Thursday, February 21, 2013

Beijing - Ming Tomb

Event date: 5th December 2006

It was a Tuesday morning and the winter blue sky was crystal clear when we reached the Thirteen Tombs of Ming Dynasty. The children had times to take their nap in the coach as it was about 50 kilometers journey northwest from the Beijing City to reach the foot of Tianshou Mountain where the tomb was located. Yesterday, we had covered so many places, 8 altogether (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, National Museum, Hutong, Summer Palace, Tea House and Acrobatic Show), thus, it was a hectic and exhasuted trip for all of us. We had to travel a longer distance as the places we were scheduled to visit seated a bit far from Beijing City on the second day itinerary. Therefore, we could possibly covered few places only. Most importantly was a trip to the Ming Tomb and the Great Wall of China. The tour guide had brought us to see the crystal factory on our way (which was a boring trip) before proceeding with a tour inside the famous tomb.

Nazhif at a front gate, consisting of a three-arches, painted red, and called the "Great Red Gate

Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty are located within the suburban Changping District of Beijing municipality. The tomb site 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 in the tomb.

From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 other 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 was buried at the location was Chongzhen, who committed suicide by hanging himself in Jingshan Park (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 compares 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. Please click here to read the story of "Li Zicheng" and "Chongzhen" for the location of where the last ming emperor hang himself. 

The Ming Dynasty Tombs are designated as one of the components of the World Heritage object at present. The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui 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.

Only 3 tombs are open to the public, 1) Chang Ling, the largest, 2) Ding Ling, whose underground palace has been excavated and 3) Zhao Ling. There have been no excavations since 1989, but plans for new archaeological research and further opening of tombs was circulated. The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003. They were listed along with other tombs under the "Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties" designation. We were touring the most famous tomb, Ding Ling in 2006, thus, many other interested features of the 12 other tombs were not sighted by us.

Dingling literally means "Tomb of Stability", 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. I read the story of Emperor Wanli and his success from the history book and film. During his reign, he had dominated 3 wars from the Mongolian, the Japanese and the Yang Yinglong rebellion. I did not expected to see and visited his richly and highly engineering skilled built tunnel tomb to the modern engineering. At the time of visit, our SMART tunnel project was about to be handed over.

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. In below photo, a large vault key was in framed form as to preserved.  

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 (Remarks: the empresses and concubines were buried (alive) together with the Emperor at a time of his burial being part of a cruel tradition). 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. Lily was explaining the details of the tomb, inside the chamber in below photo.

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 (belonging to Tang dynasty in 7th century). The original plan, to use Dingling as a trial site for the excavation of Changling, was abandoned. 2 photos below are the access shaft to tomb chamber, a very massive engineering to built such a massive shafts and chambers similar to a modern technology, as in my recent water cum motorway tunnel project in Kuala Lumpur.

The tomb layout of the ground buildings is square in the front and round in the rear, symbolizing the ancient Chinese philosophy of “Round Heaven and Square Earth”. The magnificent of Dingling Tomb underground palace, 27 meters beneath the ground, covers a total area of 1195 square meters with 5 tall and spacious halls of stone structure with no column. More than 3000 articles buried have been unearthed and on display in the Dingling Tomb Museum.

We explored the ground monument once we surfaced from the exit point. It was a 4 faced column with 4 different kind of Chinese art of writing including in Manchurian. The carved dragon was even more beautiful in the pink marble. We took a considerable lengthy times in the small part of Ming Tomb, including visiting stalls operated by locals selling souvenir items.. If I were to return to the place again, I will definitely explore the Changling tomb in greater details.

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