Chinese history and an explanation of the significance of famous historic sites in China can be surprisingly difficult to find. Whether it’s the language barrier or the complexity, I’m more than happy to sum things up for my Western audience 🙂 Plus, I went on this excursion with a Chinese history buff, so I got the inside scoop! This post is split into two parts. Part 1 covers the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and Part 2 is all about Ming Xiaoling, the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang who was the first emperor of the Ming Dyansty.
On Saturday March 12th, the 91st anniversary of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s death, I took a trip to the famous mausoleum of the man many consider to be the “founder of modern day China”. I went with Eric, his classmate, and their teacher, who, lucky for us, is a total history buff! As you can see from the photos, there were a TON of people here, many on guided tours.
In case you don’t know who Dr. Sun is, here’s the run-down: Sun Yat-Sen played a critical role in the collapse of imperial China. He co-founded a political group called the Kuomintang in 1894, and in 1912, the final dynasty of China was overthrown, thanks in part to his influence. In 1949, more than 20 years after his death, the party was forced to flee to Taiwan in order to continue running the Republic of China. The Kuomintang is still one of the major political parties there.
After walking through the entrance gate, there’s a long tree-lined path leading to a massive gate with three walkways. The the right-hand gate is where you enter, the left is where you exit. In the center is a locked gate, which has only been opened for the body of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. We asked our teacher if the president of China would get to enter through the center gate and he said no.
Entrance to the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is free because the Chinese government wants its people to go visit the sites that celebrate the political revolution of 1912. Although this site is a point of pride for China, there’s an interesting dichotomy at play because of Sun Yat-Sen’s affiliation with the political practices that now play out in Taiwan rather than mainland China.
My favorite part of the mausoleum is the grand architecture and incredible location. The design of this site was surprisingly decided by competition. Over 40 architects submitted proposals which were required to blend imperial tomb design and modern architecture. Once the design was chosen, construction began in 1926 at the foot of Purple Mountain and was completed in 1929. Dr. Sun’s remains had to take a 2-day trip to Nanjing after the mausoleum was ready, because he actually died 4 years earlier in Beijing.
Fun fact, the design competition required that architects prove construction costs would not exceed 300,000 RMB, but the actual cost of this mausoleum was over 3,000,000 RMB – that’s 10 times over budget!
The teacher guiding us through the mausoleum grounds explained that this area has near-perfect feng shui. First off, mountain peaks resemble the humps on the back of a dragon, a highly revered figure in Chinese culture. Second, this mountain is old enough to have plenty of trees, and water, two signs of prosperity. The mausoleum, like many important sites in China, was not built on a peak, but rather part-way up the face of the mountain to provide a natural backbone and prevent invasion. Lastly, everything of importance at the mausoleum faces south, which is apparently the right way to go about feng shui-ing your life.
When you reach the top of the 392 steps leading to the Sacrificial Hall, you have to walk to the right in order to enter the building, and line up in a Disneyland-esque queue. Once inside the Hall, you are urged to lower your camera and remain quiet. However, as soon as you get outside, you can crowd the front and snap all the pics you want, yelling to your family members to join you for a picture, selfie stick and all.
The inside of the Sacrificial Hall felt the most meaningful to me. It houses a huge statue of Dr. Sun, and at the back of the building is a pair of big red doors with dragon sculptures holding the door handles in their mouths. These are meant to represent the 4th son of the dragon who likes to kill people, which is why they’re in charge of protecting the door. Behind this door lies the bronze coffin and sarcophagus of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, which is something I heard to be true rather than saw myself since the doors are locked and his sarcophagus is not for public viewing.
CLICK HERE for Part 2 of this blog post, where I walk you through the history and significance of an ancient Ming Dynasty tomb.
CLICK HERE for a video I made about my visit to the mausoleums!
Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon,
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