Lost Graves and Recycled Mourning Sheds: How the Late Koryŏ Elite Took the Drama Out of Afterlife

Lost Graves and Recycled Mourning Sheds: How the Late Koryŏ Elite Took the Drama Out of Afterlife

Juhn Ahn - Associate Professor of Buddhist and Korean Studies, University of Michigan

Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
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Almost three decades ago, the desecration of a pair of graves near the border with North Korea led to discovery of the “lost” grave of assistant chancellor Kwŏn Chun (1281-1352). What Kwŏn’s elegantly decorated grave revealed was a world where the elite used their wealth to infuse the afterlife with a sense of individual drama. But this world, like Kwŏn’s grave and the monastery that guarded it, was lost. It was replaced by a world regulated strictly by standardized ritual where the ancestors of families of equal social standing occupied the same, indistinguishable postmortem space. In this new world of standardized family rituals it made more sense to follow the example of assistant chancellor Yun T’aek (1289-1370) who deemed it appropriate to honor his ancestors in a recycled mourning shed. This lecture will explain the historical conditions that led to this transformation.


Juhn Ahn is associate professor of Buddhist and Korean Studies and author of Buddhas and Ancestors: Religion and Wealth in Fourteenth-Century Korea (University of Washington Press, 2018). His present research interests include the history of the Koryŏ economy, reading habits in Song dynasty Chan Buddhism, and the cultural history of weather and wealth during the Chosŏn Period.

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