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The Lords of the Ming
Source: Author: Date: 09.07.22
If China was to have an epic novel about legendary men and fabulous creatures, incredible myths and brutal wars in the Middle Kingdom, "The Lords of the Ming" could be a worthy title. As Beijing celebrates the 600th anniversary of its Ming Tombs this month under the tag "Dream Back to Yongle", the story of the Ming Dynasty and the achievements of its mighty emperor Yongle come back to life. Responsible for moving the capital from Nanjing to Beijing and for ordering the construction of the Forbidden City, Yongle's golden age is just one of the many good reasons to visit the World Heritage site of the Ming Tombs - Shisanling. This 600 year journey back in time proves how the imperial mausoleum is an outstanding testimony to a cultural and architectural tradition that stood the test of time.
A Tomb for Eternity
In Changping County, at a distance of 50 km (31 miles) northwest from urban Beijing, stands an arc-shaped cluster of hills where emperors, concubines and eunuchs rest for all eternity. The tomb cluster of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) sits at the foot of Mountain Yan and is spread over an area of more than 120 square kilometers (29,653 acres). Located in a sparsely populated area, the Ming Tombs valley separates the spirits of the emperors from the people.
Each emperor's tomb was constructed at the foot of a separate small hill but they all share a main road called the Sacred Way. The thirteen emperor's mausoleums are similar in their architectural style and overall arrangement, only differing in size and complexity. Each has a forecourt where memorial ceremonies and sacrifices were held and a tomb mound at the back.
Changling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, was built first in 1409 and is not only the largest but the best-preserved. It holds Emperor Yongle and his wife's tomb. Yongling (Yong Tomb) is the most delicate and Siling (Si Tomb) the smallest. Currently the Sacred Way, Changling (Chang Tomb), Dingling (Ding Tomb) and Zhaoling (Zhao Tomb) are all accessible to visitors.
World Heritage Site
The aesthetic beauty of the tombs, their impeccable preservation and the symbolism of the various structures and carvings set the Ming Tombs structure in the World Heritage list in 2003. The harmonious integration of remarkable architectural groups in a natural environment, chosen to meet the criteria of geomancy (Fengshui), makes the Ming and Qing Imperial Tombs masterpieces of human creative genius. The unique ensemble of cultural landscapes is evidence to a cultural and architectural tradition that surpassed the Ming Dynasty and had an everlasting impact in Chinese history. These facts make the Ming Tombs dazzling illustrations of the beliefs, world view, and geomantic theories of Fengshui prevalent in feudal China and their contributions to Chinese history.
?The Ming Tombs in Changping undoubtedly formed one of the largest and most gorgeous cemeteries ever laid out by the hand of man?,Jan Jakob Maria de Groot, Dutch sinologist.
A day in the company of the great Lords of the Ming reveals the untold mysteries of their dynasty. But aside from the architectural magnificence is seen also the weakness and decay of the Ming, especially during its fifteenth century period. One such episode is revealed by an obvious numerical discrepancy - Shisanling infers that thirteen tombs can be found but there were fourteen emperors who reigned throughout the Ming Dynasty. There is no stone inscription to explain why Zhu Qiyu was denied a burial there, suggesting that he simply never ruled. Records state that Zhu Qizhen denied his brother Zhu Qiyu a burial in the Shisanling, an act that not only damaged the reputation of the dynasty but was a blow to the Confucian principles of governance stating that brothers must treat each other with love and respect.