Im­pe­rial Tombs

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

The Ming Dy­nasty is widely recog­nised as a pros­per­ous and rel­a­tively sta­ble era, leav­ing be­hind tombs of 13 em­per­ors in Bei­jing. The Ming Tombs, as a world her­itage site, doesn't only epit­o­mise the his­tory of the Ming Dy­nasty but also sig­ni­fies the zenith of im­pe­rial power of China's feu­dal pe­riod. Hid­den within the tombs are lit­tle-known se­crets of the Ming Dy­nasty.

Blessed Land

To de­fend the bor­der, Zhu Di in­tended to move the cap­i­tal (then Nan­jing) to Bei­jing. Thus, in 1403, Zhu or­dered to re­name Beip­ing as Bei­jing. In the fol­low­ing years, of­fi­cials at Bei­jing were com­manded by Zhu to en­gage more than a mil­lion crafts­men and labour­ers to build Bei­jing's im­pe­rial palace. The po­lit­i­cal cen­tre of the Ming Dy­nasty started to move north. There­fore, Zhu made a de­ci­sion to build a tomb for Em­press Xun in Bei­jing.

With Zhu Di's au­tho­ri­sa­tion, Liao Jun­qing (1350–1413), a ge­o­mancy prac­ti­tioner from the Jiangxi school, and Zhao Hong (1364–1436), min­is­ter of rit­u­als, led some peo­ple to scour for an ideal lot of land for Em­press Xu's tomb for more than two years in Bei­jing. Fi­nally, they se­lected a place near Huangtu Hill in to­day's Chang­ping District, in north­ern Bei­jing.

Zhu came to visit and eval­u­ate the place, sur­rounded by moun­tains on three sides and only open to the north, form­ing the shape of a horse­shoe. Its ground is flat and wide. More­over, the Wenyu River me­an­ders through it from north­west to south­east. There­fore, Zhu also agreed that it was aus­pi­cious land suit­able for grave­yards.

In 1409, the first tomb of the Ming Tombs be­gan con­struc­tion, named Changling. In 1413, the un­der­ground palace was com­pleted and then Em­press Xu's cof­fin was sent from Nan­jing and set­tled in the tomb. How­ever, the con­struc­tion of Changling tomb lasted 18 years and was com­pleted three years af­ter Zhu Di's death.

This grave­yard saw con­struc­tion of more than 200 years, con­sist­ing of im­pe­rial tombs for 13 among all 16 em­per­ors of the Ming Dy­nasty ex­cept the miss­ing Em­peror Jian­wen, Zhu Yun­wen (1377–year of death un­cer­tain) and hold­ing 13 em­per­ors' bod­ies

ex­clud­ing Zhu Yuanzhang (buried at the foot of Zhong­shan Moun­tain in Nan­jing) and Zhu Qiyu (1428–1457), Em­peror Jing­tai, buried in Jin­shan Moun­tain of Bei­jing's west­ern sub­urbs.

Wish­ing for Eter­nal Im­pe­rial Power

For a long pe­riod, there was no com­pul­sory re­quire­ment on the lay­out and size of im­pe­rial tombs. Be­fore the Ming and Qing dynasties, im­pe­rial tombs were built in dif­fer­ent forms such as large, earth or deep tombs.

In the early Ming Dy­nasty, Zhu Yuanzhang car­ried out sig­nif­i­cant re­form on stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of im­pe­rial tombs, so the Ming Tombs' lay­out fol­lowed that of the Xiaol­ing Mau­soleum of the Ming Dy­nasty in Nan­jing, fea­tur­ing a uni­fied plan­ning, de­sign and con­struc­tion.

The Ming Tombs is an in­te­gral ar­chi­tec­tural en­sem­ble and con­sists of 13 in­di­vid­ual tombs, each against a hill. Changling on the foot of Tian­shou Hill is the ances­tral tomb in the Ming Tombs, boast­ing the largest scale and mag­nif­i­cence among all tombs.

On the left side of Changling stand Jin­gling [of Zhu Zhanji (1399–1426), Em­peror Xuande], Yongling [of Zhu Houcong (1507–1567), Em­peror Ji­a­jing] and Del­ing [of Zhu You­jiao (1605–1627), Em­peror Tianqi]; on the right are Xian­ling [of Zhu Gaochi (1378–1425), Em­peror Hongxi], Qin­gling [of Zhu Changluo (1582–1620), Em­peror Taichang], Yul­ing [of Zhu Qizhen (1427–1464), Em­peror Zheng­tong], Maol­ing [of Zhu Jian­shen (1447–1487), Em­peror Chenghua], Tail­ing [of Zhu Youcheng (1470– 1505), Em­peror Hongzhi], Kan­gling [of Zhu Houzhao (1491–1521), Em­peror Zhengde], Din­gling [of Zhu Yi­jun (1563–1620), Em­peror Wanli], Zhaol­ing [of Zhu Zai­hou (1537–1572), Em­peror Longqing] and Sil­ing [Zhu You­jian (1611–1644), Em­peror Chongzhen].

