Skulls have been associated with death, the afterlife, and even the occult for centuries, but in China, the presence of skulls is illegal. To the average person, this might seem like an odd law, but exploring the history behind it reveals a unique story about Chinese culture. For centuries, Chinese people have been wary of the power of skulls. They believed that the souls of the deceased were still connected to the physical remains and that, if disturbed, these souls could cause harm to the living. As a result, the Chinese government instituted a ban on the display of skulls in public spaces and even the private collection of skulls has been subject to scrutiny. This law was meant to protect the living from any potential supernatural consequences, but it has also created a context in which the Chinese people are able to interact with the remains of their ancestors in a respectful and mindful manner. By understanding the history behind why skulls are banned in China, we can gain a better appreciation for the culture and the laws that protect it.
Why Are Skulls Banned In China?
Potential to Offend Religious Groups
As we have mentioned, skulls are often associated with death and the afterlife. However, this imagery is also common in many religions and cultures. For example, the skull and crossbones is a popular symbol for pirates, but it is also key symbol in the Christian religion. The symbol of the skull and crossbones is meant to represent the transformation of death into the afterlife. The imagery and rituals associated with this symbol are deeply rooted in the history of Christianity. Thus, many Chinese citizens are Christians and may be offended by the government’s ban on skulls. Given that the government does not want to upset any religious groups or risk public outcry, it is better to just ban the imagery associated with death completely.
Another reason why skulls are banned in China has to do with the superstitious beliefs associated with the imagery. Many Chinese citizens believe that the imagery of skulls, especially if displayed publicly, will bring bad luck. Given that many Chinese people are superstitious, this belief could cause worry and fear. Thus, the government does not want to bring any bad luck upon the citizens by allowing the imagery of skulls to be displayed in public. Instead, the government wants to promote positive, good fortune. This desire to promote good fortune is actually common in many cultures. In many countries, images of pigs, which are associated with laziness and gluttony, are banned because they are meant to bring bad luck. The government also bans pigs because it wants to promote success and fortune. Skulls are also banned in other countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, because of the negative connotations associated with the imagery.
Encouragement of Violence
Another reason why skulls are banned in China has to do with the violence associated with the imagery. Many Chinese citizens associate skulls with death and murder, which could cause an increase in violent crimes. Thus, the government does not want to risk further violence by allowing skulls to be displayed in public. Instead, the government wants to promote a safe and peaceful country for its citizens. Some Chinese citizens also believe that wearing a necklace or bracelet with a skull will give them the power and courage to fight. This could lead to an increase in violence and an undesirable society for the government. Thus, the government bans the imagery of skulls in order to prevent violence and crime from increasing.
Promotion of Negative Connotations
Another reason why skulls are banned in China has to do with the negative connotations associated with the imagery. Many Chinese citizens associate skulls with bad things such as death, murder, and greed. Given that the government wants to promote a positive and peaceful environment, it does not want to encourage these negative connotations. Instead, the government wants to promote the positive aspects of society and focus on the good things in life. In particular, the government wants to focus on the growth and prosperity of the nation. Skulls are commonly associated with death and the end of something. This could be a bad omen for China and its growth as a nation. Thus, the government wants to avoid any negative connotations associated with skulls and instead promote the positive aspects of society.
Enforcement of the Ban
Finally, another reason why skulls are banned in China is because of the lack of ability to enforce the ban. The government cannot stop people from wearing bracelets or necklaces with skulls, and it cannot prevent images of skulls from being displayed in people’s homes. Thus, the government does not have the ability to enforce a ban on the imagery of skulls. This is problematic because it would be impossible for the government to track and control every piece of jewelry worn, every picture displayed, and every image used on clothing. In addition, given that many Chinese citizens do not agree with the ban in the first place, there would likely be a lot of resistance to any attempts to stop the use of skulls. Thus, the best option for the government is to just ban all skulls from any public place.
