Ma Wang Dui and the Fei-I
In 1974, archeologists uncovered a site of ancient tombs that we later realized would become very significant to our knowledge of Chinese Art history. The tombs lie in the suburbs of eastern Changsha and there were a total of three tombs uncovered; however the tomb of whom we later realized was Lady Dai became the most important. Lady Dai died from several various illnesses including arthritis, bile stones, and most likely heart failure. She was about fifty years old and a mother when she passed away. In here tomb, archeologists discovered markings saying she was wife to a Marquis of Tai, Li Ts'ang who was a chancellor to the Prince of Ch'ang-sha. Her real name was Hsin-chui she lived most likely between 193 and 177 B.C. She was buried with over one thousand various goods as well as her husband and a figure whom we believe to be her child. The tombs were all similar but lady Dai's was the largest and most carefully structured. The tomb had a rectangular shaft hollowed out of the earth leading down to a set of five coffins each carefully serving their purpose to preserve and protect lady Dai.2 The outer coffin stood above the ground and was surrounded by a layer of charcoal then by a layer of white clay. The two completely insulated the coffins to protect them from air and humidity. This caused the coffins so stay preserved as well as their contents. The central coffin contained four nested coffins: the first one consisting of a kind of crate and painted black; the second was decorated with mythological figures and animals; the third was decorated with various colors and augury symbols; the fourth and last coffin was uncovered to find a perfectly preserved woman. The body was laid down on its back, covered with twenty silks and feathers, and tied with ribbons. The body was still intact with the original organs, muscles, and skin including red blood still in the veins at 2100 years old.2 On the inside of the lid, archeologists found what we now know to be one of the most important artifacts of Chinese art. It was called the fei-I. This fei-I was most likely believed to mean "flying garment". Interestingly enough, it is said that the shape of the fei-I represents a robe because of being cut out like a T. It is believed that the fei-I was as well preserved as everything else because the colors were made from different minerals such as cinnabar, azurite, and possibly malachite. These minerals kept the colors from fading. 1
The top of the fei-I looks as if it were hung from something and used as a banner. It is believed that they used it as a funerary prop along with the coffin. These banners were sometimes called, "banners to call home the souls". The purpose was to guide the souls through their journey. This was believed because the Chinese see the body as having two souls, the yin and the yang souls. At death, it is said that the two souls separate to travel their own paths and then later reunite.1
The fei-I is divided into three major realm, the first being the aquatic. Some also say this section is the subterranean or the netherworld section. The second realm is generally called the middle or earth. This section is also divided into two subsections, the upper and lower earth. The last and third section is called the spirit or celestial realm.
Starting from the bottom in the aquatic realm and working our way to the top or spirit realm, we first see two fish. These fish also represent the water element.3 These fish are intertwined, forming a circle, and are of two different colors. Their tails form a ring because the two souls have not separated at this point. This is where is souls have to start their journey. It is mentioned that this is the deepest, darkest section of the aquatic realm. Directly to the left and right of the interlocking fish are two creatures said to be sprites. These two figures are unique and represent a fare well or goodbye to the souls as they begin there...
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