Posted by: 1of10boyz | March 2, 2012

World Heritage Site – Ming Tombs


The Ming Tomb World Heritage Site is located about 44 kilometers to the north of Beijing. The Ming Dynasty covers the period of 1368 AD (CE) to 1644 AD (CE). The Ming Dynasty began its rule in southern China before moving north and establishing Beijing as its capital. The first Ming emperor, Hongwu, is buried in Nanjing. He specified that his grandson, Jianwen, replace him but he was overthrown or replaced by an Uncle, Yongle, 3rd Ming emperor.

Yongle moved the capital of China to Beijing from Nanning in the early part of the 15th century. While the Forbidden City and the beginning of the Ming Tombs are closely tied together with the establishment of the new capital, the selection of the tomb location was not just a practical matter. Yongle chose the valley to build his tombwith great care . It is said that location selection utilized geomancy; another name we use for that method today might be called feng shui. The geomancers claimed to be able to tell whether a particular site and its surroundings were auspicious. The selection could also be closely tied with necromancy which refers to the superstition that the location of one’s ancestors’ graves influences one’s fortune. It is interesting that both geomancy and necromancy were both very popular even in Europe during the same time period and it is speculated that these practices were carried into the Europe along the Silk Road or other routes from China. Yongle was the first emperor to use the area for his tomb. His successors followed his example and had their tombs built there, except one who was dethroned and was buried in a western suburb of Beijing. Out of the sixteen emperors, thirteen lie in this valley with their empresses and concubines. The site with its 13 emperor tombs cover a basin approximately 40 square kilometers in area, screened by mountains on three sides and open to the Beijing plain in the south.

Entrance to the area has been controlled and very limited until recent times. The road leading to the tombs is guarded by the Tiger hill on the left and the Dragon hill on the right. Until recently (within the past 50 years) it was forbidden ground except for those who were officially in charge of its upkeep. No one was allowed to cultivate the land, cut wood, or to take stones from the area. No one could enter it on horseback, even the emperor himself had to dismount at the gate.

Entering the area now is on paved roads that bypass the Spirit Way but the traveler may stop and walk through the traditional approach and wonder and ponder the great works that establish such an auspicious approach to the tomb area. There is no doubt in my mind that the necropolis was held in great reverence prior to the conversion of China to the non-dynasty ruling approach. The revolution in 1911 and the culture revolution of the 1960s have made this site and its antiquities less than what they could have been or should be in my opinion.

In 1644 when the Ming dynasty collapsed, the buildings were damaged in a peasant uprising and were not restored until the reign of Qing emperor Gianlong. They were burned down again at the beginning of the 20th century. As we approach the final resting place of Emperor Wanli (13th) it is obvious that it has experienced ups and downs through the centuries. The resting place is named Ding Ling or tomb of security. Ding Ling is the only one of the Ming tombs that has been excavated. Excavation work took more than two years from 1956 to 1958.

The underground palace of Ding Ling is situated on the left of the hill amidst pines and cypresses. Wanli, the 13th Ming emperor was born in 1563, and was chosen and named crown prince when he was six years old. He ascended the throne at the age of 10 and ruled for 48 years until he died in 1620. Construction of the tomb and the underground palace started in 1584 when emperor Wanli was only 22 years old. Eighteen years and 8 million taels of silver (250,000 kilos of silver or about 8,038,000 troy ounces – a kingly sum even today, roughly about $300 Million USD) were spent on it. The bricks were brought from Shandong province, the stone from the nearby district of Fangshan, and the wood from the southern provinces.

Emperor Wanli had two wives, both died before the Emperor. The first wife empress Xiaeduan died only a few months before the emperor’s death. The second wife empress Xiaojing died in 1612, eight years before and was buried in a nearby tomb reserved for imperial concubines. The first wife had no son while the second wife had one. This son succeeded emperor Wanli and died 29 days after his succession. He left the throne to his son. Since Xiaojing was the second wife, she was not entitled to the privilege of sharing the emperor’s tomb. When her grandson became emperor, she was promoted to the rank of empress dowager, and it was decided that her body would be moved into the tomb.

In addition to the underground palace, Ding Ling, the grounds include Treasure City, Grand Mansion, Lingen Hall, two ground auxiliary halls, Lingen Gate, Ling Gate, Shenbo Oven, Divine Wardrobe, Divine Stock, Slaughter Pavilion and Wailuo City. At present, the Treasure City and Grand Mansion at Ding Ling have been preserved fairly well.