Each span be­tween two con­tigu­ous tombs is at least half a kilo­me­tre or at most eight kilo­me­tres. All other tombs are younger and smaller than Changling, mark­ing Changling's role as an ances­tral tomb.

The Sa­cred Way of Changling lies on the cen­tral axis of the Ming Tombs and is about 7.3 kilo­me­tres long, string­ing to­gether a se­ries of fu­neral fa­cil­i­ties in­clud­ing the Stone Arch­way, Sankong Stone Bridge, Big Red Gate, Shen­gong Shengde Stele Pavil­ion, Stone Stat­ues, Dragon and Phoenix Gate, South Wukong Bridge, Qikong Bridge and North Wukong Bridge from south to north.

Grand Fu­ner­als and Ex­quis­ite Fu­ner­ary Ob­jects

China's dynasties once for­mu­lated their own fu­neral and sac­ri­fi­cial rites, in­di­cat­ing an idea that gov­er­nance should be based on rites but sac­ri­fice is the most im­por­tant one among five rites. As a re­sult, the im­pe­rial burial sys­tem and fu­ner­ary cul­ture came into be­ing and con­tin­ued to de­velop in a feu­dal­is­tic so­ci­ety.

Sac­ri­fi­cial events in the Ming Dy­nasty fea­tured a strict hi­er­ar­chy; among of them, the sac­ri­fi­cial prac­tice at the im­pe­rial mau­soleum was sig­nif­i­cant and val­ued by the im­pe­rial court. At that time, such prac­tices were of­fi­ci­ated by of­fi­cials des­ig­nated by the em­peror or presided over by the em­peror him­self at im­pe­rial tombs. Those chaired by the em­peror were more cer­e­mo­ni­ous than the ones by of­fi­cials.

If an em­peror or em­press died and needed to be buried, his or her fu­neral was the grand­est. The fu­neral started with a cer­e­mony of strik­ing bells in all the tem­ples in the cap­i­tal to help the dead em­peror or em­press make con­tri­bu­tions to hell. It was nec­es­sary to make up and put shrouds on the de­ceased and of­fer sac­ri­fices be­fore the corpse, which was placed in the pre­vi­ous res­i­dence of the de­ceased.

The next day, the corpse was set in coffins in front of which sac­ri­fices and a tablet with Chi­nese char­ac­ters “da xinghuangdizigong” (“the cof­fin of a dead em­peror”). On that day, the le­git­i­mate heir to the throne and con­cu­bines of the late em­peror wore white cloth­ing to make of­fer­ings to the de­ceased. Af­ter the corpse was put in the cof­fin, the le­git­i­mate heir to the throne se­lected a proper day to as­cend the throne and pre­pared to give the late em­peror a post­hu­mous ti­tle.

In an­cient im­pe­rial fu­ner­als, there was a tra­di­tion that “the dead em­peror should be taken into the cof­fin seven days af­ter his death but buried in the tomb seven month later.” How­ever, the Ming's em­per­ors didn't fol­low this tra­di­tion and se­lected a suit­able burial day for the late em­peror on their own.

A whole fu­neral cer­e­mony com­prised nine me­mo­rial prac­tices—seven held on the way, the eighth out­side the cap­i­tal and the ninth in the Jiyan Hall of the Im­pe­rial Palace with the at­ten­dance of the le­git­i­mate heir to the throne. The fu­neral was com­pleted only af­ter the end of a se­ries of prac­tices.

China's long his­tory has been in­cluded in 25 his­tor­i­cal books, from the an­cient times to the end of the Qing Dy­nasty. The Ming Tombs can be con­sid­ered a book de­scrib­ing the Ming's dy­nas­tic his­tory. Even though it is a grave­yard, al­most all his­tor­i­cal events from the Ming Dy­nasty were wit­nessed or tes­ti­fied by those tombs cov­er­ing an area more than 120 square kilo­me­tres.

An over­view of the Changling Tomb of the Ming Tombs

A porce­lain jar un­earthed from the Ming Tombs

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