The Ming Tombs
At a distance of 50 km northwest of Beijing stands an arc-shaped cluster of hills fronted by a small plain. Here is where 13 emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) were buried, and the area is known as the Ming Tombs.
Construction of the tombs started in 1409 and ended with the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. In over 200 years tombs were built over an area of 40 square kilometres, which is surrounded by walls totalling 40 kilometres. Each tomb is located at the foot of a separate hill and is linked with the other tombs by a road called the Sacred Way. The stone archway at the southern end of the Sacred Way, built in 1540, is 14 metres high and 19 metres wide, and is decorated with designs of clouds, waves and divine animals.
Different Views on Death
Beijing served as the national capital during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Unlike Ming and Qing rulers who all built massive tombs for themselves, Yuan rulers left no similar burial grounds. Why the difference?
This has to do with people's different views on death. Beijing nomads came from the Mongolian steppe. Mongols who established the Yuan Dynasty held the belief that they had come from: earth. they adopted a simple funeral method: the dead was placed inside a hollowed nanmu tree, which was then buried under grassland. Growth of grass soon left no traces of the tombs.
By contrast, during the Ming Dynasty established by Han Chinese coming from an agricultural society in central China, people believed the existence of an after-world, where the dead "lived" a life similar to that of the living. Ming emperor, therefore, has grand mausoleums built for themselves. Qing rulers did likewise.
The stone archway at the southern end of the Sacred Way, built in 1540, is 14 metres high and 19 metres wide, and is decorated with designs of clouds, waves and divine animals. Well-proportioned and finely carved, the archway is one of the best preserved specimens of its kink in the Ming Dynasty. It is also the largest ancient stone archway in China.
The Stele Pavilion, not far from the Great Palace Gate, is actually a pavilion with a double-eaved roof. On the back of the stele is carvedpoetry written by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty when he visited the Ming Tombs.
The Sacred Way inside the gate of the Ming Tomb is lined with 18 pairs of stone human figures and animals. These include four each of three types of officials: civil, military and meritorious officials, symbolizing those who assist the emperor in the administration of the state, plus four each of six iypes of animals: lion, griffin, camel, elephant, unicorn and horse.
Yongling, built in 1536, is the tomb for Emperor Shizong, Zhu Houcong (1507-1566). He stayed in power for 45 years.
The Dingling Tomb is the tomb of Emperor Wanli (reigned 1573-1619), the 13th emperor of the Ming Dynasty, whose personal name was Zhu Yijun, and of his two empresses, Xiao Duan and Xiao Jing. The tomb was completed in six years (1584-1590), it occupies a total area of 1,195 square meters at the foot of Dayu Mountain southwest of the Changling Tomb.
Emperor Xianzong, Zhu Jianshen, and his three empresses are entombed within Maoling. Zhu Jianshen (1447-1487) was the first son of Emperor Yingzong. He stayed in power for 22 years.
We have covered some of the most significant tombs of the 13 Ming tombs in the tour. If you are also interested in the other tombs, the best way is to come and experience yourself.
Changling is the tomb of emperor Yongle (reigned 1403-1424), the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty whose personal name was Zhu Di, and of his empress. Built in 1413, the mausoleum extends over an area of 100,000 square metres. The soul tower, which tells people whose tomb it is, rests on a circular wall called the "city of treasures" which surrounds the burial mound. The "city of treasures" at Changling has a length of more than a kilometre.
The underground palace at Dingling Tomb consists of an antechamber, a ceniral chamber and a rear chamber plus the left and right annexes. One of the pictures shows the central chamber where the sacrificial utensils are on display. Two marble doors are made of single slabs and carved with life-size human figures, flowers and birds. More than 3,000 articles have been unearthed from the tumulus, the most precious being the golden crowns of the emperor and his queen.