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Incense Burners in the Rituals of the Koryŏ Dynasty as Described in a 12th-Century Chinese Source, Gaoli tujing 高麗圖經 article

Yongjin Lee

Journal of Asian History, Volume 57 (2023), Issue 1-2, Page 117 - 140

This study examines the design of two incense burners closely related to the rituals of the royal house of the Koryŏ dynasty that are referred to in the Gaoli tujing, a Chinese record of Koryŏ, written in the 12th century. The first of these incense burners is decorated with a motif called “baby animal with its mother” that was used both in garye 嘉禮 (rites conducted for royal weddings and other congratulatory rites) and binrye 賓禮 (rites conducted when receiving foreign envoys). The second one is what is called a ding-shaped incense burner, which was used in royal garye and gilrye rites. The article also explores the presumed former appearance of the incense burner following a tentative reconstruction of them and discusses the rituals for which they were used.

The findings reveal that the ding-shaped incense burner referred to in the Gaoli tujing was a Chinese cauldron of the ding 鼎 type, which is characterized by three legs and two ears. However, in his description, Xu Jing 徐兢 (1091–1153) – a high official of the Song court – only mentioned its three legs and supporting dish but not its two ears, which seems to imply that the vessel whose form he described might have been adapted to conform with a Koryŏ sense of style. On the other hand, the use of the motif baby animal with its mother as decorationon an incense burner’s lid is considered typical for Koryŏ-style iconography, as confirmedby an extant celadon kettle decorated with a different baby-animal-with-its-mothermotif that is datable to the Koryŏ dynasty. According to Xu Jing, these two incense burners were specifically used for royal and religious rituals, respectively. These findings contribute to the existing literature on the different types of incense burners used in ancient China and Koryŏ and the rituals for which they were used.

Keywords: incense burner, Koryŏ dynasty, Koryŏsa, Gaoli tujing, Xu Jing, rituals of the Koryŏ dynasty

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