Ming Dynasty Tombs

Ming Dynasty Tombs

Location: 30 mi (45 km) Northwest of Bejing Map

Subway: Xizhi Men then take Bus 845

Tel. (010) 8976 1554

Open: 8am- 5pm daily


Description of Ming Dynasty Tombs

The Ming dynasty tombs are a group of historic mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty of China. The first Ming emperor's burials is located near ancient Chinese capital Nanjing. However, the majority of the Ming tombs were built in a group near Beijing. They are collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty.
Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty are located 30 mi (45 km) Northwest of Bejing in China. The site was chosen by Emperor Yongle (1402- 24) of the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644) in the Tianshou Mountain using principles of feng shui. Apparently he used the same logic when he moved his capital from Nanjing to modern Chinese capital of Beijing. Here he constructed a mausoleum and thirteen subsequent emperors of his family were buried here. After the death of a last emperor of this dynasty Chongzhen, who committed suicide by hanging in 25th of April 1644, the Ming Dynasty ended. The Royal cemetery of the Ming dynasty was ransacked and badly damaged by the troops of Li Zicheng who briefly established his Shun Dynasty. However real challenges came during Cultural Revolution in 1966. At the time of this dramatic social change only one of the tombs was properly excavated. The burial belonged to Emperor Dingling and his wife. Chinese government established a museum in honor of the emperor with all his possessions displayed here. However Chinese Red Guard stormed the museum, destroyed many of the historic artifacts and even "executed" the bodies of the medieval rulers. Much of what you see today is a mere replica of the things that were destroyed by the vandals.



There are three tombs that can be visited: the Chang Ling tomb, which is the largest, the Ding Ling tomb, located in the basement of a palace and the Zhao Ling tomb. Excavations on the site were suspended in 1989 even though archaeological research studies continued over time with a view to the possible opening of other tombs.

The Tombs of the Thirteen Emperors are located on the southern slope of Mount Taishou (originally Mount Huangtu). It is believed that this was the original seat of ancient Beijing, and the numerous monuments located there would testify to this. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor himself selected the site for his burial and arranged for the creation of a special mausoleum. Since that time, thirteen emperors have been buried at the site, which in the Ming era was absolutely inaccessible to the people.

The tombs of the first two Ming emperors are located near Nanjing (which was the capital at the time of their reign). The Jingtai Emperor was not buried here, but west of Beijing, as the Tianshun Emperor denied his burial here. The Chongzhen Emperor was the last to be buried in the Ming Tombs: he hanged himself in April 1644. In the same month, rebel Li Zicheng's army sacked the site and set it on fire before the advance and conquest of Beijing .


Geomancy Feng Shui

The necropolis was chosen based on the principles of Feng Shui geomancy according to which evil spirits from the north were to be diverted to a specific arc-shaped area at the foot of the Jundu Mountains north of Beijing. This area of forty square kilometers was identified in an uncontaminated valley, bordered by mountains, rich in water and dark earth.

The site is surrounded by a wall and crossed by a seven-kilometre-long avenue known as the Sacred Way or Way of the Spirits (神道S, ShéndàoP), punctuated by twelve pairs of statues with animal figures and twelve statues of Ming personalities, which leads to the complex, one of the best-preserved examples of 15th-century Chinese art and architecture. The main entrance - known as the Great Red Door - is divided into three red-painted arched entrances.


Ding Lin and Chang Lin tombs

Ding Ling (Chinese: 定陵; pinyin: Dìng Lìng; literally "Tomb of Tranquility"), is the tomb of Emperor Wanli and the only one to have been excavated in the basement of a palace since the founding of the People's Republic of China. The works to bring it back to light began in 1956 after a group of scholars led by Guo Moruo and Wu Han had begun the excavation of the Chang Ling, the tomb of the Yongle emperor, the largest and oldest of the tombs of the Ming dynasty called also Tomb of Longevity. Despite the approval of Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, the project to unearth this tomb was rejected due to a veto placed by archaeologists for the sacredness of the figure of the emperor who was buried there.

Thus it was decided to restore the Ding Ling, the third largest among the Ming tombs, the restoration of which was completed in 1957. Two years later a museum was established there. The excavation revealed an intact tomb, with thousands of silk, textile, wood and porcelain items that belonged to Emperor Wanli, Empress Xiaoduan and concubine Xiaojing.

The lack of technology and resources to protect the finds from the excavation proved to be an obstacle to the recovery project, so much so that the large quantity of silk and other fabrics was set aside for a long time in a storeroom exposed to water and wind. Most of the artifacts have deteriorated so much that the museum is forced to exhibit copies.

With the advent of the Cultural Revolution promoted by Mao Zedong in 1966, the restoration works at the site were blocked for the next ten years. Wu Han, a major proponent of the project, became the first major target of the Cultural Revolution: prosecuted and denounced, he died in prison in 1969. The Red Guards devastated the museum by setting fire to the site and destroying nearly every exhibit.

It was only starting from 1979, with the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution, that archaeological activity was able to resume its course. The outcome of this research and recovery work on the Ding Ling excavation prompted the new government of the People's Republic of China to resume excavations, albeit with moderation and purely for protection and conservation purposes, as in the case of the Qianling Mausoleum. The original plan to use Ding Ling Tomb as a test site for a possible resumption of excavations at Chang Ling Tomb appears to have been shelved for good.


The Sacred Way

In the front part of the imperial necropolis is the so-called Via Sacra, i.e. the road leading to Heaven, along which the Emperor (The Son of Heaven) would have descended to earth, and along which he would then return to Heaven.

The thirty-six statues located along the Via Sacra - an allegory of the road to paradise - also called the Street of stone figures, were made in 1435 in white Beijing marble. Their meaning was symbolically to protect the eternal sleep of emperors

The twenty-four representing animal figures are symmetrically aligned in double pairs, two standing and two at rest. At the end of the street there are twelve standing statues of generals with sabers, mandarins and ministers.


The animals represent:

Lions - symbol of dignity and power and guards the imperial tombs
Unicorns - sign of justice against evil spirits
Camels and elephants - symbol of the vastness of the emperor's territory
Horses - or animals useful for imperial transport
The Qilin instead represents the spiritual defender to protect the imperial tombs.