To Turn Soybeans into Gold: a Case Study of Mortuary Documents from Ancient China

in Bamboo and Silk
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The Eastern Han period tomb-quelling text of Zhang Shujing 張叔敬, which dates to 173 CE, confirms that living people believed the dead could use soybeans and melon seeds (huangdou guazi 黃豆瓜子) to pay taxes in the underworld. The knowledge of this only came to light with the discovery of the tablet Taiyuan Has a Dead Man (*Taiyuan you sizhe 泰原有死者), which reveals a previously unknown Qin-Han belief that the dead regarded soybeans as gold. I suggest a direct association between the above two beliefs: soybeans and melon seeds were used as substitutes for small natural gold nuggets to pay taxes in the underworld because of their resemblance in shape and color. Furthermore, a huge quantity of painted clay balls shaped like large soybeans (dashu 大菽) are recorded in the Mawangdui 馬王堆 tomb inventories (qiance 遣策), which indirectly supports this interpretation.

To Turn Soybeans into Gold: a Case Study of Mortuary Documents from Ancient China

in Bamboo and Silk

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