Miniature objects in various shapes, including human beings, animals and man-made objects, buried with the body of the deceased, symbolizing wishes for their peace and comfort in the afterlife.
The grave objects called myeonggi are miniature items in the shape of human figures and various everyday objects such as kitchenware, musical instruments, furniture, and weaponry. They came into use from the early Joseon period and are well documented in the “Chapter of Five Rites” in “Sejongsillok, ” with illustrations and descriptions providing detailed information of the items produced in the royal court of early Joseon, including their material and shape.
The grave goods of early Joseon were largely buncheong vessels. They were followed by white porcelain ware, which was reserved for the exclusive use of the royal family. Even ruling class families were banned from using it until after the 16th century, when the production of white porcelain ware became widespread. The popularity of white porcelain gradually declined after the national turmoil caused by two foreign invasions, namely the Japanese invasions 1592-98 and the Manchurian invasion of 1636.
In the Joseon period, the custom of burying ceramic funerary items with the dead was limited to the ruling class and royalty and today gives valuable insight into the Confucian funerary customs of the time. The custom is known to have developed to replace the human sacrifices conducted during the Three Kingdoms period and came to be regulated by law in the early Joseon period. As it is based on the premise that there is life after death, discontinuation of the custom signifies a significant change in traditional beliefs, that is, people came to no longer believe in the afterlife or regarded it as unimportant. Changes regarding the use of grave goods in the Joseon dynasty suggest a considerable change in Confucian ideas about the ancestral spirits and the afterlife in the later period compared to the early period. The changes in the shape and style of the grave goods also provide important clues regarding developments in the ceramic art of Joseon. Hence, Joseon ceramic grave goods are regarded as important sources for study of the history of Korean folk art.