Edition: English Asia Pacific Africa Europe | Español Français العربية Pусский | 中文简体 中文繁体
Documentary > Special Edition

China Archives of World Heritage (15)--Imperial mausoleums of Ming and Qing dynasties


01-27-2011 23:13 BJT


Summary of the Ming Tombs

Since Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, overthrew the regime of the Yuan Dynasty and established the Ming Dynasty in 1368, to when the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by the peasant uprising army led by Li Zicheng in the 17th Chongzhen Year in 1644, the Ming Dynasty had dominated China for 277 years and had 16 emperors. Among them, 15 emperors built imperial mausoleums in accordance with the mausoleum system, except for Zhu Yunwen, the emperor Hui whose whereabouts are unknown due to the "Battle of Jingnan," who did not build a mausoleum for himself.

After his death, Zhu Yuanzhang was buried at the foot of Mount Zhongshan in Nanjing, called Xiaoling Tomb, and Zhu Qiyu, the Emperor Jing, was killed during the "Restoration of Emperor Yingzong" and buried at Mount Jinshan in the west of Beijing and when he regained the title of an emperor in the Chenghua Year period. His tomb was extended into imperial mausoleum called the Emperor Jingtai Tomb. The other 13 emperors are all buried and Mount Tianshou in Changping District in Beijing, known as the Ming Tombs.

In addition, the tombs of those who were not emperors but were bestowed the title of emperors after death in the Ming Dynasty also became imperial mausoleums. Zhu Wusi, Zhu Yuanzhang's father, was bestowed the Emperor Renzuchun and his original tomb in Fengyan County in Anhui Province was extended into an imperial mausoleum. Zhu Chuyi, Zhu Yuanzhang's grandfather, was bestowed the title of Emperor Xizuyu; Zhu Sijiu, his great-grandfather, was bestowed the title of Emperor Yizuheng, and Zhu Bailiu, his great great-grandfather, was bestowed the title of Emperor Dezuxuan. As the burial sites of emperors Yizuheng and Dezuxuan are unknown, their clothes along with their wives’ clothes were buried at the original tomb of the Emperor Xizuyu in Xuyi County of Jiangsu Province, called the Ming Mausoleum of Ancestors. Zhu Youyuan, Zhu Houcong's father, originally was a marquis and was bestowed the title Emperor Ruizongxian when Zhu Houcong became Emperor Jiajing, and his tomb in Zhongxiang City in Hubei Province was extended and called the Xianling Tomb.

Brief introduction of the Mausoleum of the Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) founded by the Man nationality was the last feudal dynasty in China’s history. Since the dynasty was founded by its first Emperor Nurhachi, it went through 12 emperors in total and ruled China for 295 years until its last emperor the Xuantong Emperor stepped down after the Xinhai Revolution. According to the construction period and location, the Mausoleum of the Qing Dynasty can be divided into three parts, namely the Three Mausoleums outside the Shanghaiguan Pass, the Eastern Qing Mausoleum and the Western Qing Mausoleum. Both the Eastern and Western Qing Mausoleums were designed and constructed in accordance with mausoleums of the Ming Dynasty.

The grave areas were put together and only one main entrance was set. The paths started from the Zhenghong Gate, went through the stone statues, stele pavilions, columns, and reached every grave area at last. The order of the layout is as follows: Five-Hole Stone Bridge, Monumental Tower, Stele Pavilion, Three-Hole Stone Bridge, Large Platform, Palace Gate, Long’en Hall with its left and right side halls, Shiping Bridge, Platform, Glaze Gate, Five-Sacrifice Platform, Fang Tower (Shangliming Tower), Crescent Tower, Bao Tower and Bao Altar. The ranking of the graves of the emperor, queen, prince, princess and concubines was quite strict, and a fixed formula was established.

Mingxian Mausoleum

The Xian Mausoleum is located at Chunde Mountain, 7.5 kilometers away from Zhongxiang City of Hubei Province, between N31°12’ 20” and 31°13’ 00” and between E112°37’ 50” and 112°38’ 09”. The entire mausoleum covers 183 hectares and the grave area covers 52 hectares. In China’s history, the Ming Dynasty lasted 276 years and constructed 18 imperial mausoleums. The Xian Mausoleum was the 12th imperial mausoleum, which was built in the middle of the 16th century between 1519 and 1566 (Zhengde 14th Year and Jiajing 45th Year of Ming Dynasty). The construction lasted 46 years and the Xian Mausoleum was the joint grave of the Jiajing Emperor Zhu Houcong’s father and mother, the Gong Rui Xian Emperor, and the Zhang Sheng Queen.

