Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties – the Thirteen Ming Tombs in Beijing

1. Outstanding Universal Value (What does the UNESCO say about the property? Why is it worth your visit?)

2. Practical information

2.1 How to get there?
2.2 How to buy ticket?
2.3 Opening hours and suggested length of visit
2.4 Audio guide

3. How was the site of the Ming Tombs chosen?

4. Why are only 13 emperors buried here?

5. Dingling Tomb

5.1 Stele of Divine Merit and Sage Virtue
5.2 Mausoleum Gate
5.3 Remains of Ling’en Gate and Ling’en Hall
5.4 Lingxing Archway
5.5 Five Stone Sacrificial Vessels
5.6 Bao Cheng (Treasure Citadel)
5.7 Underground Palace
5.8 Minglou (Soul Tower)
5.9 Dingling Museum

6. Changling Tomb

6.1 Mausoleum Gate
6.2 Stele Pavilion
6.3 Ling’en Gate (Gate of Eminent Favor)
6.4 Silk-burning Stove
6.5 Ling’en Hall
6.6 Lingxing Archway
6.7 Square City and Minglou (Soul Tower)

7. The Sacred Way (Passage)

7.1 Lingxing Archway
7.2 Stone Sculptures
7.3 Wangzhu (Stone Column)
7.4 Divine Merit and Sage Virtue Stele Pavilion

1. Outstanding Universal Value

First of all, it’s important to know that the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties were built between 1368 and 1915 and are located in Beijing Municipality, Hebei Province, Hubei Province, Jiangsu Province and Liaoning Province of China. They comprise of the Xianling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty and the Eastern and Western Qing Tombs inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000; the Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty and the Ming Tombs in Beijing added to the inscription in 2003, and the Three Imperial Tombs of Shenyang, Liaoning Province (Yongling Tomb, Fuling Tomb, and Zhaoling Tomb, all of the Qing Dynasty) added in 2004. Now, let’s see what the UNESCO says about the property.

  • The Ming and Qing imperial tombs are located in topographical settings carefully chosen according to principles of geomancy (fengshui) and comprise numerous buildings of traditional architectural design and decoration, which makes them masterpieces of human creative genius. They make up a unique ensemble of cultural landscapes and are exceptional examples of ancient imperial tombs of China.
  • The tombs and buildings are laid out according to Chinese hierarchical rules and incorporate sacred ways lined with stone monuments and sculptures designed to accommodate ongoing royal ceremonies as well as the passage of the spirits of the dead. They illustrate the great importance attached by the Ming and Qing rulers over five centuries to the building of imposing mausolea, reflecting not only the general belief in an afterlife but also an affirmation of authority.
  • The tomb of the first Ming Emperor, the Xiaoling Tomb broke with the past and established the basic design for those that followed in Beijing, and also the Xianling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty in Zhongxiang, the Western Qing Tombs and the Eastern Qing Tombs. The Three Imperial Tombs of the Qing Dynasty in Liaoning Province (Yongling Tomb, Fuling Tomb, and Zhaoling Tomb) were all built in the 17th century for the founding emperors of the Qing Dynasty and their ancestors, integrating the tradition inherited from previous dynasties with new features from the Manchu civilization. The whole property represents a phase of development, where the previous traditions are integrated into the forms of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, also becoming the basis for the subsequent development.
  • The Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties are a unique testimony to the cultural and architectural traditions of the last two feudal dynasties (Ming and Qing) in the history of China between the 14th and 20th centuries. They are fine works combining the architectural arts of the Han and Manchu civilizations.
  • The Ming and Qing Tombs are dazzling illustrations of ancient funeral system and the beliefs and world view prevalent in feudal China. They have served as burial edifices for illustrious personages and as the theatre for major events that have marked the history of China.

2. Practical information

2.1 How to get there?

Although a total of thirteen Ming Tombs are located near Beijing, only three of them plus the Sacred Way (Spirit Way) are open to the public. They are the Dingling Tomb, Changling Tomb, and Zhaoling Tomb. The Dingling Tomb is renowned for its Underground Palace, the only one excavated among the thirteen tombs; the Changling Tomb for its enormous Ling’en Hall, which is supported by 60 Jinsi nanmu, a precious wood; the Zhaoling Tomb for the completeness of its structures above the ground; and the Sacred Way for its vivid stone sculptures. Unfortunately, during my visit the Zhaoling Tomb was closed due to restoration work, so I will not include it in this post. If during your visit it’s open again, the staff in the Visitor Center, which is located close to the entrance to the Dingling Tomb, will tell you how to reach it. According to my experience, they are very friendly and helpful.

