Imperial Tombs of China
Tombs were considered to be the portals between the worlds of the living and the dead. The Chinese believed the soul of the departed was divided into two parts--one went to heaven and one resided within the body. The soul remaining in the body had to be appeased or it could turn evil. The soul going to heaven was thought to act on behalf of loved ones by offering protection or even recommending good fortunes. To encourage their ancestors in heaven to do a favorable job on their behalf, the living did everything possible to ensure the deceased were well-provided for in the afterlife. Tombs also were believed to house the spirits of the world's most powerful emperors, as well as their empresses, concubines, eunuchs, servants, and mighty warriors.
The burial sites were planned carefully. Fengshui, the ancient art that uses numerology, astrology, and other systems to determine the best orientation for a stracture, guided the location choice and tomb construction. Some Chinese still consult a fengshui practitioner before they erect buildings or launch ventures.
Galleries throughout the exhibition are designed to replicate the layout of actual tomb complexes. This puts the objects in context and brings viewers into the atmosphere and environment of the imperial tombs. Visitors are able to enter the re-created tombs.
The treasures are highly symbolic. Stylistic changes in tomb guardians, animals, and decorative patterns show the influence of the major Chinese belief systems based on Animism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
Inside the tombs, furnishings designed to support a comfortable afterlife included the items and people the emperor had used throughout his life. This often meant concubines, servants, and warriors were strangled and placed inside the tomb. Since the lives of royalty revolved around power and wealth, their mortuary goods reflected their extravagant lifestyles.
In the sixth century B.C., Confucius suggested that effigies could be buried with the emperor instead of living human beings as a more humane approach to providing him with servants. This concept was carried over to miniaturizations of objects that would be impractical to bury, such as houses and courtyards. Objects for religious rites such as sacrificial cooking, storage vessels, and weapons to defend the spirits usually were buried in their actual size. Guardians to watch over the burials were rendered symbolically in terracotta or other ceramics. Precious objects of jade, gold, and silver were included for use by the spirits in the afterlife.
Burial shrouds. An important burial practice was the use of shrouds of precious materials. The exhibition features a rare Han Dynasty jade burial suit made of 2,000 pieces of jade sewn together with more than two pounds of thick gold thread. Accompanying it are jade nose and ear plugs to prevent the escape of vital essences from the body. Jade was believed to have the power to ward off evil and preserve the corpse from decay.
Another important imperial burial garment is a Ming Dynasty empress' dragon and phoenix headdress dating from 1368 A.D. Its exquisite design verifies the important position of its owner. Gold filigree dragons symbolizing the emperor and brilliant blue feather phoenixes representing the empress are mounted against a background of pale blue enameled clouds with gold thread. More that 100 rubies and sapphires and 2,000 pearls complete the decoration of this crown. This magnificent headdress never had been shown outside Beijing before this exhibition.
Bronze vessels. The tomb of the Marquis Yi, lord of the Warring State of Zeng, yielded more than 10 tons of ornate bronze vessels, the most ever found. By the time of the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), the casting of bronze vessels and ornaments had reached its greatest level of sophistication and diversity. Bronze is an alloy of copper and either tin or lead. Since its production involved the exhaustive processes of mining, melting, and casting, most vessels made during the early dynasties could be purchased only by aristocrats. They were used in rituals and funeral ceremonies, as well as for preparing and storing food and wine.
Tomb guardians, often made of tri-color pottery or terra-cotta, played a significant role in burial practices. Different types, ranging from animals to warriors, were placed both outside and inside Chinese tombs. These guardians were believed to have the power to protect the dead from evil spirits and tomb robbers.
The exhibition features a variety of tricolor pottery guardians. This pottery is made by mixing copper, iron, and cobalt to produce blue, green, red, brown, and yellow. Any combination of three of these creates a tri-color glaze. One of the most dramatic guardians in the exhibition is the Tomb Quelling Beast from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). It stands nearly four feet tall and has a semi-human face, cow-like ears, large horns, the body of a hoofed animal, and wings that spring out from its shoulders.
