Ming Dynasty Tombs
|Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|Criteria||i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi|
|Inscription||2000 (24th Session)|
The Ming Dynasty Tombs (Chinese: 明十三陵; pinyin: Míng shísān líng; literally "Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty") are located some 42 kilometers north-northwest of central Beijing, within the suburban Changping District of Beijing municipality. The site, located on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain (originally Mount Huangtu), was chosen on the feng shui principles by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402–1424), who moved the capital of China from Nanjing to its the present location in Beijing. He is credited with envisioning the layout of the Ming-era Beijing as well as a number of landmarks and monuments located therein. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (the Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum.
From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried in this area. The Xiaoling Tomb of the first Ming Emperor, Hongwu, is located near his capital Nanjing; the second emperor, Jianwen was overthrown by Yongle and disappeared, without a known tomb. The "temporary" Emperor Jingtai was also not buried here, as the Emperor Tianshun had denied him an imperial burial; instead, Jingtai was buried west of Beijing. The last Ming emperor buried at the location was Chongzhen, who committed suicide by hanging (on 25th of April 1644), was buried in his concubine Consort Tian's tomb, which was later declared as an imperial mausoleum Si Ling by the emperor of the short-lived Shun Dynasty Li Zicheng, with a much smaller scale compared to the other imperial mausoleums built for Ming Emperors.
During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to commoners, but in 1644 Li Zicheng's army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year.
Presently, the Ming Dynasty Tombs are designated as one of the components of the World Heritage object, Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which also includes a number of other sites in Beijing area and elsewhere in China.
The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui (geomancy) principles. According to these, bad spirits and evil winds descending from the North must be deflected; therefore, an arc-shaped area at the foot of the Jundu Mountains north of Beijing was selected. This 40 square kilometer area — enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley full of dark earth, tranquil water and other necessities as per Feng Shui — would become the necropolis of the Ming Dynasty.
A 7-kilometer (4 mi) road named the "Spirit Way" (Shéndào) leads into the complex, lined with statues of guardian animals and officials, with a front gate consisting of a three-arches, painted red, and called the "Great Red Gate". The Spirit Way, or Sacred Way, starts with a huge stone memorial archway lying at the front of the area. Constructed in 1540, during the Ming Dynasty, this archway is one of the biggest stone archways in China today.
Farther in, the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion can be seen. Inside it, there is a 50-ton stone statue of Bixi carrying a memorial tablet. This was added during the Qing and was not part of the original Ming layout. Four white marble Huabiao (pillars of glory) are positioned at each corner of the stele pavilion. At the top of each pillar is a mythical beast. Then come two Pillars on each side of the road, whose surfaces are carved with the cloud design, and tops are shaped like a rounded cylinder. They are of a traditional design and were originally beacons to guide the soul of the deceased, The road leads to 18 pairs of stone statues of mythical animals, which are all sculpted from whole stones and larger than life size, leading to a three-arched gate known as the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.
At present, only three tombs are open to the public. There have been no excavations since 1989, but plans for new archeological research and further opening of tombs have circulated. They can be seen on Google earth: Chang Ling, the largest (); Ding Ling, whose underground palace has been excavated ( ); and Zhao Ling.
Dingling (Chinese: 定陵; pinyin: Dìng Lìng; literally "Tomb of Stability"), one of the tombs at the Ming Dynasty Tombs site, is the tomb of the Wanli Emperor. It is the only one of the Ming Dynasty Tombs to have been excavated. It also remains the only intact imperial tomb to have been excavated since the founding of the People's Republic of China, a situation that is almost a direct result of the fate that befell Dingling and its contents after the excavation.
The excavation of Dingling began in 1956, after a group of prominent scholars led by Guo Moruo and Wu Han began advocating the excavation of Changling, the tomb of the Yongle Emperor, the largest and oldest of the Ming Dynasty Tombs. Despite winning approval from premier Zhou Enlai, this plan was vetoed by archaeologists because of the importance and public profile of Changling. Instead, Dingling, the third largest of the Ming Tombs, was selected as a trial site in preparation for the excavation of Changling. Excavation completed in 1957, and a museum was established in 1959.
The excavation revealed an intact tomb, with thousands of items of silk, textiles, wood, and porcelain, and the skeletons of the Wanli Emperor and his two empresses. However, there was neither the technology nor the resources to adequately preserve the excavated artifacts. After several disastrous experiments, the large amount of silk and other textiles were simply piled into a storage room that leaked water and wind. As a result, most of the surviving artifacts today have severely deteriorated, and many replicas are instead displayed in the museum. Furthermore, the political impetus behind the excavation created pressure to quickly complete the excavation. The haste meant that documentation of the excavation was poor.
A more severe problem soon befell the project, when a series of political mass movements swept the country. This escalated into the Cultural Revolution in 1966. For the next ten years, all archaeological work was stopped. Wu Han, one of the key advocates of the project, became the first major target of the Cultural Revolution, and was denounced, and died in jail in 1969. Fervent Red Guards stormed the Dingling museum, and dragged the remains of the Wanli Emperor and empresses to the front of the tomb, where they were posthumously "denounced" and burned. Many other artifacts were also destroyed.
It was not until 1979, after the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution, that archaeological work recommenced in earnest and an excavation report was finally prepared by those archaeologists who had survived the turmoil.
The lessons learned from the Dingling excavation has led to a new policy of the People's Republic of China government not to excavate any historical site except for rescue purposes. In particular, no proposal to open an imperial tomb has been approved since Dingling, even when the entrance has been accidentally revealed, as was the case of the Qianling Mausoleum. The original plan, to use Dingling as a trial site for the excavation of Changling, was abandoned.
Excavation of Dingling tomb
- Eric N. Danielson, "". CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY, No. 16, December 2008.
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