I think the most convenient way to reach the Thirteen Ming Tombs is to take bus No. 872 from Deshengmen station, which is 13 mins away by foot from the Jishuitan Stop of Metro Line 2 (exit through Exit C), to Dagongmen or Huzhuang Stop (entrance to the Sacred Way), Dingling Stop (entrance to the Dingling Tomb) or Changling Stop (entrance to the Changling Tomb). Please note, Deshengmen station is very big and to find bus No. 872, you need to look for and follow the signs. The one-way ticket costs 9 yuan/person. It is said on the official website that you can also take Metro Line Changping, bus No. 886 or bus No. 888 to Changping dongguan Terminal Station and transfer to bus No. 314 to reach Dagongmen or Huzhuang Stop, Dingling Stop, or Changling Stop.

Between the Sacred Way, Dingling Tomb, and Changling Tomb, you can choose to walk but it’s gonna take quite some time. Instead, you can take bus No. 872 or bus No. 314 to travel in between and each ticket costs 2 yuan/person. The bus normally runs every half an hour and if you can’t recognise Chinese characters, always tell the bus driver the stop you’re going to and he/she will tell you whether the bus is going in the right direction. My recommended route for you is:

Deshengmen station – bus No. 872 > Dingling Stop – bus No. 872 or 314 > Changling Stop – bus No. 872 or 314 > Huzhuang Stop – walk through the Sacred way > Dagongmen Stop – bus No. 872 > Deshengmen station.

2.2 How to buy ticket?

Low season: 1st November – 31st March

High season: 1st April – 31st October

  • Dingling Tomb:
    • Low season: 40 yuan
    • High season: 60 yuan
  • Changling Tomb:
    • Low season: 30 yuan
    • High season: 45 yuan
  • Zhaoling Tomb:
    • Low season: 20 yuan
    • High season: 30 yuan
  • Sacred Way:
    • Low season: 20 yuan
    • High season: 30 yuan
  • Combined ticket:
    • Low season: 100 yuan
    • High season: 130 yuan

Please note:

  • Students (excluding postgraduate and Phd students), seniors (above 60 years old), and children (between 6 and 18 years old) can purchase discounted tickets which are 50% off the full prices.
  • During my visit, probably because the Zhaoling Tomb was closed, I paid 80 yuan for the combined ticket.
  • On my ticket I didn’t see but it is written on the official website that the combined ticket also includes admission to the Juyong Pass (Juyong guan), a mountain pass located in the Changping District through which the Great Wall of China passes. The Cloud Platform was built there in 1342. Bus No. 879 goes there directly from the Dagongmen or Huzhuang Stop, Dingling Stop, or Changling Stop, and I think it’s a good idea to add the detour to your visit.

2.3 Opening hours and suggested length of visit

Dingling Tomb, Changling Tomb and the Sacred Way:

  • Low season: 8:30 – 17:00
  • High season: 8:00 – 17:30

It takes around an hour to reach the Dingling Stop from Deshengmen station in Beijing and I think you should leave about 3 – 4 hours for visiting the Dingling Tomb, Changling Tomb and Sacred Way. If you are in a hurry, you can try to squeeze the visit in half a day but in that case, you really need to hurry up as you need to spend at least two hours on the way. If you have enough time, why not add a detour and take a look at the Great Wall (Juyong Pass)? Even if you include all the four attractions, it’s still gonna be a relaxing trip. In my hotel, I saw companies organising day trips covering both the Ming Tombs and the Badaling section of the Great Wall. I’m not a big fan of this kind of tours (because I like to visit sites at my own pace), but if you don’t have much time in Beijing and yet desire to see all the important attractions, you can think about the option.

2.4 Audio guide

What I know for sure is that there’s audio guide service (as well as human guide service) for the Dingling Tomb. In the Visitor Center close to its entrance, you can rent the device (which is essentially a bluetooth earphone) with a deposit of 200 yuan. The rental fee is 20 or 30 yuan and the explanation, which is available in Chinese and other main languages, lasts around 1 hour. Please note, it’s an automatic audio guide so when you are in certain areas, the guide will play by itself. I didn’t have any problems with the connection (not like in the Palace Museum) but still, it’s recommended not to walk too far away from the main sites. What I also know for sure is that there’s no audio guide for the Sacred Way but as for the Changling Tomb, theoretically there should be but I didn’t see any renting offices during my visit. I recommend the audio guide for the Dingling Tomb because the introduction (including some interesting stories) is much more detailed than the information provided on the info boards on site.

