In the Chinese imagination, the hereafter corresponds exactly to the living world. For this reason, deceased ancestors need the same things that are valuable to us in life: money, shoes, and so on. During Chinese fire sacrifice (zhizha), ancestors are attentively provided for with all sorts of goods. However, real items aren’t sacrificed to the flames: instead, carefully detailed paper replicas are burnt as offerings.
The black paper shoe, which dates to the year 418, was originally intended for the hereafter as well. It was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century as part of an archeological expedition in Turfan, only to disappear in the turmoil of China’s Cultural Revolution. (Our exhibit, whose production was inspired by the philosopher and exhibition organizer Wolfgang Scheppe, is a replica).
Today, the entire range of Western goods (from the iPhone to French macarons) is reproduced in paper form in order to be carried, via incineration, into the realm of the dead.