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A Chinese Cong

Sacred Works of Art

The object in the photo is a Cong, which was used in Chinese burial rituals dating back to the Neolithic period. The piece is usually, as in this case, a piece of jade hollowed out in a tube or circular pattern on the inside and a rectangular shape on the exterior. “The circle comes close to the edges of the squared enclosure. Seen from above, the view of a Cong is that of a circle-in-a-square, or a mandala.” Often found in the burial sites of royalty and nobility, the mandala-based objects provided symbolic representation of the cosmic unity of heaven and earth or spirit and matter. “If only the earth was being symbolized, one would expect only a square or rectangular shape. But there is a circular space of emptiness inside the squared exterior. It seems clear that Matter & Spirit are being visualized as one, much like Shiva & Shakti are visualized as one in the Shiva Linga Yoni of India.”

Cong were placed in tombs near the body and in some cases were narrowed at the bottom suggesting they were placed upright into the ground. This particular Cong is approximately 18” in height and 4” on each side of the square.

Burying objects with the deceased is a ritual custom that is close to being universal human behavior. To correspond with the belief that the dead are in transition to another place, cultures include in the burial space food objects, weapons (for defense), means of transportation, valuables or what constitutes money to insure that the deceased are provided for in the afterlife. In contemporary American culture, special clothes are selected and attention is given to the grooming of the deceased, all of which suggest that death transpires into another stage of existence and should go into that realm with every advantage.

The sacred art objects shown in these publications come from the collection of over 200 works donated to the Graduate Theological Union by the Lanier Graham family and the Institute for Aesthetic Development in 2014-2015. The collection represents most of the world religious traditions including tribal or indigenous art. The GTU intends to photograph and curate this collection as an online resource accessible by the public. In coming editions of The Interfaith Observer, at least one object will be introduced.