3. How was the site of the Ming Tombs chosen?

Unlike the emperors of the Yuan dynasty, who were all nomads from the Mongolian-Manchurian grassland and held the belief that they should return to earth after death, the Ming emperors were Han Chinese (an East Asian ethnic group and nation native to China) who believed the existence of an after-world, where the dead would live a life similar to that of the living. Therefore, Ming emperors had grand mausoleums built for themselves.

The site where the Thirteen Ming Tombs lie was chosen with the greatest care, taking fengshui (Chinese geomancy) into consideration, which claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. Before moving the capital to Beijing, the Yongle Emperor sent people to the city to select proper site for his mausoleum. They spent three years traveling around Beijing and considered that the small basin at the foot of Huangtu Hill, 10 km north of Changping Town, with an area of 40 square kilometers, was ideal. The emperor himself inspected the site and found out that the place was broad in space, screened by hills, and had deep clear water with slow flows. To the north it neighbours the Juyong Pass (Juyongguan) and to the south is the Changping Town, where an army could be stationed to guard the mausoleum and to defend Beijing. The geomancers suggested that the site was rare and ideal and the Yongle Emperor was satisfied and ordered the construction of the first mausoleum here. He gave the Huangtu Hill its present name, the Hill of Heavenly Longevity (Tianshou shan).

4. Why are only 13 emperors buried here?

If you are interested in Chinese history you probably know that there were 16 emperors in the Ming dynasty. Why are there only 13 tombs here?

Hongwu Emperor, personal name Zhu Yuanzhang, was the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty and he made Najing the capital. After he died, he was buried in the Xiaoling Tomb in Nanjing together with his empress. Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu Province and it’s only 20 mins away by train from my hometown. During Chinese New Year, I visited it, whose general layout is very similar to that of the Changling Tomb near Beijing. In another post, I’ll introduce the Xiaoling Tomb, which is also inscribed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site (in the same property).

The second emperor of the Ming dynastyJianwen Emperor (Hongwu Emperor’s grandson), has no known mausoleum. It’s rather strange that the Hongwu Emperor passed the throne to his grandson instead of his son and certainly it caused quite some conflicts in the family. When the Hongwu Emperor was about to pass away, he sent his fourth son (a potential threat to the later Jianwen Emperor) to the north to defend the country and decreed that he wasn’t allowed to come back within a certain amount of years (in order to give enough time for his grandson to stabilize his position as the new emperor). The Jianwen Emperor tried to weaken the forces of his uncle, but was met with strong counter-attacks three years later. He was ousted and disappeared and no one knows whether he escaped or was killed. His uncle then became the third emperor of the Ming dynasty and moved the capital to Beijing. His tomb is the majestic Changling Tomb, which I’ll introduce in Chapter 6.

The seventh Ming Emperor, Jingtai, is buried as a prince rather than an emperor in the hills west of Beijing. Why? During the 14th year’s reign of the Emperor Yingzong, the sixth emperor of the Ming dynasty, Mongols from the north invaded the country. Yingzong led the expedition personally to conquer the Mongols, but was unfortunately captured by them in 1450, and his brother took over the throne. Several years later, Yingzong was set free by the Mongols and managed to return to Beijing in 1457. Upon arrival, he realized his throne was seized by his brother. Coincidentally, his brother soon became very sick. Yingzong took advantage of his sickness and overthrew him and re-proclaimed himself as the emperor again. After his brother died, Yingzong refused to honour him an imperial burial, and that’s why Emperor Jingtai was only buried as a prince in the hills.

The stories above not only explained why only 13 out of the 16 Ming emperors are buried in the Thirteen Ming Tombs but also gave you a taste of the merciless fights over power in the imperial family. In the following three chapters, I’ll introduce the Dingling Tomb, Changling Tomb and the Sacred Way.

5. Dingling Tomb

Close to the entrance there’s a big info board on which a map of the mausoleum complex and a general introduction to it are provided. Inside, close to each important structure there’s an info board with explanation available in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean. My introduction in this chapter will be based on this information as well as what I learnt from the audio guide.

