china edition


Eastern Qing Tombs

In Zunhua City (population 690,000), Hebei Province, some 125 kilometer east Beijing, lies a group of imperial tombs of the Qing Dynasty. It is known as the Eastern Tombs because there is another group, the Western Tombs, located In Yixian County, southwest Beijing. It is the largest and most complete group of imperial tombs in China, encompassing 48 square kilometer. It includes 15 tombs for five Qing emperors, their empresses and concubines. The tombs for the emperors and empresses are decorated with yellow glazed-tiles. The tomb area is screened by mountains to its north and set off by evergreen pines and cypresses. It is said that the first Qing Emperor, Shunzhi, chose the site on a hunting trip.

The emperors who were buried here are Shunzhi (in Xiaoling), Kangxi (Jingling), Qianlong (Yuling), Xianfeng (Dingling) and Tongzhi (Huiling).

Altogether 5 emperors, 14 empresses and 136 imperial concubines, princes and princesses were buried here, including the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi.

The Eastern Qing Tombs were first built in 1663, following the model of the Ming Tombs. Xiaoling, the tomb of the first Qing Emperor is the most elaborate of all. A huge archway stands before the Big Red Gate. Inside the gate is the Stele Pavilion with a stele inscribed with an account in Manchu and Chinese of the accomplishments of Emperor Shunzhi. A 12-meter-wide "way of the spirit", paved with bricks and lined by 18 sets of stone statues of lions, elephants, horses, camels, and unicorns, as well as army generals and court advisers, leads from the archway to the tomb of Emperor Shunzhi.

There are ways that branch off to the right and left, leading to the other tombs, which are different in size and elaborateness.

To the west of Xiaoling is Yuling, the tomb of Emperor Qianlong. His reign lasted for 60 years and his tomb is among the most splendid ones with a floor space of 327 square meter.

The underground palace of his tomb is composed of three chambers with four stone gates, in the shape of Chinese character 'zhu' meaning 'rule'. It is famous for its fine marble carvings on the walls and ceilings. Most notable are the eight bodhisattvas, four devarajas, small Buddhist and sutras carved in Sanskrit and Tibetan languages.

The tomb of Empress Dowager Cixi, Dingdongling, is the most magnificent. The carving on the ramp leading up to the Hall of Eminent Favour shows a dragon and a phoenix playing with a pearl, but in a reversed pattern: the phoenix above the dragon. The marble balustrade is carved with dragons and phoenixes amidst clouds and waves.

The columns in the main hall are decorated with coiling dragons in gold leaf; the inner walls of the side halls are covered with designs of bats. (symbolizing good luck) and the Chinese character 'longevity'.

Now the underground palaces of the tombs of Emperor Qianlong and Empress Dowager Cixi are open to the public.

A warlord named Sun Dianying (1889-1941) in July 1928 looted the tomb of the Empress Dowager. He closed the tomb grounds under the pretext of using it for military maneuvers and, with the help of his troops, opened the tomb of Cixi and stole the treasures. Empress Dowager Cixi spent a fabulous amount of money to build a mausoleum for herself long before her death. Its total cost came up to 72 tons of silver.

The peculiar interest is that Empress Dowager Cixi's tomb mound is bare. It is because that before she passed away she ordered that her tomb mound must be bare. Therefore the earth piling up her tomb mound was roasted. Firstly water could not sink into the tomb for the purpose of protecting it. Secondly, had grass or trees grown on her tomb mound, visitors would have had the chance to sit on it. Empress Dowager Cixi did not want people to sit on her tomb mound.