My paper focuses on Xie Huilian’s “Liturgy for Sacrifice to the Ancient Tomb” (hereafter, the Liturgy), which was intended to address the spirits of an unmarked tomb unexpectedly excavated during the construction of a moat at the capital area. The coffins must be relocated for the construction project, so the Liturgy serves to communicate this to coffins’ spirits. I am interested in examining the problem of ritual efficacy in the Southern Dynasties, a time of upheaval in which doubt and debate surrounded questions about ritual continuity and legitimate cultural legacy.
I situate this Liturgy in a broader debate, as seen in the Liu Song court, about whether sacrificial songs are supposed to summon spirits, and whether the southlands’ ritual practices bear a proper relationship to the heartland’s old norms. The Liturgy itself is suited for an inquiry into doubts about ritual practice, since the situation it commemorates is fraught with uncertainty. The unmarked tomb supplies no name for its occupants, so how must they be addressed? What texts should be cited to lend the liturgy credibility and power?
The fact that the liturgical song is accompanied by a preface allows us to further compare the ritualized reality presented by the liturgy with the world seemingly emptied of spirits given by the preface, which describes the tomb with the rigorous attention of an archaeologist’s excavation report. By comparing these two descriptions, we see the passage and conversion between two terms put forth by the text: ming 冥 and ming 明.