Imperial Tombs of the Qing Dynasty (125 kilometers northeast g and 120 kilometers southwest of Beijing) are China's largest and best preserved tomb complexs. In Heberi Province, there are Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) imperial tombs at Zunhua (Eastern Qing Tombs) and Yixian (West Qing Tombs). The Eastern Qing Tombs are the resting place of 161 Qing emperors, empresses, and other members of the Qing imperial family, while the West Qing Tombs have 76. These are also part of a World Heritage Site. The area comprises 15 imperial tombs and covers 2,500 square kilometers.

According to UNESCO: “ Constructed for the founding emperors of the Qing Dynasty and their ancestors, the tombs follow the precepts of traditional Chinese geomancy and fengshui theory. They feature rich decoration of stone statues and carvings and tiles with dragon motifs, illustrating the development of the funerary architecture of the Qing Dynasty. The...tomb complexes, and their numerous edifices, combine traditions inherited from previous dynasties and new features of Manchu civilization”. Website: qingdongling.com

All the Qing Tombs: Tomb, Province, Location, Area
Eastern Qing Tombs, Hebei, Zunhua (41°11 N 117°38 E), 2,240,000 square meters;
Western Qing Tombs, Hebei, Yi County (39°20 N 115°13 E), 18,420,000 square meters;
Yongling Tomb of the Qing dynasty, Liaoning, Fushun (41°42 36.4"N 124°48 08.8"E), 2,365,900 square meters;
Fuling Tomb of the Qing dynasty, Liaoning, Shenyang (41°49 48.0"N 123°35 26.0"E), 538,600 square meters;
Zhaoling Tomb of the Qing dynasty, Liaoning, Shenyang (41°51 09.1"N 123°25 39.0"E) 478,900 square meters;

Qing Dynasty Rulers (Name: Reign Title, Reign Dates): 1) Shizu: Shunzhi (1644–61); 2) Shengzu: Kangxi (1662–1722); 3) Shizong: Yungzheng (1723–35); 4) Gaozong: Qianlong (1736–95); 5) Renzong: Jiaqing (1796–1820); 6) Xuanzong: Daoguang (1821–50); 7) Wenzong: Xianfeng (1851–61); 8) Muzong: Dongzhi (1862–74); 9) Tezong: Guangxu (1875–1908); 10) (Pui): Xuantong (1909–11).

Qing Dynasty

The Qing (Ching, Ch’ing, Manchu) Dynasty (1644-1912) was China's last dynasty. The Manchu emperors were unpopular because they were not Han Chinese, they descended from horsemen to the north and opened up China to exploitation from the West. Even so they made many improvements in the lives of ordinary Chinese and expanded China to its present size.

In the first year of the Shunzhi period (1644), the army of Qing attacked Shanhaiguan and took over the central power of China. Beijing was set as the capital. The Qing Dynasty founded by the ruling class of Manchus ruled China for over 260 years. During this period, the most outstanding emperors who contributed the most to history were Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong.

Maxwell K. Hearn of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In 1644, the Manchus, a semi-nomadic people from northeast of the Great Wall, conquered the crumbling Ming state and established their own Qing (or Pure) dynasty. During the first half of this period, the Manchus extended their rule over a vast empire that grew to encompass new territories in Central Asia, Tibet, and Siberia. The Manchus also established their hegemony over Chinese cultural traditions as an important means of demonstrating their legitimacy as Confucian-style rulers." [Source: Maxwell K. Hearn, Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

See Separate Articles Under Ming- and Qing-Era China factsanddetails.com

Ming and Qing Tombs: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, 2003 and 2004. According to UNESCO: “The Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties were built between 1368 and 1915 A.D. in Beijing Municipality, Hebei Province, Hubei Province, Jiangsu Province and Liaoning Province of China. They comprise of the Xianling Tombs of the Ming Dynasty and the Eastern and Western Qing Tombs inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000; the Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty and the Ming Tombs in Beijing added to the inscription in 2003, and the Three Imperial Tombs of Shenyang, Liaoning Province (Yongling Tomb, Fuling Tomb, and Zhaoling Tomb, all of the Qing Dynasty) added in 2004.

“The Ming and Qing imperial tombs are located in topographical settings carefully chosen according to principles of geomancy (Fengshui) and comprise numerous buildings of traditional architectural design and decoration. The tombs and buildings are laid out according to Chinese hierarchical rules and incorporate sacred ways lined with stone monuments and sculptures designed to accommodate ongoing royal ceremonies as well as the passage of the spirits of the dead. They illustrate the great importance attached by the Ming and Qing rulers over five centuries to the building of imposing mausolea, reflecting not only the general belief in an afterlife but also an affirmation of authority.