The Xian Mausoleum is a typical imperial mausoleum of the Ming Dynasty. Due to its large scale and long construction time, its architecture is quite sophisticated. In terms of overall design, all the hills, water systems and forests around the mausoleum area was considered as the elements of the mausoleum and planned as a whole in line with China’s traditional Feng Shui Theory. The hill behind the mausoleum, named Zushan Hill, was regarded as the base. The hills on the two sides were considered as the protection hills, and the area in the middle was the place where the buildings were constructed, and the Jiuqu River passes through it. In front of the mausoleum is Pingshan Hill and conformed to the traditional Chinese Feng Shui layout of “Red Sparrow in the front, Xunwu in the rear, Blue Dragon on the left and White Tiger on the right.” This reflects the principle of “natural integration of the mausoleum and nature.” In terms of architectural design, all the open spaces in forests and mountains were effectively used to build steles, gates, pavilions, columns, stone statues, monuments and bridges, which extended to the Xiang Palace, Bright Tower, and Baocheng Tower.

The buildings look very hierarchical just like the hierarchical feudal system. Surrounded by green mountains and clear water, it seems that the buildings were designed and constructed by nature. It is really a perfect integration of architecture and natural beauty. The Xian Mausoleum is also quite original in the respect of architectural skills. For example, the architectural style of one tomb, two underground palaces, the golden-bottle-shaped Outside City, the sinuous moat, the dragon-scale path, and the inside and outside the Ming Pools are all examples of Ming Dynasty mausoleums. Meanwhile, the construction of the Xian Mausoleum was an outcome of the important “Great Debate” event that took place in the mid Ming Dynasty, and therefore it is connected with social thought, belief and some important politicians’ destinies in the early period of the Jiajing Emperor and has important historic significance.

Eastern Qing Tombs

The Eastern Qing Tombs is located in the foot southern Mount Changrui, which is the part Yanshan Mountain in northeastern Hebei Province, and enjoys favorable natural conditions. From when the Xiaoling Tomb was established in 1661, the first imperial mausoleum where Emperor Shunzhi was buried, to the Putuoyu Dingdongling Tomb in 1908 where the Empress Cixi rests, it took 247 years to complete the 15 tombs of the Eastern Qing Tombs. With the Qing Dynasty becoming weak and declining, the construction of the Eastern Qing Tombs also underwent the same development process.

According to traditional Feng Shui theory in China, the emperors of the Qing Dynasty selected their grave sites on beautiful landscapes to achieve the image that man is an integral part of nature. The Eastern Qing Tombs is the best embodiment of this idea. The mountain in the east tombs looks like a coiled dragon facing to the west and the mountain in the west looks like a white tiger facing to the east. Mount Changrui looks like a green protective screen while Mount Jinxing looks like an overturned bell facing to the south. The Yingbi Mountain looks mellow and full, lying between Mount Changrui and Mount Jinxing. The Xiangshan Mountain and Yandun Mountain confront each other, lying across the south of the imperial mausoleums, guarding the mountain mouth. The Malan River and the Xida River flow cheerfully and the layout surrounded by mountains looks vast and broad. The natural landscapes surround and bow to the imperial mausoleums. It is really an unusual place.

The 15 tombs in the Eastern Qing Tombs are designed and arranged in accordance with traditional concept and order. The Xiaoling Tomb where Emperor Shunzhi rests is located on the central axis linking southern Mount Jinxing and northern Mount Changrui, which is a supreme place. The other tombs are arranged on both sides of the Xiaoling Tomb according to their positions in the family hierarchy, with the left being the Jingling Tomb of the Emperor Kangxi and then the Huiling Tomb of Emperor Tongzhi while the right being the Yuling Tomb of Emperor Qianlong and then the Dingling Tomb of Emperor Xianfeng. The layout emphasizes the moral principles of respecting the elderly. Meanwhile, the tombs where the empresses and imperial concubines rest were established beside the contemporary emperors, showing their principal and subordinate relationships. In addition, the divine roads to the empresses' tombs are connected with that of the contemporary emperors' tombs and that of the emperors' tombs are connected with that of the Xiaoling Tomb, forming a huge branching system. The relationships between them are obvious, expressing their dream of hoping their country to thrive and prosper forever.

The tombs in the Eastern Qing Tombs are strictly arranged following the principle of "the mausoleums matching the surrounding mountains and rivers." In this regard, the Xiaoling Tomb of the Emperor Shunzhi can be called a model.

Follow us on

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Instagram

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Wechat

We Recommend

  • World Heritage China Part 29
  • Glamorous Indonesia Part 2
  • Along the Coast Part 41
  • Glamorous Indonesia Part 1
  • Dreams and the business reality
  • Philippines' beauty pageant obsession
  • China's love for basketball
  • Box office online
  • Jixi: Land of luminaries II