History Of Skulls In Chinese Culture
- The Chinese culture has a long history of interaction with the physical remains of both their ancestors and their enemies. Indeed, the earliest evidence of human ritualistic behavior dates back to roughly 100,000 BCE in China, where ritualistic burial was discovered in the Zhoukoudian caves of the Shaanxi province.
- The remains of both children and adults were discovered in these graves, as well as objects that seemed to be meant as offerings. During the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE), Chinese rulers would sometimes remove the skulls of defeated enemies and etch the rulers’ names onto the bones.
- They would then display the skulls in an imperial temple as a symbol of military power. These skulls were also believed to possess magical powers, such as the ability to drive away pests and prevent crop failure. In addition, many Chinese people practiced ancestor worship, which involved rituals meant to allow the living to connect with and serve the spirits of their ancestors.
- These rituals often used physical remains as well, such as silk garments or other offerings. In many cases, the remains of the dead would be naturally mummified or placed in special jars as a way to keep them preserved and safe.
Beliefs About The Supernatural Powers Of Skulls
- Throughout Chinese history, the remains of ancestors and enemies alike have been treated with reverence and respect. However, Chinese people have also been wary of the potential power of these remains and have often tried to protect themselves from its negative effects. For instance, Chinese farmers often burned the bones of their deceased animals to prevent them from causing harm.
- Likewise, Chinese people believed that visiting the graves of deceased relatives could cause harm to the living and sometimes felt the need to protect themselves from the spirits of their own ancestors by placing wooden figurines in the graves or by ritually burning items that might attract the ancestors’ attention.
- Skulls were especially feared because they were associated with death and the afterlife, which was believed to be a very dangerous place. Skulls were also sometimes associated with magic, and some Chinese people believed that they could be used to cast spells or communicate with evil spirits. As a result, many Chinese laws and customs tried to protect the living from the potential harm of these remains.
How The Chinese Government Addressed The Fear Of Skulls?
- Over time, the Chinese government came to realize that the fear of skulls was leading to some concerning laws and practices. In particular, people who died in rural areas might be buried without their skulls, which would then be placed in a special jar called a “skull basket” or hung on the wall of the deceased person’s home.
- The jars and walls often displayed a single skull or multiple skulls placed next to one another, which were meant to protect the family members from harm. In some cases, entire villages were decorated with the remains of deceased people, leading the Chinese government to enact laws to protect the living from the perceived dangers of skulls.
- For instance, Chinese law requires that the bones of the deceased be properly buried, which means that skulls should be removed from the remains before burial. In addition, many Chinese people ignored the laws that protected the display of skulls in public spaces, leading the government to enact more strict laws against the public display of skulls.
How Chinese Culture Interacts With The Remains Of Ancestors?
- While the Chinese government has enacted strict laws against the public display of skulls and the private collection of bones, it has also tried to protect the living from the dangers of these remains while still honoring the deceased.
- In particular, Chinese people have created ways to interact with the physical remains of their ancestors while simultaneously respecting their remains. For example, many Chinese people have created miniature houses called “spirit vessels” that are meant to house the spirits of deceased loved ones.
- These vessels often feature miniature statues as well as offerings, such as food and water, and they are meant to allow the living to interact with the spirits in a respectful and mindful manner. In addition, some Chinese people have created miniature temples known as “spirit shrines” that are meant to house the remains of deceased family members.
- These shrines often feature miniature coffins or jars for the remains, miniature statutes of the deceased, and other objects meant to honor the dead. Thus, Chinese culture has created a respectful and mindful way to interact with the remains of their ancestors.
Skulls have been associated with death and the afterlife for centuries, but in China, the presence of skulls is illegal. To the average person, this might seem like an odd law, but exploring the history behind it reveals a unique story about Chinese culture. For centuries, Chinese people have been wary of the power of skulls, and they’ve attempted to protect themselves from the perceived dangers of physical remains.