Worldmaking for the Afterlife: The Case of the Fangmatan Diagrams – Asia in Depth Seminar
Presented by Professor Michelle H. Wang (Reed College)
In April 1986, archaeologists discovered seven “maps” on four wooden boards dating to the third century BCE from a tomb at the site of Fangmatan in the modern-day city of Tianshui, Gansu Province in northwestern China. While it is possible to derive the loose geographical contours of the region depicted in the drawings, they do not fulfill the cartographic requirements often ascribed to normative maps. Rather than measuring the drawings’ formal attributes against a set of anachronistic cartographic standards, this talk reconstructs their production processes to derive their functions. One of these functions is indeed mapping but done according to a different set of expectations for what matters in relationships between topographical elements for the dead. Additionally, the drawings do not narrowly represent a pre-existing place above ground but rather make an entire world in the afterlife that is modeled after the natural laws in the land of the living.