The Art of Life: Mawangdui Han Tombs
Biocentric Art
3rd century BCE
Hunan Province, China

Dating to the third century BCE, the Mawangdui tombs are among the most important archaeological findings of the twentieth century. Bearing similarity to Egyptian pyramids, the sophisticated underground structure of the Mawangdui indicates the early Chinese understanding of life and its relationship to the outer cosmos.


The Mawangdui tombs contain the world’s oldest well-preserved human body that is un-mummified. They also epitomize the extravagant funerary practices and imagination of the afterlife in early China.

In collaboration with Hunan Museum, which houses all of the archeological finds of the Mawangdui tombs, the CAMLab team aims to bring new insights to the design principles of the tomb. Our research uncovered that the Mawangdui tombs were modeled as a microcosm, decorated with a lavish visual program that mapped the transformation process of the afterlife. The four-chamber layout of the underground tomb corresponds to the eternal cycles of the four seasons. The artifacts found in the chambers stage a numinous ritual program, which follows the cosmic rhythm of the yin-yang (two cosmic energies) circulation. The nested sarcophagi containing the deceased body narrate the stages of transformation from the mundane body into immortality; the silk banner above the deceased mapped out an ascending journey into timeless heaven, where the spirit would unite with cosmic forces.


This project explores new exhibition prototypes for demonstrating the sophisticated art of life in the Mawangdui tombs. Harnessing emerging media technologies, the team is developing a multi-space, multimedia exhibition; this exhibition integrates immersive theater and digital installation to reveal to the modern audiences the imagination and philosophy of life encapsulated by the Mawangdui tombs.