Located at the east foot of Dayu Mountain, Dingling is the joint burial tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor Wanli and his two empresses. He ascended the throne at the age of 10 and ruled for 48 years until he died at the age of 58. It took six years to build Dingling, which covers an area of 180,000 square meters. Its Underground Palace is the first and only one that has been excavated among the Thirteen Ming Tombs. With approval of the State Council, the trial excavation started in May 1956 and was finished one year later. With a total floor space of 1,195 square meters, the palace consists of five stone chambers: the front chamber, the middle chamber, the rear chamber and the left and right annex chambers. More than 3,000 artefacts have been unearthed and in 1959, the Dingling Museum was set up at the original site and opened to the public.

5.1 Stele of Divine Merit and Sage Virtue

In front of the Mausoleum Gate is the Stele of Divine Merit and Sage Virtue. Originally it was housed in a pavilion which had a double-eave, hip and gable roof and an opening on each side. When Dingling was under renovation during the Emperor Qianlong’s reign in the Qing dynasty, the pavilion was demolished and only part of its walls still stands today. The stele is carried by a stone tortoise and bears no inscription. The base is carved with patterns of waves and cliffs with the images of fish, shrimp, crab and tortoise on the four corners respectively.

5.2 Mausoleum Gate

The Mausoleum Gate is also called the Double Gate (Chongmen), which has a single-eave, hip and gable roof covered with golden glazed tiles. It has three arches, and next to the central one is the calligraphy of the great scholar Guo Moruo, which reads “Dingling Museum”.

5.3 Remains of Ling’en Gate and Ling’en Hall

Between the Mausoleum Gate and the Lingxing Archway used to stand the Ling’en Gate and Ling’en Hall. The former was a five-bay-wide and two-bay-deep structure with a single-eave, hip and gable roof while the latter was a seven-bay-wide and five-bay-deep structure with a double-eave, hip and gable roof, sitting on a decorated base with carved railings. Both of them were destroyed during the peasant uprising led by Li Zicheng in March 1644 and rebuilt in a smaller scale during the Qing-dynasty Emperor Qianlong’s reign. The reconstructed gate was burnt down again during the Wang Jingwei Regime (common name of the Reorganized National Government of the Republic of China, a puppet state of the Empire of Japan between 1940 and 1945) and only part of the reconstructed hall remains now.

5.4 Lingxing Archway

Lingxing Archway, a symbol of the Gate of Heaven, is widely used in buildings such as mausoleums, palaces and ancestral temples. It is a symbolic and decorative structure with strong hierarchical connotation.

5.5 Five Stone Sacrificial Vessels

Also named the stone festive set, the five vessels include a stone incense burner, two stone candle stands, and two stone flower vases. They are set on a stone altar supported by a decorated base. The set symbolises endless offering to the tomb occupants resting in the Underground Palace.

5.6 Bao Cheng (Treasure Citadel)

Surrounded by a circular wall, the Bao Cheng (Treasure Citadel) is filled with piles of earth, which constitute the Bao Shan (Treasure Hill). In the middle of the Bao Shan is the Bao Ding (Treasure Mound), which is a dome-like structure built with rammed earth (consisting of white plaster, loess and sand). As you can see in the 2nd picture above, the wall is entirely made of brick and outer side is built with crenels while the inner side is simply a parapet (a low protective wall). The passage in between is called the Ma Dao (which literally means the Horse Path), which functioned as a lookout point and walkway. Under the Bao Cheng is the Underground Palace and now let’s go down and explore it.

5.7 Underground Palace

One absolute highlight of the Dingling tomb is its Underground Palace, which is the joint burial tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor Wanli and his two empresses. Also called “Xuan Gong” (Dark Palace) or “Xuan Qin” (Dark Resting Place), it is the only one excavated among the Thirteen Ming Tombs. In fact, originally it was planned to excavate the Changling Tomb, but because its entrance was too difficult to find, the archaeologists had to give up and decided to find a smaller tomb for trail excavation. While investigating the other 12 tombs, they accidentally discovered that Dingling had a collapsed hole and therefore, the Dingling Tomb was chosen. In 1956, with approval of the State Council, the excavation began. In China, it is the first ancient imperial tomb excavated according to a national plan and the only imperial tomb that has been actively explored. A total of more than 3,000 pieces of artefacts have been unearthed (including many rare treasures), which are significant witnesses to the burial system, funerary customs and social development of the Ming dynasty. Some of them can be seen today in the exhibition halls of the Dingling Museum and in the Ling’en Hall of the Changling Tomb.

