A recently discovered collection of epitaphs (muzhi 墓誌) reveals copious references to Tao Yuanming (Tao Qian 陶潛, 365–427), a writer of pervasive influence on Chinese culture. In recent decades, both English and Chinese scholarship has focused on Tao's literary and historical reception, with little attention paid to his representation in epitaph writing. This article, through an examination of these newly unearthed documents, presents forty-seven epitaph fragments with direct mention of Tao's name. Most were written in the Tang dynasty, when Tao was ardently appreciated as a poet, and his literary vocabulary was widely borrowed and imitated. However, a close reading of epitaphs illustrates that Tao's image as a moral exemplar was perhaps even more prominent than his role as esteemed poet. He was invoked to suggest the comparable personal traits of the tomb owner (muzhu 墓主), his name frequently juxtaposed with various historical figures renowned for their virtue. His name is also used as an adjective to modify carefully selected images to further characterize him as a moral exemplar. In Tang epitaphs, moral concerns together with philosophical contemplation on the motives of reclusion play a significant role, laying the foundation for the complexity of Tao's image in the Song period. Current research seeks to increase our understanding of the process behind the construction of Tao as a cultural icon.

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