The construction of the Summer Palace first started in 1750. At that time, the Qing Dynasty was in its heyday and China was a powerful Asian country with vast territories. The monarch in power then was Emperor Qianlong. With supreme power and large sums of money, he summoned skillful and ingenious artisans from all over the country to carry out this construction work in honor of his mother's birthday. After 15 years and one seventh of the nation's annual revenue spent, the Garden of Clear Ripples was completed and served as a testimony to China's scientific and technological achievements. In 1860, this vast royal garden was burnt down along with the Yuanming Yuan (Garden of Perfection and Brightness) by Anglo-French allied forces. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi reconstructed the garden on the same site and renamed it the Garden of Nurtured Harmony (Summer Palace). Characterized by its vast scope and rich cultural embodiments, the Summer Palace has become one of the most famous tourist sites in the world.
The East Gate-the main entrance to the Summer Palace. On top of the eaves of the door there is a plaque bearing a Chinese inscription which means 'Garden of Nurtured Harmony, ' whose calligrapher was Emperor Guangxu. The gate that you are now entering was used exclusively by the emperor, the empress and the queen mother. All others used the side doors.
The Ming Dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644. The first Ming emperor had his tomb built in Nanjing, the town which he had chosen for his capital. As his eldest son died early, he was succeeded by his grandson, who became the second emperor. His fourth son, the Prince of Yan, was guarding the northern frontier near Beijing with an army 100,000 strong. The second emperor attempted to weaken his forces but was met with counter-attacks. After a 3-year war he was ousted and lost track of completely. So, the fourth son became the third emperor, Emperor Yongle, of the Ming Dynasty.
As a frontier commander, he was aware that a peaceful northern frontier was of great importance to the Ming Palace, he chose this valley to build his tomb. All his successors followed his example and had their tombs built here, except one who was dethroned and buried in the western suburb. Out of the sixteen emperors, thirteen lie here with their empresses and concubines.
The site was chosen with the greatest care, with geomancy taken into account. The tombs are located about 50 kilometres to the north of Beijing. They are scattered over a basin approximately 40 square kilometres in area, screened by mountains on three sides and open to the Beijing Plain in the south. The road leading to the tombs is guarded by the Tiger Hill on the left and the Dragon Hill on the right. It was a forbidden ground except for those who were officially in charge of its upkeep. It was not allowed to cultivate land, cut wood or to take stones from here. No one could enter it on horseback, even the emperor himself had to dismount at the gate.
We are now riding on the road leading to the tombs. The road was opened up in 1979 with the increase in the number of Chinese and foreign visitors. Along the road, we'll find the Memorial Arch, the Big Red Gate, the Tablet House, the stone animals and statues and the Ming Tombs Reservoir. We'll also see a lot of fruit trees planted after the founding of the People's Republic.
This road was known as shendao, meaning 'the way of the spirit.' The body of the dead was carried over the route at funeral ceremony. It is 7 kilometres long, from the Memorial Arch to the gate of the main tomb.
The Memorial Arch, built of white marble, was erected in 1540. It is 12 metres high and 31 metres wide, and has 5 arches supported by 6 pillars with beautiful bas-relief carvings of lions, dragons and lotus flowers. Double lintels link the six pillars. The roofing is made of round marble tiles, with upturned corners. 'The way of the spirit' used to pass beneath the Memorial Arch.
The Big Red Gate was built in 1426. It used to have three huge wooden doors. The central opening was used by the dead emperor alone, and living ministers and imperial family members had to use one of the side openings when they came
to pay homage to the deceased emperors.
About 500 yards (A yard is equal to 0.914 metre.) from the Big Red Gate stands the Tablet House built in 1435. A marble column, known as huabiao, stands at each corner of the Tablet House. A huge tablet, 7 metres high, stands in the middle of the house on the back of a tortoise. The front side bears an inscription by the fourth Ming emperor. On the reverse side is an inscription carved during Qing Emperor Qianlong's reign. It described the reconstruction of the Ming Tombs in 1785 and commented on the rules and styles of the Ming Tombs.
Now we come to the famous avenue of stone animals and statues. Stone animals and statues are found at the entrance to imperial tombs from the Han Dynasty onwards, but none of the group is as famous as that of the Ming Tombs.
The avenue starts with two columns, called wangzhu in Chinese, one on each side. They are hexagonal, carved with a cloud design, and the top is shaped like a round cylinder. The animals are lions, xiezhi, camels, elephants, qilin and horses, one kneeling and the other standing, twelve on each side and twenty-four in all. Xiezhi was a mythical beast or the feline family, said to be able to distinguish right and wrong. Qilin was a sort of imaginary animal with a scaly body, a cow's tail, deer's hooves and horns on its head.
With 'the way of the spirit' turning slightly, the statues appear: two military officers wearing sabres, two civilian officials and two ministers of merit. Six statues on each side and twelve in all.
These animals and statues all date from the 15th century. It is interesting to compare them with those at the tomb of the first Ming emperor in Nanjing, which are scarcely any older and yet much less fine.