The Grand Mansion is not only “gallant and splendid” by some people’s review, but does not have a piece of wood or a nail. The rafters, brackets and inscribed board of the upper and lower caves are all inlaid with white stone sculptures and painted with colorful pictures which look like wood structure. I found the palace to be dull and unimpressive by “palace” standards.

The underground palace is 27 meters deep with a total floor space of 1,195 square meters. It consists of five chambers: the antechamber, the central chamber, the rear chamber and two annex chambers on both sides of the central chamber. There are seven stone gates in the five halls. The stone gates of the front, middle and back halls accentuated with sculptured white marble. Every stone gate has two leaves, each of which is 3.3 m high and 1.8 m broad and weighs about 4 tons. Each leaf facade on the door includes 81 nipple-like nails and a sculptured decorative beast head holding a knocker in its mouth.

All of the chambers in Ding Ling palace are built of stones, without using a single beam or column. The back hall, the biggest one in the underground palace, is also called Labyrinth Room, and constitutes the main part of the Underground Palace. It is 9.5 m high, 9.1 m broad and 30.1 m long, and is paved with polished piebald stones. The Labyrinth Room contains the coffin platform or main tomb area. The Coffin platform occupies the majority of the room and allows just enough room for crowds to move through the room as part of the tour. The coffin platform has a permanently installed fence around it to keep the crowds from having proximity to the replica coffins and treasure boxes. The fence also serves as an area to collect the monies (metal and notes) that are thrown into the tomb area.

As we entered the Labyrinth Room we are presented at the center coffin of Wanli. The coffin boxes are about 2 meters tall, 1.5 meters, wide, and maybe 3.5-4 meters long. The coffin of Wanli is sided by the coffins for his wives, Empresses Xiaoduan and Xiaojing. Beside the coffins on the platform there are 26 red-lacquered wooden boxes that would have contained 3,000 or so pieces of precious funeral objects. Much of what was recovered from the tomb during the excavation in the late 1950s has been compromised or destroyed. The cultural revolution had a significant impact on the materials that were removed from the tomb. Many were removed and destroyed in a display of denunciations and in some cases lost to nefarious means.

This cultural revolution period is one that has caused me to wondered how such things could happen in my lifetime, a constant reminder that this country has had experiences with anarchy not so long ago, but I digress. The recovery efforts for authentic items from ancient China is one that concerns us as we have shopped for items for our home. The last thing we want is to spend money on items that might be confiscated when we get ready to leave this country.

Because the excavation occurred just before the Cultural Revolution much of the actual understanding that would help to make this site better, in my opinion was lost. The scientists and scholars that were involved with the excavation we ‘reeducated’ and the notes that would have allowed for a richer experience in the tomb using replicas is not really possible. The tomb is said to have been “richly decorated and items of significance were displayed throughout the tomb”. Today the tomb is quite sanitized with little reflection of what it must have looked like when it was entered in 1956 – 1958. The items that remain can be viewed by tourists in the exhibition halls of Ding Ling. A short list of unearthed items includes:

Exhibition Room: The excavated articles of Ding Ling include 3000 odd items in total which include a great number of gold, silver, jade, china wares, textiles, crowns, belts and ornaments of the emperor and his queens, tin wares, posthumous title books and posthumous treasures etc.

Gold Crown: It was woven of extremely fine gold threads, on which two dragons playing with a pearl are inlaid, a skilful master piece with vivid posture. It is the first discovery among excavated articles in China.

Phoenix Crowns: Four Phoenix Crowns were excavated; on each are 5,000 pearls in different sizes and more than 1,000 inlaid precious stones. The beautiful phoenix crowns were for the empresses and would have only been used at grand ceremonies or big occasions.

Dragon Gown: It was worn by the Emperor on grand ceremonial occasions. The gown has 12 embroidered dragons.

Hundred-Son Clothes were worn by Queen Xiaojing, it has the double dragon longevity character embroidered on it.

It is said that “the tomb was filled with clothes, furniture and artworks that contained designs of pine, bamboo, plum, stone, peach, pear, banana, and different flowers and grasses. The art included an embroidered hundred-son picture that was vivid and lively. It was considered to be remarkably true to life.”

The greatest majority of these relics have not survived. They were lost during the tumultuous period, known as the Cultural Revolution, that followed the excavation. I would hope that at some point the Chinese would try and figure out what the inside of the Tomb looked like and make it appear similar with quality replicas or originals. Until then it is rather bland and dull, just another big empty marble/granite underground structure. Not a palace by anything closely related to the expectation that I had.

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