Ming Tomb History

Ming Tomb HistoryMing Dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644. The first Ming Emperor had his tomb built in Nanjing, the town which he had chosen for his capital. As his eldest son died early, he was succeeded by his grandson, who became the second Emperor. His fourth son, the Prince of Yan, was guarding the northern frontier near Beijing with an army 100,000 strong. The second Emperor attempted to weaken his forces but was met with counter attacks. After a 3-year war he was ousted and lost track off completely. So, the fourth son became the third Emperor, Emperor Yongle, of the Ming Dynasty.

As a frontier commander, he was aware that a peaceful northern frontier was of great importance to tl:te Ming regime andthe unification ofthecountry. Yongle moved the capital to Beijing in early 15th century. Along with the construction of the Imperial Palace, he chose this valley to build his tomb. All his successors followed his example and had their tombs built here, except one who was dethroned and buried in the western suburb. Out of the sixteen emperors, thirteen lie here with their empresses and concubines. The site was chosen with the greatest care, with geomancy taken into ac-count. The tombs are located about 50 kilometres to the north of Beijing. They are scattered over a basin approximately 40 square kilometres in area, screened by mountains on three sides and open to the Beijing Plain in the south. The road leading to the tombs is guarded by the Tiger Hill on the left and the Dragon Hill on the right. It was a forbidden ground except for those who were officially in charge of its upkeep. It was not allowed to cultivate land, cut wood or to take stones from here. No one could enter it on horseback, even the Emperor himself had to dismount at the gate.

We are now riding on the road leading to the tombs. The road was opened up in 1979 with the increase in the number of Chinese and foreign visitors. Along the road, we’ll find the Memorial Arch, the Big Red Gate, the Tablet House, the stone animals and statues and the Ming Tombs Reservoir. We’ll also see a lot of fruit trees planted after the founding of the People’s Republic.

Emperor Wanli had two wives. The first wife empress Xiaoduan died only a few months before his death. The second wife Empress Xiaojing died in 1612, eight years before and was buried in a nearby tomb reserved for imperial concubines.

The first wife had no son while the second wife had one. He succeeded Emperor Wanli and died 29 days after his succession. He left the throne to his son. As Xiaojing was the second wife, she was not entitled to the privilege of sharing the Emperor’s tomb. When her grandson became Emperor, she was promoted to the rank of Empress Dowager, and it was decided that her body be moved into the tomb. The construction of the tomb and the underground palace started in1584 when Emperor Wanli was only 22 years old. Six years and 8 million taels of silver were spent on it. The bricks were brought from Shandong Province, the stone from the nearby district of Fangshan, and the wood from the southern provinces.

In 1644 when the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the buildings were damaged in a peasant uprising and were not restored until the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong. They were burned down again at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1956 after liberation, a decision was made by the Chinese Government to open up the tomb. It was the first time that an imperial tomb was excavated in China in a scientific way.

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