Excavating the Afterlife The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion

Guolong Lai

In Excavating the Afterlife, Guolong Lai explores the dialectical relationship between sociopolitical change and mortuary religion from an archaeological perspective. By examining burial structure, grave goods, and religious documents unearthed from groups of well-preserved tombs in southern China, Lai shows that new attitudes toward the dead, resulting from the trauma of violent political struggle and warfare, permanently altered the early Chinese conceptions of this world and the afterlife. The book grounds the important changes in religious beliefs and ritual practices firmly in the sociopolitical transition from the Warring States (ca. 453-221 BCE) to the early empires (3rd century-1st century BCE). 

A methodologically sophisticated synthesis of archaeological, art historical, and textual sources, Excavating the Afterlife will be of interest to art historians, archaeologists, and textual scholars of China, as well as to students of comparative religions.



  • $65.00 cloth, 9780295994499
  • $0.00 ebook
  • 320 pages
  • 81 b/w illus., 14 color plates, 1 map, 7 x 10 in.

about the author

Guolong Lai, Associate Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology, earned his MA in Archaeology and Paleography at Beijing University and PhD in Art History at UCLA. He has worked at the National Museum of Chinese History in Beijing and the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, and received a Pre-doctoral Fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and Postdoctoral Fellowships in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University and at Stanford University.

His research interests include early Chinese art and archaeology, Chinese paleography, museology, collecting history and provenance studies, and historic conservation in modern China, and has published widely in both English and Chinese.

He is the editor of Collectors, Collections and Collecting the Arts of China: Histories and Challenges (2013), and co-author of the exhibition catalogues Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor & His Legacy (2011) and A Bronze Menagerie: Mat Weights of Early China (2006).

His many recent awards include a ACLS/CCK’s Comparative Perspectives on Chinese Culture and Society Grant in 2015, a Smithsonian Institution Freer/Sackler Library Travel Grant in 2013, and a ACLS/ Henry Luce Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in East and Southeast Asian Archaeology and Early History in 2011. He was also awarded membership in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for 2014-15.