The Ming Tombs are the 13 Ming
emperors' mausoleum, which were built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD).
It is around 50 kilometers away from Beijing. It is the biggest
imperial mausoleum in China. The layout of each tomb is similar
but verifies in sizes. For the ground buildings, most of them were
destroyed. But the Hall of Eminent Favor in the Changling Mausoleum
(the second Ming Emperor Yongle's tomb) was well preserved. It has
around 600- year history. Dingling, the Emperor Wanli's tomb, which
is the only tomb, was excavated. But except the Underground Palace,
the empty burial chamber there is nothing special to see. The Ming
Tombs is not a big deal but the Sacred Way, leading to the Ming
Tombs is worth seeing. You can walk through the tranquil passageway
to see the magnificent stone sculptures such as stone camels, stone
elephants, stone lions, stone mystical animals and stone warriors.
More Stories about Imperial Tombs
The Evolution of Imperial Tombs Since the concept
of soul came into being, the human being began to build tombs. According
to the ranking of the people, their tombs were different. Of course
the monarchs’ mausoleums were the most magnificent. In different
dynasties the mausoleums of the upper class were different in the
Thousands years ago the tombs were very simple, no grave mound built
and no trees planted in the tomb area.
In the Qin and Han Dynasties, the tombs of the emperors were called
“Fangshang”. The grave mound was rammed into a pyramid without the
upper part. Emperor Qinshihuang’s tomb in xi’an was very representative.
In the Tang Dynasty, the emperor took the mountain as tomb so as
not to waste money and manpower. At the same time, that would conserve
water and soil and keep the tomb from being robbed. The Tangqian
Tomb in Shanxi Province was a good example. In the Song Dynasty,
the emperors resumed the “Fangshang”, but the scale was much smaller.
In the Yuan Dynasty, The Mongols were the rulers in China. The emperors
were buried in a very special way. They were buried under the grassland
without grave mound or other buildings. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties
the “Precious city and precious top” prevailed. For this kind of
tombs, the underground palace made of stone blocks was covered with
earth and the brick wall surrounded the Soul Tower and the grave
mound. A stele carved with the emperor’s posthumous title was erected
in the soul tower. There were other buildings in the mausoleum area,
such as tomb gate, the sacrificial gate and the sacrificial hall
and so many cypresses were planted in the tomb area. Actually the
mausoleum is much like a real palace, magnificent and solemn.
The Burial Customs of Chinese
According to different ethnic groups, the burial rituals are too
much different. In Tibet and Mongolia, their burial ritual is called
“Heavenly Burial”. The corpse would be placed on a mountain to let
the vultures eat. That is to say the soul would go to heaven by
this way. In south China, the people used a way called “Water Burial”.
The dead body would be thrown to river to let fish eat it. In some
minority groups, the remains would be cremated. For most of our
Han people, they would be buried under earth. Today for most people
will use cremate in order not to waste land.
The Funeral Rites After the death of the emperor,
burial rites with detailed procedures would be worked out by the
Department of Rites. The coffin would be placed in a palace hall.
On the previous day before the burial ceremony, a grand hearse would
be set up in from of the Meridian Gate with all articles necessary
for the funeral processions displayed in neat order. The newly enthroned
emperor would take queens, concubines, princes and other royal family
members to have the sacrificial ceremony. On the day of funeral,
the sacrifice would be held in the Ancestral Temple. On the day
of burial the final farewell sacrifice would be held at the Meridian
Gate but the new emperor would not go any further. The other royal
family members and officials would accompany the coffin to the tomb
On the way to the tomb area, a lot of sacrificial altars were set
up for the relatives of the royal family and hereditary family and
officials to pay homage to the deceased emperor, but no populace
was permitted to join in. When the coffin arrived at the tomb area
it would be put in the Sacrificial Hall. A ceremony would be held
to appease the soul of the dead emperor. Then the coffin would be
buried in the underground palace and the funeral ritual was finished.
Gold well and Jade burial It was the highest rank
of burial rite. That means to leave a rectangular hole on the coffin
bed; within it put a double handful of earth gathered from breaking
the ground at the building ceremony of the tomb and jade material
put around the coffin. It was said that the positive and the negative
could be combined by this way and the corpse would not be decayed.
The Excavation of the Ding Tomb
Authorized by the State Council the excavation started in May 1956.
During the exploration, the archeologists found mortar pieces on
the outside of the tomb wall fallen off, exposing signs of a brick
gate collapsed in the inner side. Later they found inscriptions
such as “tunnel gate”, “central axis” and “right passage” on the
inner side tomb wall. All this offered very important clues for
excavation. So they dug the first tunnel of 20 meters long and 3.5
meters wide. Two months later they found another brick passage leading
to the Soul Tower. So the second tunnel with 10 meters wide was
dug. When they dug 30 meters long they found a stone tablet with
an inscription:” from here to the diamond wall is 40 meters away
with 11.5 meters deep”. So the third tunnel with 40 meters long
and 11.5 meters deep was dug. At last they found the so-called “Diamond
Wall” slanting slightly inwards, narrow on top and wide at bottom.
The archeologists spent more than one year on excavating the tomb.
You may ask why there so many bricks carved with words and marks.
The reason is that the tomb was built many years before the emperor
died. When the project was completed, the passage leading to the
burial chamber would be filled. In order to find the way leading
to the Under Ground Palace easily for the emperor’s burying, the
builders left these marked bricks.
Automatic Stone in the Ding Tomb The door of the
underground palace was closed from behind with the automatic stone
propped. For example, the door leaves were first brought passing
the stone slot on the ground, leaving a gap for the workman to slip
out. Then the automatic stone was made standing in the slot and
it was held by a special clutch. Finally the door was shut up behind
the workman and the automatic stone fell into the slot cut beforehand
on the back of the door leaves. So the automatic stone kept the
door fastened from being pushed open from outside.