Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
Imperial Tombs Of The Ming And Qing Dynasties
Cultural China Asia And The Pacific Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province (xiaoling Tomb);Changping District, Beijing (ming Tombs)

The Ming and Qing imperial tombs are outstanding testimony to a cultural and architectural tradition that for over 500 years dominated this part of the world. By reason of their integration into the natural environment, they make up a unique ensemble of cultural landscapes.

From time immemorial, the rulers of China attached great importance to the building of imposing mausolea, reflecting not only the general belief in an afterlife but also an affirmation of authority. When the Ming dynasty came to power (1368), an overall design was adopted. This was characterized by the attempt to achieve great harmony between a natural site meeting certain precise selection criteria and a complex of buildings fulfilling codified functions. The natural site, a plain or broad valley, must offer the perspective of a mountain range to the north, against which the tombs would be built, with a lower elevation to the south. It must be framed on the east and west by chains of hills, and feature at least one waterway. In order to harmonize with the natural setting, a number of buildings are constructed along a main access road several kilometres in length, known as the Way of the Spirits, which may branch off into secondary Ways leading to other mausolea.

An entrance portico with up to five doors marks the beginning of the Way of the Spirits, which subsequently passes through or alongside a number of buildings, in particular a reception pavilion, a pavilion housing the stele of Divine Merits, stone columns and sculptures representing animals, generals and ministers, in pairs. After one or more stone bridges and a Portico of the Dragon and the Phoenix, the sacred way arrives at a complex of buildings that includes a hall of meditation flanked by side pavilions and a Memorial Tower leading to the walled tumulus under which lie the burial chambers. This cultural landscape is imbued with a form of cosmogony that invests it with sacred status.

The Xianling tombs of the Ming dynasty are situated near the town of Zhongxiang, in Hubei Province, over 1,000 km from Beijing. The first work on the mausoleum was carried out by Xing, who planned to be buried there. On genealogical grounds, he was declared Emperor posthumously in 1519. Further work was then undertaken to bring the tomb into harmony with the standards of the Ming dynasty and to create a second tumulus to house the burial chambers of his family, including the empress.

The western Qing tomb contains fourteen imperial tombs and two building complexes: the Yongfu Tibetan Buddhist temple and the temporary palace where the imperial family resided when it came to honour its ancestors. The natural setting is extremely beautiful, in large part owing to the forest of elegant centuries-old pines.

The site of eastern Qing tombs contains 15 mausolea in which 161 bodies were buried - emperors, empresses, concubines and princesses. Among them are the emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, remembered as great sovereigns who actively promoted the development of China, and the Dowager Empress Cixi, who ruled the empire through intermediaries throughout the second half of the 19th century.