The Dingling Tomb Ding-Ling is the only tomb of the thirteen to be exacavated. Buried here are three individuals; Emperor Wan-li (died 1620), Empress Wang (died 1620), and another Empress Wang (died 1611). The Emperor Wan-li was the last of the great Ming Emperors, reigning 48 years, longer than any Chinese Emperor since the Han Emperor Wu of the 2nd century B.C. Alongside him are his wife and 1st concubine.
The excavations took place from 1956-58 under the direction of Dr. Hsia Nai of the Peking Institute of Archaeology. Though despoiled by vandals, the burial chambers were undisturbed. The archaeologists’ first priority was to find the door to the tomb chambers. Random digging could have collapsed the tomb chamber, so the exit door door had to first be located.
Fortunately, luck was on their side. A stele left by the original builders was discovered with the inscription “the wall is 16 chang away and 3.5 chang down.” It had been left by workers who had simply forgotton to remove it when the tomb was sealed. The archaeologists followed the instructions and discovered a door in the proper place. It was sealed with an ingeneous lock that had swung into place when the doors were originally closed. The archaeologists removed it by inserting a pole between the cracks and lifting it off its hinges.
Inside, nothing had been disturbed since the tomb was sealed in 1620. It was completely dry. An enormous variety of treasure lay in the inner rooms. The vaults were self-supporting with carefully fitted marble stonework. Adjacent to the treasure and the three bodies were “eternal lamps” to sustain the spirit of the dead, filled with oil, which had gone out soon after the doors were sealed.
Unfortunately, most of the artifacts have been removed from the inner chambers, so that there is little left to see when one visits today. Also, the underground chambers are accessable from an ugly modern staircase, which partly spoils the experience.
The outdoor structures of the tomb are far more interesting, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains from the Stele tower. Though crowded with visitors, the far reaches of the circular wall are devoid of people. From here you can be alone and enjoy the natural beauty of the tomb landscape, listening to the songs of the native birds.
Dingling Tomb in Beijing, the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun (1563-1620) and one of the Thirteen Tombs of Ming Dynasty, is of great historical and sightseeing value.
Located in the southern foot of Tianshou Mountain in Changping County of Beijing, Dingling Tomb is the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun (1563 – 1620) of Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) and his two empresses, Empress Xiaoduan and Empress Xiaojing. Zhu Yijun was the thirteenth emperor and occupied the throne for 48 years, the longest among all of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty. Built over six years between 1584 and 1590, the tomb, which covers an area of 180,000 square meters (44 acres), is of great historical value, attracting millions of tourists from home and abroad every year.
The aboveground part of Dingling Tomb presents a square front and circular rear construction layout, symbolizing the ancient Chinese philosophical concept of “heaven is round and the earth is square”. Three white marble stone bridges lead you to the entrance of Dingling Tomb, where you will see a high tablet pavilion. Further back, there is an enclosing wall named Wailuo Wall around the mausoleum. At the axis position of the wall a palace gate was set, which is the first door. The yellow glazed tiles, eaves, archway, rafters and columns are all sculptured from stone, and colorfully painted. Inside the Wailuo Wall, there are three courtyards in the square front part, and the Treasure City in the circular rear part. The first courtyard has no buildings and facilities, but three Divine Kitchens on the left side outside the courtyard, and three Divine Storerooms on the right side. The gate of the second courtyard is named Blessing and Grace Gate (Ling’en Gate). There is a base with railings, and the top of the railings are decorated with stone dragon heads and phoenix heads. The Blessing and Grace Palace (Ling’en Palace) is in the third courtyard. It is the place for making sacrifice to Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses. The stone road in the middle of the courtyard is engraved with a dragon and a phoenix playing with a pearl. The third courtyard has a two-column archway door called Lingxing Gate and a few stone tables on which sacrificial items are placed. The circular rear part has the Treasure City, where Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses were buried. It is covered with earth and the middle part stands out, looking like a round castle.
The underground part is the Underground Palace, which was unearthed between 1956 and 1958. It is the most valuable part of Dingling Tomb. The palace really deserves a careful visit as it is the only unearthed palace of the Thirteen Imperial Tombs of Ming Dynasty. Starting from the ground, after more than 40 meters (130 feet) of the underground tunnel, you can access to the hidden palace. The stone structure of the palace is a representative style of the Ming Dynasty. The entire palace is divided into five communicant vaulted halls: the front, the middle, the rear, the left and the right halls, among which the rear hall is the main and largest. The entrance of each hall is made of sculptured jade, and the floors are covered with gilded bricks. In the middle of each hall is a white marble coffin. On each coffin there is a square hole called Gold Well filled with loess. A paved path leads to the central hall where there are three white marble thrones, in front of which incense, candles and flowers were set. Before each of them, there are the glazed Five Offerings and a blue china jar that would have been filled with sesame oil to be used for lamps. The coffins of Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses are in the rear hall. There are also some precious items displayed with these coffins, such as jades, vases, red lacquer boxes, golden crown, silver, silk and so on. The Underground Palace unearthed a total of over 3,000 pieces of cultural relics, including four national treasures: the gold imperial crown, the gold empress crown, glowing pearl and tri-colored glazed pottery of the Ming Dynasty. These relics are all stored in the Dingling Tomb Museum.
