Eastern Qing Tombs

Eastern Qing TombsIn Zunhua County, Hebei Province, some 125 kilometres east of Beijing, lies a group of imperial tombs of the Qing Dynasty. It is known as the Eastern Qing Tombs because there is another group, the Western Tombs, located in Yixian County, southwest of Beijing. It is the largest and most complete group of imperial tombs in China, covering an area of 48 square kilometres. 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 were buried here, including the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi.

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 in-scribed with an account in Manchu and Chinese of the accomplishments of Emperor Shunzhi. A 12-metre-wide “way of the spirit”, paved with bricks and lined by stone statues of animals and figures, 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 metres.

The underground palace of his tomb is composed of three chambers with four stone gates, in the shape of Chinese character “zhu” meaning “ruler. n It is famous for its fine marble carvings on the walls and ceilings. Most notable are the eight bodhisattvas, four devarajas, small Buddhas and Buddhist 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.

The tomb of the Empress Dowager was looted by a warlord named Sun Dianying. He closed the tomb grounds under the pretext of using it for military manoeuvres 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 builda mausoleum for herself long before her death. Its total cost came up to 72 tons of silver.

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