The Underground Palace consists of five stone chambers: the front chamber, the middle chamber, the rear chamber and the left and right annex chambers. The rear chamber (which you can see in the 5th picture above) is the main chamber, which contains a coffin bed on which coffins of the emperor (in the middle) and the two empresses (on the two sides) were placed. Jade was found between the coffins and burial articles were found in 26 cases made of Nanmu (a kind of hard wood) around them (coffins). When the palace was opened, part of the coffins and burial articles had already decayed. The coffins and cases on display today are copies. In the middle chamber, altars, Five Sacrificial Vessels, ever-burning lamps (which symbolise that the Underground Palace will be as glorious as the one on the ground), and other funerary objects such as stone thrones can be seen.

5.8 Minglou (Soul Tower)

With a double-eave, hip and gable roof and openings on four sides, the Soul Tower is a masonry structure applied with decorative color paintings. The tablet in the middle reads “Dingling Tomb” and inside stands a memorial stele, whose top is engraved with the characters “Da Ming” meaning “the Great Ming (dynasty)” and body is engraved with the characters “Shenzongxian Huangdi zhiling” meaning “Mausoleum of the Emperor Shenzong”. Please note, “Shenzong” is the temple name of Emperor Wanli. The base on which the stele stands consists of nice tiers of square blocks, which symbolise the supreme power and position of the emperor.

5.9 Dingling Museum

Zhu Yijun ascended the throne at the age of ten and adopted the regnal name “Wanli”, thus he is historically known as the Wanli Emperor. For the first ten years, he was aided by the Senior Grand Secretary (shoufu), Zhang Juzheng, who governed the country as Yijun’s regent. During this time, the country’s economy and military power prospered in a way not seen since the Yongle Emperor and the Rule of Ren and Xuan from 1402 to 1435. After Zhang’s death, the Wanli Emperor felt free to act independently and reversed many of Zhang’s administrative improvements. His reign of 48 years (1572-1620) was the longest among all the Ming emperors but many scholars of Chinese history believe that it was a significant factor contributing to the decline of the Ming dynasty.

The annex halls on both sides of the Lingxing Archway house exhibitions, which introduce the history of Dingling as well as its owner, the Wanli Emperor. They also display some of the 3,000 funerary objects found in the Underground Palace, which is so far the only imperial mausoleum in China excavated in a scientific and active way with approval of the State Council. One of the treasures (which you can see in the 1st picture above) is the emperor’s crown, which was found in a round box next to Wanli’s head. It’s precious not only because of its material (gold) but also because of the superb skills involved such as wire drawing, weaving, welding, etc. when making it, demonstrating outstanding craftsmanship of the Ming dynasty. It is said on the official website that the front part, which looks like a net, was made by weaving 518 gold wires (0.2 mm in diameter) and the bodies of the two dragons were made by welding 8,400 pieces of gold “dragon scales”. It’s the only crown of its kind in China, and thus a national treasure. Some other valuable exhibits here include the crowns of the empresses and a stone with an inscription which guided the archaeologists to find the entrance to the Underground Palace, hence the name “the Guiding Stone”.

Now let’s take bus No. 872 or 314 to the Changling Tomb. Remember, if you can’t recognise Chinese characters, ask the driver and make sure that the bus is going in the right direction.

6. Changling Tomb

Close to the entrance there’s a big info board on which a map of the mausoleum complex and a general introduction to it are provided. Inside, close to each important structure there’s an info board with explanation available in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean. My introduction in this chapter will be based on this information.

Situated in front of the main peak of the Hill of Heavenly Longevity (Tianshou shan), Changling is the joint burial mausoleum of the Yongle Emperor (personal name: Zhu Di), the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, and Empress Xu. Construction of the main structure of the mausoleum, the Underground Palace, began in 1409 and ended in 1427. Covering an area of about 120,000 square meters, the mausoleum is made up of the Bao Cheng (Treasure Citadel) with a dome-like structure (Treasure Mound) in the center under which lies the resting place of the emperor and his empress, the Soul Tower, the Ling’en Hall (for sacrificial purposes), the Ling’en Gate, the West and East Annex Halls, the Sacred Kitchen (where sacrifices were prepared), the Sacred Warehouse (where sacrifices were temporarily kept), the Pavilion for Slaughtering (where pigs, cattle and sheep were slaughtered), and the Dressing Hall (where emperors changed clothes for sacrificial ceremonies). After the collapse of the Ming dynasty, the complex has been restored many times. Except for the the West and East Annex Halls, Sacred Kitchen, Pavilion for Slaughtering, and Dressing Hall, all the major structures have been preserved. Among them, the Ling’en Hall and Ling’en Gate built of Jinsi nanmu (a precious wood) are the only buildings of their kind from the Ming dynasty, and therefore are regarded as treasures of ancient Chinese architecture.

