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


01-27-2011 23:13 BJT


Tomb of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang

The Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is located at the western Maoshan Mountain in Nanjing. Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, who established the Ming Dynasty, and his wife Empress Ma are buried together in this tomb. The construction of the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum began in the 14th year of Hongwu during the Ming Dynasty (1381, another statement said it was started in the ninth year of Hongwu during the Ming Dynasty) and the tomb was named the “Xiaoling Mausoleum” after the legal wife of Ming Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang was buried in the tomb in September the next year, and the tomb was completed in the 16th year of Hongwu During Ming Dynasty. The tomb was built beside mountains and faces to the south. The main building of the tomb is divided into two parts. The frontal part is the divine path from Xiamafang to the Lingxing Gate. The latter part is the mausoleum located to the northeast of the Lingxing Gate. The entire Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is surrounded by a walled city. The circle of the walled city is 22.5 kilometers and it is more than 2.6 kilometers long from Xiamafang to the Minglou (Soul Tower).

The Xiaoling Tomb was the largest tomb of Ming Dynasty, and compared to the tombs of Tang and Song dynasties, it made three significant innovations. First, in terms of overall layout, the original layout of four entrances in four directions and the grave mound in the center had been changed into a south-to-north axis layout, whose front part was divided into quarters and rear part was round in shape, and where the buildings gradually enforced from north to south and the grave mound was in the northern end. Second, From the Qing and Han dynasties to Tang and Song dynasties, the ichnography of the royal mausoleum was quadrate in shape and the ichnography of the grave mound was also quadrate or round in shape, but the grave mound in the Xiaoling Tomb had a round ichnography and was surround by brick walls. This tradition was inherited in both the Ming and Qing dynasties. Third, the Emperor Taizu of the Ming Dynasty abolished the part of “resting place,” and all the worship ceremonies were held only in the Xiandian Palace. The other complicated and unnecessary worship activities were all abolished. In this way, the worship ceremony would be more solemn and sacred, and the status of this Tomb’s Xiandian Palace in worship was as high as the ancestral temple.

Due to the damage caused by wars, the Xiaoling Tomb currently only has the Shenlieshan Stele, Xiama Gateway, Larger Golden Gate, Square City with the Shenggongduide Stele, Shendao Stone Lion statue, Ancient Goat statue, Camel-Elephant statue, Kylin statue, 24 Horse Statues of six types, two Shendao Stone Columns, and four statues of civil and military officials.

13 Tombs of Ming Dynasty

The 13 Tombs of the Ming Dynasty are located in a small basin of 40 square kilometers at the foot of Tianshoushan Mountain in Changping District of Beijing. Originally, there were walls surrounding the tomb area. The main entrance is in the south of the tomb area between the Mangshan Hill and Huyu Valley. It looks like the entrance is being guarded by a dragon and a tiger. The Changling Tomb with its splendid buildings on the ground and the unearthed underground palace Dingling Tomb are the most renowned parts of the 13 Tombs.

The tomb area covers about 120 square kilometers. Every tomb was built relying on the mountain and facing the water. The overall layout is very solemn and harmonious. The Changling Tomb, which is the grave of the Emperor Chengzu named Zhu Di and located in front of the highest peak of Tianshoushan Mountain, is the largest tomb in the area. The Lingendian Palace (also called the Xidian Palace or Xiangdian Palace) is the main building of the Changling Tomb, which in the past was the place for holding ancestor worshipping ceremonies. It began construction in 1427 and still looks quite majestic today. Standing on the three-layer base of white marble, it covers 1,956 square meters in total. In the palace, there are 32 pillars of camphor wood, and the largest has a diameter of 1.17 meters and is 14.30 meters high. The components of the palace including the crossbeams, pillars, rafters and brackets are all made of camphor wood, and now they are still solid and fragrant after over 500 years. The palace is the largest camphor wood palace of China.

The other 11 tombs built later in the Ming Dynasty include the Emperor Renzong’s Xianling Tomb, Emperor Xuanzong’s Jingling Tomb, Emperor Yingzong’s Yuling Tomb, Emperor Xianzong’s Maoling Tomb, Emperor Xiaozong’s Tailing Tomb, Emperor Wuzong’s Kangling Tomb, Emperor Shizong’s Yongling Tomb, Emperor Muzong’s Zhaoling Tomb, Emperor Shenzong’s Dingling Tomb, Emperor Xianzong’s Qingling Tomb, and the Emperor Muzong’s Deling Tomb. They are all located at the feet of the mountains on the two sides of the Changling Tomb.

Although these tombs have different areas and scales, they are essentially same in overall layout and design. The ichnography of the tombs is quadrate, and behind a tomb, there is usually a round (or elliptic) Bao Tower. The order of the buildings is as follow: Stone Bridge, Entrance, Stele Pavilion, Lingendian Entrance, Lingendian Palace, Bright Tower and Bao Tower.

Heritage value

The feudal dynasties in ancient China advocate “giving the dead an elaborate funeral in order to show people’s mourning,” and the tombs of the emperors in ancient China embodied the political thought, moral idea and aesthetic taste at that time, and also reflected the economy, science and technology as well as craft. The tombs are the highest form and architectural example of China’s burial art. The Mausoleum of the Ming and Qing Emperor integrated tombs, palaces and gardens, and combined Feng Shui, architecture and aesthetics. Its patterns are well-preserved and reflect the original appearance of the mausoleum. In terms of the site selection and planning, the mausoleum made full use of traditional Chinese Feng Shui theory, strived to embody the world view of “harmony between humans and nature,” melted the spirit of humanity into nature, and created a high and immortal image. In the scale and quality of construction, it tried to reflect the splendor and exquisiteness in order to show the idea that the imperial authorities are the highest class and display the manner and dignity of the emperor. The mausoleums gradually became a symbol of imperial authority.

Lao Zi, founder of Taoism once said that everything in the world comes from the combination of Yin and Yang. As time goes on, and according to the explanation of the people, Yin and Yang gradually changed into “life” and “death.” The powerful former emperors built the mausoleum according to the two concepts and the idea to “serve the dead as you would serve the living,” and they copied all their possessions so they would have everything in the afterlife. This theory of the Mausoleum of the Ming and Qing Emperor left a valuable asset for later generations. The manner and mausoleums reflect the highest burial systems, the world view, life and death view, moral view and the social customs in feudal society, and they have absorbed the excellent achievements that traditional Chinese people had made in architecture. The Mausoleum of the Ming and Qing Emperor is an immortal carrier of the traditional culture, and has an important historical, artistic and scientific value. Furthermore, it is also the precious cultural heritage of the Chinese people and the entire human race.

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