They were all meant to serve the dead in the next world. They do give people a sense of solemnity on the way leading to the Tombs, don't they?
On your left at the foot of the hill stands the Underground Palace of Dingling amidst pines and cypresses. Dingling is the tomb of Emperor Wanli, the 13th Ming Emperor. He was born in 1563, and was chosen and named crown prince when he was six years old. He ascended the throne at the age of 10 and ruled for 48 years until he died in 1620.
Dingling is the only one of the Ming Tombs excavated so far. Excavation work took more than two years from 1956 to 1958. You may find the following background information interesting.
Emperor Wanli had two wives. The first wife Empress Xiaoduan died only a few months before his death. The second wife Empress Xiaojing died in 1612, eight years before and was buried in a nearby tomb reserved for imperial concubines.
The first wife had no son while the second wife had one. He succeeded Emperor Wanli and died 29 days after his succession. He left the throne to his son. As Xiaojing was the second wife, she was not entitled to the privilege of sharing the Emperor's tomb. When her grandson became emperor, she was promoted to the rank of Empress Dowager, and it was decided that her body be moved into the tomb.
The construction of the tomb and the underground palace started in 1584 when Emperor Wanli was only 22 years old. Six years and 8 million taels of silver were spent on it. The bricks were brought from Shandong Province, the stone from the nearby county of Fangshan, and the wood from the southern provinces.
In 1644 when the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the buildings were damaged in a peasant uprising and were not restored until the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong. They were burned down again at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1956 after liberation, a decision was made by the Chinese Government to open up the tomb. It was the first time that an imperial tomb was excavated in China in a scientific way.
Dingling is now a museum made up of three sections: the Underground Palace and two exhibition rooms. The objects on display are mostly originals. The trip to the Ming Tombs certainly gives us a better understanding of the Ming Dynasty art, the tomb structure and the Emperor's extravagance in building the tomb. Exhibition Room I The Model of the Tomb Mound
In May 1956, an archaeological team started excavating Dingling. It took them one year to uncover three deep tunnels and find the exact entrance to the Underground Palace. Some decayed bricks at the southwestern end of the surrounding wall showed that there had been an archway. The team later found a narrow, brick-walled tunnel which runs zigzag to the back of the mound.
In opening up the second tunnel, a stone slab was uncovered on which the inscription reads: 160 feet further and 35 feet deep to the 'diamond wall,' the sealing wall of the Underground Palace. This tablet provided important clue to the further excavation of the Underground Palace. Archaeologists said that the tablet was meant to guide the builders who might need it for reopening the tomb.Jade Belt
Jade belt used to be one of the decorative objects on the Emperor's robe. In the Ming Dynasty, a limited number of ministers also wore such belts, as grants from the Emperor. The belt is made of gold and gems linked together by a leather belt. The gems are transparent and beautiful, like pomegranate seeds. They are products of South China Sea islands and reflect friendly exchanges between China and the southeast Asian countries during the Ming period. Gold Coins
These gold coins, each weighing 38.5 grams, were minted specially for the dead. They bear characters that read: 'Longevity and away with misfortune.'
Most of the porcelain wares uncovered from Dingling are blue and white porcelain. They are bright and clear, pretty and artistic. They were not only used in the court in large numbers, but were also one of the major export commodities of the time. Silk Fabrics
A large quantity of silk fabrics was uncovered from Dingling. Here on display is a piece of gold thread gauze with a rabbit design and a piece of figured satin with a design of lotus and Buddhist emblem swastika. They show the level of textiles in those days. Jade Objects
These jade objects were unearthed from the underground. The carving is intricate and delicate. They show the exquisite workmanship of jade carving in the Ming Dynasty.
Helmet and Sword
These are helmet, sword and armour worn by Emperor Wanli. The originals had decayed. They are reproductions.
Funerary Objects and Wooden Figurines
The funerary objects were symbolic utensils made specially for the dead. Slaves were buried alive with their deceased masters. Wooden figurines were later used as burial objects to replace human sacrifice.
The gold crown, for the Emperor, is woven with extremely thin gold wire. The weaving is done from top to bottom. The tiny holes must be the same in size. It is neat and graceful, displaying the high artistry in arts and crafts in the Ming Dynasty.
The hat was worn by the Emperor when he issued imperial decrees, worshipped gods and received tributes.
"Mian" (Heavenly Hat)
It was worn by the Emperor when he went to worship Heaven, the Earth or his ancestors.
Exhibition Room II
The phoenix crowns were worn by the empresses on big occasions. Here on display is the crown with 12 dragons and 9 phoenixes. The other one has 6 dragons and 3 phoenixes. Each phoenix crown has over 5,000 pearls and more than 150 gems of different colours.
The silverware unearthed from the tomb was mostly used by the emperor and empresses during their lifetime. They are valuable material for the study of court life in the Ming Dynasty.
Silver ingots, each weighing l.9 kilos, were the type of money in use at the time. They were land tax collected from Zhejiang Province.