The mausoleums of Nanjing are historically significant to all of China, but information about them can be confusing and spread out over the web-o-sphere, so I wanted to consolidate it for my readers 🙂 If you haven’t yet, go read Part 1 about the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum and come back!
If you’re planning to visit the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, you might as well go see the 600-year-old Ming Dynasty tomb while you’re in the area! The two are fairly close together at the foot of Purple Mountain, and are accessible by private car or bus. You could walk, but it may take you a while. There are a few entrances to the tomb area, the most popular being the entrance that puts you right onto Spirit Way or Elephant Road, a pathway lined with huge stone animal sculptures.
Be aware that they charge for entrance to the grounds (70 RMB, which is about $10.75 USD), because they don’t want the tomb becoming overrun with tourists like the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Sun Yat-Sen’s mausoleum is a point of pride for modern day China because it celebrates post-imperial politics, so they encourage everyone to see it. This site, on the other hand, is a look back into dynastic China, which the Chinese government isn’t quite as proud of. But don’t let the money stop you – I promise it’s worth it. The grounds here are huge. On our little tour we passed a big open field, dozens of food stands, thousands of flowering trees, a stream, a small cultural museum, and several long pathways with stone sculptures. I focus mainly on the area of the tomb itself, but if you want to get your money’s worth, take a stroll! You could spend hours here.
First and foremost, I want to break down the ridiculous number of names used to describe the emperor buried here. He was the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty and is most commonly referred to as Hongwu Emperor. However, he’s sometimes referred to as Zhu Yuangzhang (his birth name), Guorui (his courtesy name), and Ming Taizu (his temple name). The site itself is called Ming Xiaoling, “Ming” referring to the dynasty and “ling” meaning mausoleum.
The biggest reason to check out Ming Xiaoling is because it truly feels ancient. It was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I can see why. It took over 20 years, 100,000 laborers, and 5,000 security guards to complete the site during the Ming Dynasty in the late 1300s. Before visiting Ming Xiaoling, it’s important to realize that anything made of wood was reconstructed some time after the Taiping Rebellion, which was basically a civil war where tons of stuff was destroyed. However, anything made of stone has been there for over 600 years, and that totally makes up for it.
The actual burial site of the emperor is a heavily guarded secret, and has been since he was first laid to rest. Rather than being buried towards the back of the mausoleum, at the foot of the mountain like a normal emperor, they went into the mountain and “off to the side somewhere”, so his remains are supposedly back in the forest-covered area behind the big building. According to legend, 13 identical funeral processions started from the 13 city gates to confuse potential burglars… and apparently everyone is still a little confused.
The first building you come across when you approach the temple area houses a massive stone tortoise at the base of a large stone of homage to the emperor. According to our teacher, this tortoise represents the 6th son of the dragon, who likes to hold things – what an exciting life he leads as a holder of things. By the way, the 4th son of the dragon is explained in my previous post. When you walk through this building, you’re confronted with tablets and carvings that are clearly of ancient importance. Eric’s teacher said these are the originals that were here during the initial construction and you can tell because they look like they’re constantly on the verge of falling apart. I made sure to put my fingerprints all over them 🙂
On the other side of the building is a long pathway lined with all kinds of greenery, leading to what used to be a huge house for visiting emperors to stay in, kind of like an emperor hotel. It’s now a gift shop, which is I guess what they would have wanted… I’m cringing at the thought.
As you walk through this area, it’s awesome to imagine what it would have looked like when that was the massive garden of a regal home. This is where you have to do a big of imagining. The big flat round stones – on either side of the gift shop, and off to the left where this amazing tree is growing through a short brick wall – are part of the old foundation of this huge compound. Follow the big stone remnants and you’ll realize how massive this property once was. The professor with us said they had a separate building on the grounds just for getting dressed and ready to go to temple.
Walk past the gift shop, down another long pathway, and you’ll come across the gem of this entire property – a huge colorful structure called the Soul Tower perched on top of an ancient stone tower. To access the top, you walk through the dark tunnel at the base of the tower, then up some stone steps. From the top, you can walk behind the building to see the forest-covered area behind the tower where the body supposedly lies. Inside the building is a big display describing the tombs of the Ming and Qing dynasty, but the teacher with us said it’s nothing unique or important because “the building is fake” – in other words, it’s not original.
From what I can gather, this huge stone structure is just big to be impressive and pay homage to the emperor. People used to think the body was inside the stone somewhere, but it’s definitely not.
If you’re craving more history and you didn’t read the captions on the pictures, go back and do so 🙂 I’ve hidden lots of cool bits of information in them.
Click here to watch the video I made about my visit to these mausoleums!
Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon,
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