Introduction of Ming Tombs Beijing
Many foreigners visiting the Great Wall of China at Badaling or Juyongguan will stop en route at Changping County, some fifty km northwest of Beijing, to visit the Ming Tombs. They will usually be taken directly to the Dingling, which is the resting place of one of the most insipid Chinese rulers, the Wanli Emperor. Hence, the visitors will miss the Spirit Way or Sacred Way lined by the guardian statues of 24 animals and 12 officials.
The Ming Tombs, covering a hilly area of 40 acres, was selected in 1409. In 1424 the Yongle Emperor, Zhu Di, was the first Ming Emperor to be buried here in his mausoleum called the Changling. He was the third Ming Emperor. His father and founder of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, was buried in Nanjing, and his nephew, the second Ming Emperor, from whom he usurped the throne, escaped and disappeared from official history.
All in, thirteen of sixteen Ming Emperors were buried in this royal necropolis, including Empresses and many concubines, some buried alive to accompany the Emperor to his next world. It was in the reign of the Zhengtong Emperor (1436-1449) that the practice of entombing live imperial concubines was abolished. The last Emperor to be entombed here was the Chongzhen Emperor, Zhu Youjian, in his mausoleum called Siling. This last Ming Emperor hanged himself in 1644 at Coal Hill just outside the Forbidden City when Beijing fell to the rebel army of Li Zicheng. However, the succeeding Qing (Manchu) conquerors, under Chinese imperial protocol, gave the last Ming Emperor a decent burial due to an Emperor.
Of the remaining three missing Emperors, the founder of the Ming Dynasty was buried in Nanjing, the second Emperor vanished when the Yongle Emperor usurped the throne and the seventh Ming emperor insisted on being buried in Jinshan closer to Beijing. Only three tombs are opened to the public viz Changling of the Yongle Emperor, Dingling of the Wanli Emperor and Zhaoling of the Longqing Emperor. Of these, only one tomb, the Dingling, has its tumulus (underground chamber) opened. Chinese archaeologists are excited about opening the Changling tumulus housing the powerful Yongle Emperor and possibly containing the remaining copy of the Great Dictionary of Yongle (Yongle Dadian).
The Ming Tombs follow the past traditional Chinese Imperial layout of eight components:
The spirit of Ming Tomb
1. Stone Memorial Arch, the central way only for the deceased Emperor
2. The Great Red Gate, where all, including the Emperor, must dismount
3. The Stele Pavilion with 7 meter high engraved stone column (huabiao)
4. The Spirit way, lined on either side by statues of animals and officers
5. The Gate of Dragon and Phoenix (Gate on the Threshold of Stars)
6. The Soul Pavilion with a marble tortoise carrying a stele on its back
7. The Tumulus or underground chamber holding the Emperor’s remains
8. Sacrificial halls for sacrifices.
Dingling Tomb – The Excavated Tomb
Dingling, Tomb of Certainty, is the only Ming Tomb that has been excavated. This is the resting place of the thirteenth Ming ruler, the useless Wanli Emperor, Zhu Yijun, whose claim to fame was his long life. He left matters of state to corrupt officials and allowed the country to sink into malaise and general suffering. He ascended the throne at the age of ten years and ruled for forty eight years. When the Dingling was completed in 1581 after six years of construction and thirty-eight years before his death, he held a grand feast to celebrate his future interment.
A visitor will be surprised to see the Wanli Emperor resting with the coffins of two Empresses, one on each side. The Emperor was actually buried in 1619 with Empress Xiaoduan who preceded his death by a few months. However, his only son was by a concubine, Xiaojing, who died eight years earlier and was buried in a concubine grave. The concubine was elevated to Empress status by her grandson and thus re-buried with the Emperor Wanli.
Underground Palace of Dingling
The discovery of the entrance to the 27 meter deep underground chamber is interesting. A small tablet was unearthed in the vicinity and the Chinese characters indicated a site and a depth.
Underground palace of Dingling Tomb
Archaeologists on following the instructions discovered a doorway to Dingling and started evacuation in 1956. Within two years the excavation was completed and the tomb was found to have jewellery and artifacts including jade belts, golden chopsticks and a crown worn by the Wanli Emperor himself. The underground chamber is made up of five marbled halls, a central hall surrounded by four other halls, the atmosphere being somewhat cold and damp.
Changling Tomb – The First Tomb
Changling, the biggest mausoleum, was built for the Yongle Emperor, Zhu Di, and took 18 years to complete. Zhu Di was the Emperor who built the Forbideen City, commissioned the Great Dictionary of Yongle (Yongle Dadian) and sent the eunuch Admiral Cheng He to South-East Asia, Ceylon, India, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Changling is surrounded by sixteen satellite tombs for Zhu Di’s concubines, and the tumulus has not yet been excavated. The ground structure opened to the public is a miniature Forbidden City, with an impressive Hall of Eminent Favours (LingEn Dian) of marbled floor and thirty-two sandalwood columns. The hall now serves as a museum for the precious artifacts found in the imperial coffins and twenty-three wooden chests in Dingling. The stone stele bears the inscriptions of the Ming Dynasty Renzong Emperor (Zhu Gaozhi) and Qing rulers, the Qianlong and the Jiaqing Emperors.