empress. They had absolute power over, and an enormous influence on, everyone under their reigns. Closest to the emperors were the courtiers who provided assistance in governing their territories, therefore studying the interactions between the emperors and the courtiers may offer hints into the progression of history.

Yet, the supremacy of the emperors cannot last forever, as every person would eventually die. Their will to keep the power led to the pursuit of eternal life (but no one had ever realised) or an afterlife utopia. Their tombs, as well as the inscriptions on the tomb wall and grave goods, provide historians and archeologists another pathway for understanding their philosophy on life and death. 

To share discoveries in the study of these interesting aspects, and provide different perspectives on teaching Chinese history, the Department of Chinese and History recently co-organised a series of two talks themed “The Life and Afterlife of Emperors” with the Curriculum Development Institute (the Personal, Social and Humanities Education section) of Hong Kong’s Education Bureau.

The first talk on 29 May 2019 investigated the rewards which the emperors in the Tang Dynasty granted to courtiers. These include paintings of Zhong Kui (a Chinese deity which regarded as a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings) and medications. By looking into the memorials that express gratitude and some Tang poems, the speaker Dr FAN Ka-wai explained the meaning behind granting rewards. He also went through the medication culture in the Tang Dynasty. 

Passionate about archeology and cultural heritage, the speaker Mr LI Guo examined some pre-historic or early graves and tombs during the second talk on 11 June 2019. Examples include ruins of tombs, altars and sacred buildings of the Hongshan Culture, the tombs of Shang emperors, the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor and more. He also showed examples in Egypt (the Pyramids of Giza) and in South America as a comparison. From the special features of these tombs, he discussed the emperors’ perceptions of the “life” after death and the implications behind.

The talk series is supported by Tin Ka Ping Foundation and targeted secondary school teachers.