6.1 Mausoleum Gate

The five-bay-wide gate has a single-eave, hip and gable roof and three arched passages.

6.2 Stele Pavilion

This pavilion, built in May 1542 with a double-eave, hip and gable roof and one arched opening on each side, houses a stele of unique design. It stands on a base shaped like a Chinese dragon instead of the commonly used tortoise. This stele originally carried no inscription and the imperial decrees engraved on three sides in both Chinese and Manchu were added in 1659, the 16th year of the Qing Emperor Shunzhi’s reign. The Qing Emperor Qianlong’s poem “Visit to the Ming Tombs” was engraved on the rear side in 1785.

6.3 Ling’en Gate (Gate of Eminent Favor)

The five-bay-wide and two-bay-deep gate has a single-eave, hip and gable roof. In the middle hangs a tablet bearing its name. Interestingly, the first character was miswritten in the last restoration. Particularly noteworthy is the stone slab called the “Imperial Way” between the steps leading to the platform (as you can see in the 2nd picture above). The lower part depicts a surging sea, in which mountains stand and two horses are leaping out, while the upper part depicts two vigorous dragons flying in the clouds. The exquisite piece renders a magnificent scene.

6.4 Silk-burning Stove

The stove is decorated with green and yellow glazed tiles and covered by a single-eave, hip and gable roof. Its façade features four blind windows and an arched opening in the middle. Inside is a small chamber which was used for burning silk and prayer sheets (wooden block inscribed with prayer).

6.5 Ling’en Hall

The Ling’en Hall is a palatial hall rarely seen in China and is the absolutely highlight of the Changling Tomb. Covering an area of 1,938 square meters, this 9-bay-wide and 5-bay-deep structure sits on three terraces of white marble, and is topped by a double-eave, hip roof. The stone slabs called the “Imperial Way” between the steps leading to the entrance are also impressive, which depict scenes of auspicious clouds, flying dragons, leaping horses and surging waves, all in exquisite craftsmanship. The hall is supported by 60 large columns made of Jinsi nanmu, a precious wood, and its floor is paved with square bricks made of fine dengni clay produced in Suzhou, commonly know as jinzhuan (metal bricks). During my visit, the entire structure reminded me of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian) in the Palace Museum (Forbidden City), which is the highest-ranking ancient building extant in China and even bigger (2,377 square meters). In fact, both halls were built during the reign of the Yongle Emperor and one was for him to use when he’s alive while the other one was for when he’s dead. This connection testifies to the Ming emperors’ strong belief in afterlife.

Emperor Yongle (personal name: Zhu Di) is the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. During his reign (1402 – 1424), he reformed institutions and set up the cabinet system; dredged the Grand Canal and developed economy; complied the Yongle Canon; strengthened the rule of northeast, northwest and southwest, and consolidated the north-south border; and supported Zhenghe’s voyages and promoted exchanges with foreign countries. In this period, the country saw its national strength growing and economy and culture prospering, and therefore his reign is commonly called the “Yongle Flourishing Age”.

The Ling’en Hall is currently used as an exhibition space housing the Ming and Qing Dynasties Imperial Jade Ware Exhibition. What’s more, some articles excavated from the Underground Palace of the Dingling Tomb as well as objects related to the Yongle Emperor are also displayed here. Particularly noteworthy are the seal with Emperor Wanli’s posthumous name, edicts issued by the Yongle Emperor, the Yongle Canon, and clothes and crowns of the Wanli Emperor and his empresses. Do pay attention to the material, craftsmanship, design and patterns of the luxurious clothing.

6.6 Lingxing Archway

Lingxing Archway, a symbol of the Gate of Heaven, is widely used in buildings such as mausoleums, palaces and ancestral temples. It is a symbolic and decorative structure with strong hierarchical connotation. The archway in Changling was rebuilt in 1935.