“The tomb of the first Ming Emperor, the Xiaoling Tomb broke with the past and established the basic design for those that followed in Beijing, and also the Xianling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty in Zhongxiang, the Western Qing Tombs and the Eastern Qing Tombs. The Three Imperial Tombs of the Qing Dynasty in Liaoning Province (Yongling Tomb, Fuling Tomb, and Zhaoling Tomb) were all built in the 17th century for the founding emperors of the Qing Dynasty and their ancestors, integrating the tradition inherited from previous dynasties with new features from the Manchu civilization.

“The Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties are masterpieces of human creative genius by reason of their organic integration into nature, and a unique testimony to the cultural and architectural traditions of the last two feudal dynasties (Ming and Qing) in the history of China between the 14th and 20th centuries. They are fine works combining the architectural arts of the Han and Manchu civilizations. Their siting, planning and design reflect both the philosophical idea of “harmony between man and nature” according to Fengshui principles and the rules of social hierarchy, and illustrate the conception of the world and power prevalent in the later period of the ancient society of China."

The tombs are important because: 1) “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. 2) The tombs represent a phase of development, where the previous traditions are integrated into the forms of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, also becoming the basis for the subsequent development. 3) The imperial mausolea are outstanding testimony to a cultural and architectural tradition that for over five hundred years dominated this part of the world. 4) The architectures of the Imperial Tombs integrated into the natural environment perfectly, making up a unique ensemble of cultural landscapes. They are the exceptional examples of the ancient imperial tombs of China. 5) The Ming and Qing Tombs are dazzling illustrations of the beliefs, world view, and geomantic theories of Fengshui prevalent in feudal China. They have served as burial edifices for illustrious personages and as the theatre for major events that have marked the history of China.

Eastern Tombs of the Qing Dynasty

Qing East Imperial Tombs (Malanyu, northwest Zunhua, Hebei Province, 125 kilometers northeast of Beijing) are the largest and most complete complex of imperial tombs in China. Located at the southern foot of Changruishan Mountain and covering 48 square-kilometer, the Eastern Tombs of the Qing Dynasty contains the tombs of five Qing dynasty emperors, 14 empresses and 136 royal concubines. The most luxurious tomb belongs the Empress Dowager Cixi. The great hall of her tomb is decorated with white marble sculptures and stone steps decorated with dragons and phoenixes. Among the carved stone treasures found in the underground palace are coffin chambers, tablet towers and stone elephants. It took six years to build and cost 2.27 million taels of silver.

The Eastern Tombs of the Qing Dynasty are surrounded by mountains and accommodate a plain in the center. The tombs include four queens’ tombs, five concubines’ tombs and one princess's tomb. Yuling mausoleum of Emperor Qian Long Xiaoling of Emperor Shun Zhi and Dingling mausoleum of Emperor Dowager Ci Xi are the most magnificent. But in 1928 the underground palaces were blown open by warlord Sun Dianying, many precious articles were looted and the tombs suffered heavy damage.

The Emperor tombs are 1) Xiaoling of Emperor Shun Zhi 2) ,Jingling of Emperor Kang Xi, 3) Yuling of Emperor Qian Long, 4) Dingling of Emperor Xian Feng and 5) Huiling of Emperor Tong Zhi. The four tombs of empresses include those for Empress Dowager Ci An and Empress Dowager Ci Xi,

Scenery around the East Tombs is most beautiful. Qing government rules designated the tomb area as geomantically favorable and forbidden to people. Fifteen tombs are arranged from east to west along the southern foot of Changduan Mountain. Behind the tombs are rolling hills and in front is a long Sacred Way. Along the central axis of the complex form a unique natural scene is presented as the temples and palatial structures, with red walls and golden tiles among pines and cypresses of verdant green, glitter in the sunshine. They seem as islets dotting a vast green sea. The Dragon Beard Ditches of each tomb, large and small, zigzag and coil like dragons; streams under stone bridges are like white belts through the forest of pines and cypresses. In early morning or late afternoon one can see through green branches and leaves the beamed eaves, pavilions and garrets, stone sculptured human figures and stone animals appearing through the foliage to be draped in thin yellowish gauze kerchiefs.

Admission: 150 yuan; Tel: +86-0315-6945475; Getting There: You can take a bus from Shimen or Zunhua bus station. Website: qingdongling.com in Chinese, use Google translate

Construction of the Qing Dynasty East Tombs

It was said that, during the Shun Zhi reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) (1644-1661), Emperor Shun Zhi went hunting on a trip that reached the area of Xiaoling mausoleum at the foot of Changduan Mountain. Reining in his horse to a stop, he looked around and found the place quiet and beautiful in a luxuriant setting among green mountains. He took off his banzhi (an animal-bone thumb guard worn by archers), threw it into sky and told his bodyguard: "Where the banzhi drops is to be my burial place." [Source: China.org]

In the second year of the Kang Xi reign (1663), Shun Zhi's tomb, Xiaoling mausoleum, was built at the foot of Changduan Mountain marking the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) East Tombs. After that, Emperor Kang Xi and his concubines were also entombed in East Tombs.

