Computer Reconstruction of the Wu Family Cemetery

(New version 2.0 – including tablet, mobile, and VR support, and native Chinese version)



Due to an implementation issue with Safari (especially in iOS), it is best to run this in Google Chrome for now. In Chrome, you can also download the whole tour for offline use. If you have to run it in Safari, you will need to click “No” to the “Enable Video” and “Enable Audio” prompts. I am working on a fix to get around this issue.




Welcome to the interactive, virtual reality tour of the “Wu Family Shrines” cemetery site. Developed by Professor Anthony Barbieri (UCSB) while he was at the University of Pittsburgh, this tour is designed to give the viewer a sense of how this archaeological site in Shandong Province, China may have looked during the Han Dynasty, around 150-170 CE. The user can investigate each of the key monuments, read translations of the major inscriptions, and examine the pictorial carvings in the three reconstructed stone chambers at the site. Links to high-quality rubbings of the carvings and summaries of the stories and legends they allude to will help the user comprehend the visual world of a funerary complex from the second century in northeast China.

Project Methodology

The project began in the summer of 2002 with a visit to the Wuzhaishan site in Jiaxiang County, Shandong Province. Professor Barbieri and Dr. Cary Liu, Curator of Asian Art at the Princeton University Art Museum, surveyed the site and made detailed measurements and sketches of the surviving carved stones. During a subsequent visit in 2004, Professor Barbieri-Low registered GPS readings of all the main features at the site, noting their position, elevation, and orientation.

Then, using 3D modeling software (Maya), Professor Barbieri created wire-frame computer models of each monument at the site, based on published measurements, photographs, and personal observations. The basic architectural reconstruction of each shrine was based on the published work of Jiang Yingju and Wu Wenqi. Professor Barbieri then covered the surfaces of each model with scaled, partially-restored copies of the rubbings from the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum. A simulated stone texture was then created for the surface, using photographic samples of actual Shandong limestone. The monuments were then placed in a virtual landscape (Vue xStream), whose basic features were based on published satellite photos of the site. The reconstruction of the overall layout of the cemetery was based on the position of standing monuments and tombs at the site, textual descriptions of similar cemeteries from the Shuijingzhu (Commentary on the Classic of Waterways), and on analogous cemetery sites excavated in Anhui Province.

The project was funded by generous grants from Princeton University Art Museum with funds from the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Central Research Development Fund of the Office of Research at the University of Pittsburgh, and the Asian Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

Resources for Teachers

The Wu Family Shrines virtual tour can be used by high school and university teachers to teach several aspects of ancient Chinese mythology, religion, culture, history, and art history.

For mythology, the walls and ceilings of the shrines illustrate many of the core myths and legendary figures of the Chinese mythic past, including creator gods like Fuxi and Nüwa, sovereign demigods like the Divine Husbandman and the Yellow Emperor, and salvational figures like the Queen Mother of the West.  Each of their stories and the associated iconography are briefly explained.

For religion, the cemetery and its shrines can be used to teach the nature of funerary ritual and display during the Han Dynasty.  The lavish architecture of the gate towers and lions, along with the inscription boasting of their cost, can be used to talk about the competitive nature of funerals during the Han as a means of social advancement.  The shrines themselves can be used to discuss the nature of ancestor worship and the role of didactic stories in the maintenance of family hierarchy.

For culture, the stories in the shrines can be used to explore the principal tenets of Han Confucianism, including teachings of filial piety, widow chastity, loyalty, and righteousness.

For history, the stories in the shrines illustrate some of the most famous episodes of early Chinese history from the Eastern Zhou, Qin, and Han periods, including the “raising of the tripods,” and the near assassination of the First Emperor of Qin by Jing Ke.

For art history, the original rubbings reproduced for each carving can be used to teach Han art history.  Teachers can use these to explore such concepts as narrative illustration, representation of space and motion, archaism, and drafting techniques.

Related Lectures

Professor Barbieri has also provided two related online lectures which can supplement the material explored in the virtual tour. 

“Artisans of Ancient China.” (43 min)

This lecture explores the class of men and women who crafted objects in Ancient China, including the stone offering shrines like the Wu Family Shrines.  It examines their social status, the division of labor, and the process of production, including a pre-modern form of assembly-line production, as well as how they marketed their wares.

“Telling a Story with Pictures: Modes of Chinese Narrative Illustration” (75 min)

This lecture explores the methods of narrative illustration seen in Greece, Rome, India, and China categorized by art historians as simultaneous, monoscenic, segmented, and continuous.  It then explores these modes in the history of Chinese art by looking at stories of filial sons as depicted on coffins and funerary shrines like the Wu Family Shrines.  Several of the most famous stories found in the shrines are retold, including the filial sons Dong Yong, Yuan Gu, Lai Laizi, Ding Lan, and more.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Liu, Cary Y, Michael Nylan, Anthony J Barbieri-Low. Recarving China’s Past: Art, Archaeology, and Architecture of the “Wu Family Shrines”. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Art Museum, 2005).

Wu Hung, The Wu Liang Shrine: The Ideology of Early Chinese Pictorial Art (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989).

System Requirements

The virtual tour is best viewed on a Mac or PC with a large monitor and is compatible with all major browsers. The layout may appear slightly different. The tour also runs on tablets such as iPads as well as on iOS and Android phones (horizontal mode is recommended). Parts of the tour are also compatible with virtual reality headsets, including the HTC Vive/Vive Pro, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, Oculus Go, and phone VR solutions like Google Cardboard. Though the system underwent testing on as many devices as possible, if you find a problem or an error in the tour, please contact Professor Barbieri-Low (, with your system’s specifications. The 2019 version of the tour was created with 3D Vista Pro.

© 2019 Anthony Barbieri-Low (Anthony Barbieri). Unauthorized duplication is a violation of copyright law. All the images of rubbings presented in the shrines are courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum, and may not be reproduced. The translations of inscriptions in the “Wu Liang Shrine” (Shrine no. 3) are taken from Wu Hung, The Wu Liang Shrine (Stanford Univ. Press, 1989), with minor modifications. The descriptions of the rubbings in Shrine nos. 1 and 2 are taken from Barbieri-Low, Liu, and Nylan, Recarving China’s Past (Yale University Press, 2005), and were composed by Cary Liu and Eileen Hsiang-Ling Hsu. Initial beta-testing was performed by Sheri Lullo, Ph.D. candidate, University of Pittsburgh (now Assistant Professor, Union College). Li Xiang, PhD student, University of California, Santa Barbara, performed the Chinese translations for the Chinese version of the virtual tour.