6.7 Square City and Minglou (Soul Tower)

In front of the Square City are the Five Stone Sacrificial Vessels and on its top is the Minglou (Soul Tower). With a double-eave, hip and gable roof and openings on two sides, the Soul Tower houses a memorial stele resting on a square base. Its top is engraved with the characters “Da Ming” meaning “the Great Ming (dynasty)” and its body is engraved with the characters “Chengzuwen Huangdi zhiling” meaning “Mausoleum of the Emperor Chengzu”. The original inscription was “Mausoleum of the Emperor Taizong”, which was the temple name of Emperor Yongle from 1424 to 1538. In 1538, when the Ming Emperor Jiajing changed Yongle’s temple name from Taizong to Chengzu, the stele was covered in a wooden frame bearing the same characters as we see today. In May 1604, the Soul Tower together with the stele was destroyed by lightning and was rebuilt in the following year.

Now let’s take bus No. 872 or 314 to Huzhuang Stop and start our visit of the Sacred Way.

7. The Sacred Way (Passage)

The Changling Sacred Way is also called the Chief Sacred Way because all the sacred passages leading to other tombs in the complex branch out from here. Its construction began in the 10th year of the Xuande Emperor’s reign (1435), and it was reconstructed in the 19th year of the Jiajing Emperor’s reign (1540). From the South Gate to the North Gate line the magnificent Stone Archway, the Great Red Gate with Dismounting Steles on both sides, the Divine Merit and Sage Virtue Stele Pavilion, the Stone Sculptures, the Dragon-Phoenix Gate, the Five-arch Bridge, the Seven-arch Bridge, etc., among which the Divine Merit and Sage Virtue Stele Pavilion, the Stone Sculptures, and the Dragon-Phoenix Gate are the core structures.

7.1 Lingxing Archway

Lingxing Archway, also named the Dragon-Phoenix Gate or Arch of Flame (because of the carved flaming pearls decorating the three doorways), symbolises the Gate of Heaven. The deceased emperors and empresses were carried through this gate to their burial sites, hence the name.

7.2 Stone Sculptures

The Sacred Passage between the Lingxing Archway and Stele Pavilion is divided into two sections, with the first one guarded by animal stone sculptures and the second by sculptures depicting humans. On each side from south to north you can see crouch lion, standing lion, crouch xiezhi (a strong legendary beast with one horn which in ancient times settled disputes by directly ramming the party at fault), standing xiezhi, prone camel, standing camel, prone elephant, standing elephant, crouch qilin (a mythical beast with dragon head, lion tail, ox hooves, deer antlers and scales all over its body which symbolises good luck and prosperity), standing qilin, prone horse, standing horse, military officer, civil officer and minister of merit. The lively sculptures were carved with great care and represent high artistic achievements of the Ming dynasty.

7.3 Wangzhu (Stone Column)

Both the body, which is decorated with cloud patterns, and base of the column are hexagonal, but its top, which is carved with a dragon coiling all the way around, is round. The Sacred Way had been marked with stone columns since the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), a design still seen in the imperial mausoleums of the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644).

7.4 Divine Merit and Sage Virtue Stele Pavilion

The Stele Pavilion is surrounded by four huabiao (which you can see in the 1st picture above), which is a type of ceremonial column used in traditional Chinese architecture (for example, in front of palaces and tombs). Covered by a double-eave, hip and gable roof, the pavilion has four openings, one on each side. Inside, it houses a stele whose front bears the inscription “Divine Merit and Sage Virtue Stele of Changling Tomb of the Great Ming Dynasty” and the Hongxi Emperor’s words describing the virtue and achievements of his father, the Yongle Emperor. They were written by Cheng Nanyun, a great calligrapher of that time. Inscriptions on the other three sides were added in the Qing dynasty, which are poems written by the emperors Qianlong and Jiajing.


I hope during your visit the Zhaoling Tomb and maybe even more tombs will be open and you can have a completer trip. If you plan to leave a whole day for visiting the Thirteen Ming Tombs, don’t forget about the Juyong Pass (Juyong guan), through which the Great Wall of China passes. If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask me. 🙂

Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties – the Thirteen Ming Tombs in Beijing was last modified: February 22nd, 2021 by Dong

1 Comment

  1. lorihalderson says: Reply

    You can no longer get clean air, waterways, food, housing, and the family is completely destroyed. Thanks pigs.

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