The First Emperor, Qin Shi-huang-di, had the greatest number of tomb guardians. Around his burial chamber, sculpted armies of more that 9,000 life-size soldiers and horses were buried for his protection. Individual details of facial features, expressions, hair styles gestures, and uniforms denoting rank endow each figure with a unique character or personality. Scholars speculate that the figures were terra-cotta portraits of members of the emperor's army, accompanying him in military glory for the last time--to the afterworld.
The layout of the army reflects a Qin Dynasty military formation. Food soldiers, archers, infantrymen, cavalrymen with their officers, commanders, horses, and chariots were positioned according to a configuration found in the military strategy texts of that time. This undertaking required more than 700,000 laborers and artisans. After it was completed, the interior workers were shut inside the tomb in order to keep this vast army of terra-cotta warriors a secret. Remains of the laborers and artisans and their workshops have been located near the tomb.
The Terra-Cotta Warriors were discovered in 1974 by Xi'an residents who were digging a well. Today, the site is a museum displaying nearly 7,000 warriors, 40 chariots, and 475 horses in three different pits. Archaeologists still are discovering more soldiers and horses. Four warriors and one horse are on display in a gallery designed to resembled the actual site of this extraordinary archaeological find.
Throne room. Perhaps the most spectacular part of the exhibition is the last emperors' throne room from the Shenyang Palace. It features a gold lacquered screen, carved throne, cloisonne incense burners, and many other surrounding objects.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Prince Xingxian and his wife were buried here. The Prince and his wife were the mother and father of Emperor Jianqing.
Jianqing had reigned as Emperor of China from 1522 until 1566. Today, the tomb can be found at Mt. Songlin in Zhongxiang County, Hubei Province.
The Xian tomb is surrounded by high walls and sits on approximately 136.47 hectares of land. Construction of the tomb had commenced in 1519 and had ended in 1540. The Xian tomb is similar to the Ming tombs, although it is a lot smaller in size and it is often referred to as the 15th Ming Tomb.
Xiaoling tomb is the burial site of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Nanjing and his wife, the empress. The tomb is situated on the southern side of the Purple Mountain in Nanjing. The structure of the tomb had taken twenty five years to complete. The structure had commenced in 1381 and had ended in 1405. It has been said that the structure had taken over 100,000 people, military and local, to build the tomb.
Ming Tombs (Shisanling):
The Ming tombs are located 44km to the North West of Beijing, in Tianshou Mountain. Tianshou is translated as Longevity of Heaven.' Within the Ming tombs, thirteen emperors and twenty three empresses of the Ming Dynasty are buried here, along with twelve prominent concubines. The interior of the tomb look very much like the interior of the royal palaces. The peoples of this time held the belief that the deceased's soul still remains here on earth and still requires the same material needs as he/she had in life.
The Dingling tomb is the resting place of Emperor Wanli, who had reigned as emperor from 1537 until 1619. During the year of 1956, the Dingling tomb had been excavated by an archaeology team. Amazingly, the tomb was in very good condition, with its marble archways, the great red gate and statues of a dragon and phoenix all in a pristine state. Pine and cypress trees that had been planted at the time of the construction of the tomb can still be seen today.
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Situated 125km east of Beijing, lies the first royal tombs that had been built by the Manchu rulers of China. The tomb itself has two segments, called Houlong and Qianquan. The Houlong begins from the Great Wall of China and continues along side of Mt. Shaozu. The Qianquan tombs stand on forty eight square km of land and are surrounded by a high wall complete with a red gate. The toms are the burial site of fourteen emperors and fourteen empresses, princesses and imperial consorts.
The Xi tombs are situated 100kms west of Beijing. The construction of the tombs had commenced in 1730 and is the resting place of Emperor Yongzheng who had reigned from 1723-1735. The Xi tombs are also the resting place of emperors Jiaqing (1796-1820), Guangxu (1875-1908) and for a number of imperial consorts and empresses. The last tomb to be built in the Qing dynasty was for emperor Xuantong. Construction had not been completed before the Qing dynasty had ended.