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The Southwest: A Study of Regional Identity in Material Culture and Textual Sources during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 C.E.)



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Elias, Hajnalka Pejsue  ORCID logo


This dissertation studies examples of social and cultural memory and identity manifested in the art of the southwest, present-day Sichuan province, during the Eastern Han dynasty. Through the study of the southwest’s material culture, considered special for its distinct artistic style and content by scholars in the field of Chinese art, combined with analysis of early textual sources, it highlights a number of important findings associated with the region’s social make-up, economic activities, burial practices, education and governance, all of which contributed to the formation of a distinct regional identity. The southwest’s geographical isolation and its great distance from the Central Plains; the difficulties and dangers of road and river transport from all directions; its multi-ethnic make-up and the engrained cultural prejudice from the north, especially from the capital’s governing elite and literati, were all factors that contributed to a sense of regional separation that manifested itself in a distinct material culture and is hinted at in early textual sources. The main sources of material culture examined in the dissertation are pictorial brick tiles and stone reliefs discovered in stone and brick chamber tombs; decorated stone sarcophagi placed in the region’s cliff tombs; and commemorative and ancestral stelae erected for the governors of Shu and Ba commanderies. In its methodology, the dissertation employs Western theories on social and cultural memory and identity. It also bridges two fields of study, cultural and art history, which are often pursued separately due to their distinct specialisations. The dissertation’s findings aim to contribute to our knowledge of the southwest and to the study of regional identity in early imperial China.





Sterckx, Roel


Southwest, Eastern Han Dynasty, Material Culture, Regional Identity, Stelae


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge