Today was the start day for our walk on the Great Wall of China. But first we had one more historic site to visit. It was almost on the way and close to the section of wall for the first day’s walk, so why not delay the start of our arduous trek for just a few more hours?
While in Beijing, we had visited the Forbidden City, the Palace of Emperors, and we had walked in the Garden for Emperors, at Jingshan Park, and we would spend five days walking along the Great Wall built in Imperial times.
Now, we travelled 125 km east of Beijing to the East Qing Tombs, the largest and most complete complex of imperial tombs in China. At this huge site at the base of an arc of mountains, are the tombs of five of the Emperors of the Qing Dynasty, four Empresses including two Dowager Empresses, one princess and five tombs of imperial concubines.
Everything about this tomb site is BIG. The site covers 80 square kilometres and it’s just not possible to see it all in one visit. The entry way alone is five kilometres long. This path, known as the ‘spirit path’, is guarded by a large number of stone animals such as horses, camels, elephants and unicorns and human figures which represent courtiers and military officers. It’s all on a grand scale, as befits emperors. The pavers are now very uneven and it was rather rough walking. Fortunately we didn’t have to walk the whole way.
A look through the trunk of one of these stone elephants gives some impression of size.
The ‘spirit path’ leads to the red gate, the main entrance to the Tombs. A sign states “Officials Dismount From Horse Here”. Well, that didn’t apply to us as we didn’t have horses. A small section of the original wall can still be seen on the left of the gate.
Each of the guard stones is intricately decorated.
You could spend a whole day just photographing these stone sculptures.
DSC00303 © DY of jtdytravels
The tombs are situated at the base of an arc of four mountains. The map shows the way the tombs were set out in order of the status of each Emperor. The tomb, known as ‘Xiaoling ‘, the tomb of Emperor Shun Zhi (1638-1661, the first Qing emperor to rule China), is aligned with the axis of the main apex of Changrui Mountain. That indicates that he was the most important in the group. Other emperors lie on either side of Xiaoling in a fan pattern from east to west according to the position each person occupied in the family hierarchy.
There’s a legend that the choice of this burial site was made by Emperor Shun Zhi. It’s said that, one day, when he was out riding on a hunting trip, he came to the foot of the Changduan Mountain. Here, he reigned his horse in to admire this place of quiet and beauty in it’s setting among the green mountains. He took off his archer’s thumb guard (called a banzhi) and, throwing it into sky, he told his bodyguard that, wherever the banzhi dropped, that would be his burial place. And so it came to be.
Emperor Shun Zhi’s tomb, the ‘Xiaoling’ or ‘Qian Long’ mausoleum, was indeed built here two years after his death. It was built under the instructions of his successor, Emperor Kang XI. This marked the beginning of the Qing Dynasty East Tombs.
Those who came to pay homage at the tombs, changed their clothes in this pavilion.
That was then, not now.
Tomb entrances were built on a grand scale.
A tortoise was often put at the base of burial monuments. It carries a stone block on which the Emperor’s name is inscribed. Due to their long lifespan and their sturdiness, tortoises are a Chinese emblem of longevity, power, tenacity and stability. The flat plastron and domed carapace of a totoise parallels the ancient Chinese idea of a flat earth and domed sky
I became unsure, at this point, just who was buried where! It all became very complicated to take in over a short space of time. So I just took the opportunity to take photos to share that will at least show the ambiance of the place. It is an impressive place.
Intricately carved stone slab on stairway up to a tomb.
Fortunately we didn’t have to walk on these old and very uneven pavers.
An intricate wall decoration.
Consorts and favoured concubines were buried in these vaulted tombs.
A very detailed wall mural and much Tibetan calligraphy adorned the walls.
Almost all of the movable items have been removed by tomb robbers over the years.
Bridges cross the Yudai (Jade Belt) Stream, also known as Dragon Beard Ditch.
Water lilies fill the waters under the entry bridges.
Another entry… another tomb!
The most elegant tomb belongs to the Empress Dowager Cixi. Although she wasn’t born into the Royal family, she was a great beauty when young and became a Royal favourite, an Imperial Concubine. Never an Empress in her own right, she ruled ‘behind the scenes’ for 45 years during the reigns of two Emperors, Xianfeng, and her son, Tongzhi. Her tomb took six years to build and was adorned (then) with much gold, the symbol of royalty.
Decorations in the tomb of Empress Dowager Cixi.
Dragon figure decorations in the halls of Empress Dowager Cixi
Sloping up to the Empress Dowager Cixi’s “Hall of Grand Favour’ is a sculptural stone ramp. It’s a rather stunning work of intricate images depicting dragons and phoenixes.
Much more about these East Qing Tombs can be read on the following web site.
Empress Tanya; not entombed here and very much alive! Just playing dress-ups! Tanya is a member of staff at the Foundation Unit of the University of Newcastle. She spent many long hours organising this tour to China as part of the University’s 50th Anniversary celebrations.
Thank you Tanya!
All photographs copyright © JT and DY of jtdytravels
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