Ming Tombs

Ming Tombs is one of the top ten attractions in Beijing. The Memorial Arch, built of white marble, was erected in 1540. It is 12 metres high and 31 metres wide, and has 5 arches supported by 6 pillars with beautiful bas-relief carvings of lions, dragons and lotus flowers. Double lintels link the six pillars. The roofing is made of round marble tiles, with upturned corners. "The way of the spirit" used to pass beneath the Memorial Arch. The Big Red Gate was built in 1426. It used to have three huge wooden doors. The central opening was used by the dead emperor alone, and living ministers and imperial family members had to use one of the side openings when they came to pay homage to the deceased emperors. About 500 yards (A yard is equal to 0.914 metre.) from the Big Red Gate stands the Tablet House built in 1435. A marble column, known as huabiao, stands at each corner of the Tablet House. A huge tablet, 7 metres high, stands in the middle of the house on the back of a tortoise. The front side bears an inscription by the fourth Ming emperor. On the reverse side is an inscription carved during Qing Emperor Qianlong's reign. It described the reconstruction of the Ming Tombs. in 1785 and commented on the rules and styles of the Ming Tombs.

Now we come to the famous avenue of stone animals and statues. Stone animials and statues are found at the entrance to imperial tombs from the Han Dynasty onwards, but none of the group is as famous as that of the Ming Tombs.

The avenue starts with two columns, called wangzhu in Chinese, one on each side. They are hexagonal, carved with a cloud design, and the top is shaped like a round cylinder. The animals are lions, Xiezhi was a mythical beast of the feline family, said to be able to distinguish right and wrong. Qilin was a sort of imaginary animal with a scaly body, a cow's tail', deer's hooves and horns on its head.

With "the way of the spirit" turning slightly, the statues appear: two military officers wearing sabres, two civilian officials and two ministers of merit. Six statues on each side and twelve in all.

These animals and statues all date from the 15th century. Ming Tombs is interesting to compare them with those at the tomb of the first Ming Emperor in Nanjing, which are scarcely any older and yet much less fine. They were all meant to serve the dead in the next world. They do give people a sense of solemnity on the way leading to the Tombs, don't they?

Tourists to Beijing can now enjoy an aerial view of Ming Tombs and Great Wall. During a trial period from March till June, 1985, about 10,00o Chinese sightseers flew over the areas in four helicopters. The Tourist Transportation Company of Changping County then officially started helicopter sightseeing service for foreigners over the famous sites on July 1,1985. Passengers board helicopters at a pad five kilometres south of the Ming Tombs. Each helicopter carries up to 25 passengers and cruises at 150 kilometres per hour. The flight over the Ming Tombs area is at an altitude of about 250 metres.

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