Wednesday, January 16, 2013

China - Day 3 - Morning - The Ming Tombs

On our 3rd day in Beijing, we visited the Ming Dynasty Tombs in the morning and went on to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City after lunch. We ended the day doing a bit of shopping at a local "department store" that Lisa took us to.

The Ming Dynasty ruled China from 1368 - 1644 and the Ming Tombs serve as the cemetery for 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors. The first, second and seventh emperors are not buried at the Tombs. The tomb of Hongwu, the first Ming Emperor and the founder of the Dynasty, is in Namjing (the former capitol of China). The second Ming emperor was overthrown and "disappeared" so the location of his tomb is not known. The seventh emperor, Zhu Qiyu, ascended to power after his brother was captured in a war. Zhu Qiyu continued to rule even after his brother's release but eventually Zhu Qiyu was removed from power by a military coup and placed under house arrest. Upon his death, Zhu Qiya was denied an imperial burial (by his own brother who was once again the emperor) at the Ming Tombs. Instead he was buried in the hills west of Beijing. 

The Ming Tombs are the largest collection of royal burial sites in one location and are very well preserved. Located about 31 miles northwest of Beijing, the Ming Tombs are built on a site that was carefully chosen in accordance with Feng Shui principles. The 120 square kilometer site of the Tombs is located in a valley on the southern slope of Tianshou (Heavenly Longevity) Mountain and is surrounded by the Dragon and Tiger Mountains (to deflect evil spirits and chilling winds from the north). A branch of the Yanshan River flows in front of the site.  

Here is Lisa giving us some information about the site and what we will be seeing.
The photo below gives you a visual of the layout of the Tombs and how the surrounding mountains sheltered the valley where the Tombs were built.  
The Hall of Prominent Favor at the Changling Tomb.
Here we are about to enter the Hall. 
We noticed that all of the buildings at the Ming Tomb site had a raised threshold (about 6" high) at the doorways to the exterior. (You can see one in the photo above). According to Lisa, Chinese ghosts can only slither on the ground so the raised threshold acts as a barrier to prevent the Chinese ghosts from entering the buildings. Also according to Lisa, American ghosts fly so that is why thresholds in the U.S. are not raised. Seriously. 

This is Ming Emperor Cheng Zu (Zhu Di) who initiated construction of the Ming Tombs and is  buried at Changling. 
While we were touring this building, Lisa gave us some history about this Emperor and what he accomplished during his reign. At one point, she asked us if we knew that it was in fact the Chinese who discovered America in 1421, well before Christopher Columbus in 1492. Lisa went on to tell us there was even book written ("1421: The Year China Discovered America") to document the voyage and discovery. Obviously, that was news to us and it took a lot for me to hide my smile & bite my tongue. I just considered her statement as being a generous interpretation of history by the Chinese and wondered what else had been re-written in their history books. Even after I was back in Thailand, I still giggled a little when I remembered Lisa telling us that. However, curiosity got the best of me and I did a little digging. Lo and behold, I found this article which discusses the book she mentioned and the movement to gather evidence and data to support this theory. You learn something new every day.

 Christopher eyeing the pile of money at the Emperor's feet.
 The detail of the woodwork and the painting on the ceiling was beautiful.

  These creatures' heads were actually downspouts.
Pretty colors.
 Say cheese!
Looking out to the courtyard and another hall. 
This was another building in the Changling Tomb area. I think it was called the Soul Tower but I cannot remember what its significance was.
All of the photos below were taken on the balcony of the Soul Tower.

The Changling Tomb was the first (and is the largest & most prominently located) tomb and was built in 1409 by Zhu Di. The twelve other tombs were added over the next 230 years. Each successive emperor had to build his tomb so that it was not any bigger than those of his predecessors.

I found this interesting bit of information on-line (and can't find the web address to cite the author), "The afterlife was considered an extension of the current life therefore the tombs consisted of many buildings including a place to eat, a place to work and a place to sleep. The emperors also began preparing for their second life very early. Zhu Di began construction on his when he was 28. When the emperor died, his wife, 16 favorite concubines and several servants were killed (usually poisoned) to join him and take care of him in his afterlife. They were all buried somewhere in the hill behind the structures - none of the actual tombs have been found because no one wants to disturb the actual tombs."

At this time, only three of the Ming Tombs -- Ding Ling, Chang Ling, and Zhao Ling -- have been restored, and only one (Ding Ling) has been fully excavated. Only the Sacred Way, Changling Tomb, Zhaoling Tomb and Dingling Tomb are open to the public.

The Sacred Way is a 7 kilometer path that leads into the Tombs area and was thought to have led the return of the emperors' souls to heaven. Along a portion of the Sacred Way, there are 18 pairs of larger-than-life stone sculptures of animals (real and mythical) and humans on both sides of the path. Although tourists are supposed to begin their visit to this area with a walk along the Sacred Way to enter the Tombs, we viewed the Tombs area first and then walked along the Sacred Way. To confuse you even more, we walked from the Tombs area (and really the end of the Sacred Way) to the entrance of the Sacred Way. So, the photos below are in reverse order of what you would actually see if you walked the Sacred Way from its entrance to its end at the Tombs. Got that?

Setting off on our walk on the Sacred Way.
The Dragon and Phoenix Gate.
Looking down the Sacred Way from the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.
As you will see in the photos below, the statues were huge. I read somewhere that some of the statues weigh over 30 tons. The statues were carved from a single piece of marble in the early years of the Ming Dynasty, over 540 years ago. Transporting the carved statues to the Sacred  Way was very difficult because of their size and weight. In the winter, water was splashed on the roads to form a layer of ice on the road. Once the ice was frozen, a special wooden frame (land boat) holding the statue would be pulled over the icy road by one thousand people, moving the frame one step at a time. Every 500 meters, a new well was dug to get water for making the ice. Makes you appreciate your desk job, doesn't it?

The human figures are four military officials, four civil officials and four meritorious officials. These figures represent the supreme authority and dignity of the emperors and signify that the emperors are still supreme in power after death.
There was some significance of the left hand over right hand but I can't remember what it was. 

What is wrong with this photo?
Aunt Jan to the rescue!
Now on to the animals. Notice that in each pair, one of the animals is kneeling and the other is standing. 

The mythical creatures.
 This guy looked like he was on the losing end of a battle with the blow dryer.
 Christopher insisted that he could climb up on this statue. Not.
He had better luck on the next one.
 One last look up the Sacred Way.

The building in the photo below is the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion which is at the entrance to the Sacred Way. Inside the Pavilion is a 50 ton tortoise/dragon creature that is carrying a stone tablet. 
A closer look at the detail on the corners of the roof. I will post something about the meaning of these figures when I recap our visit to the Forbidden City.
The tortoise/dragon creature. 
Our driver was waiting for us as soon as we exited at the entrance of the Sacred Walk. We climbed in the van and drove back in the direction of Beijing to have lunch before going on to Tienanmen Square.

Next up... Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Have a great Wednesday!

1 comment:

Luizze Oliveira said...

These all are very nice pictures in article. This Ming Tombs are placed at the 48 km away from northwest of Beijing at a carefully selected site and most extensive burial complex of any Chinese.

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