As construction was about to begin, Emperor Kang Xi sent higher officials of the Ministry of Rites from the Manchu and Han nationalities, together with two imperial commissioners, to map the location of the tombs. Later, another pair of higher officials of the Ministry of Public Works from the Manchu and Han nationalities were sent to inspect. Talented officials from eight banners and other officials from the Ministry of Public Works also assisted in the management.

During construction, equipment commonly used included compass, hoisting jack and winch. Construction methods were strictly prescribed. For instance, the foundation must be dug deep with many wooden stakes and pegs. The foundation of Long'en Palace of Empress Dowager Ci Xi was dug more than four meters deep, and 685 cypress stakes and 8,881 pegs were driven into the ground with earth packed tight around them. The roof of the castle of Empress Dowager Ci Xi's mausoleum has five layers of plaster alternating with layers of compacted earth. Each plaster layer was 9.9 centimeters thick. In addition, the juice of glutinous rice was added to the plaster, resulting in a castle roof still in solid condition despite many years' erosion by wind and rain. As another example, for underground palace was built, iron hooks, stakes and pegs were added to normal stone connectors again resulting in a very solid underground palace.

Layout of the Qing Dynasty East Tombs

In the center of East Tombs under the main peak of Changduan Mountain is the tomb of Emperor Shun Zhi. On the five-kilometer-long Sacred Way are the large red gate, locker palace, big and small decorated arches, stone creatures, gate of dragon and phoenix, single-arch bridge, five-arch bridge, seven-arch bridge, dismount tablet, Long'en palace, Long'en Gate, silk burning furnace, Long'en Hall, color glazed gate, gate with two supporting pillars, five stone arches, soul tower and roof of the castle. All these building structures are arrayed along a brick Sacred Way twelve meters wide.[Source: China.org]

The big red gate is the main entrance of the East Tombs. A magnificent, six-pillar stone arch stands in front of the gate. A golden colored picture carved on the stone arch remains faintly visible. Besides, there are a stone unicorn and the tablet inscribed "Officials Dismount From Horse Here" to illustrate the dignity of feudal emperors. On both sides of the red gate was originally a wall of geomantic omen, with only traces remaining.

In the Dongling area there are five emperors' tombs, four mausoleums for fifteen empresses and five cemeteries for 136 concubines. Outside the geomantic wall were originally located cemeteries of princesses and crown princes. With each emperor's tomb in the center, the cemeteries of empresses and concubines were built closest around it. All emperors' tombs were placed either to the east or the west of Xiaoling Mausoleum.

Sacred Way of the Qing Dynasty East Tombs

Through the red gate and to the right on the Sacred Way there once was a locker palace where the people paying homage at the tombs changed their clothes. Now, it no longer exists. The Sacred Way was paved with three layers of large bricks and decorated with stone creatures. Starting from the stone ornamental column (or watching pillar), eighteen pairs of stone animals and human figures were arranged at fixed intervals. Among them are horses, elephants, unicorns, courtiers and military officers. There are eight pairs of such creatures in Yuling Mausoleum and five each in other mausoleums. [Source: China.org]

Beyond the stone creatures, the big decorated arch is the main structure on the Sacred Way. This arch is double eaved with four ornamental columns, each over ten meters high. In the center of the arch stand two Tablets of Devine Merit and Sage Virtue each set on the back of a dragon headed turtle. The tablets are made of jade carrying inscriptions by Emperor Shun Zhi both in Manchu and Chinese.

After the big stone arch is the gate of the dragon and phoenix. It is a building with six pillars with dragon and phoenix patterns on glazed bricks and tiles. Stepping in the gate of dragon and phoenix makes one feel as though he / she has entered a room. Between the big red gate and the gate of dragon and phoenix, various buildings are arranged in a variety of visual angles, giving visitors a series of new and constantly varying impressions of the compound.

On the north end of the Sacred Way is a small pavilion. Inside the pavilion is a stone tablet set on the back of a stone turtle. The tablet is inscribed with the Emperor's reign title and the name of the mausoleum. Lying to the east of the small pavilion are a sacred kitchen and two three-room storehouses. The sacred kitchen is a five-room unit used for cooking sacrificial offerings; the storehouses are compounds for horse breeding. Immediately north of the small pavilion are three bridges each with three arches, matching the others on the approach to the small pavilion. Under the bridges flows the Yudai (Jade Belt) Stream (also known as Dragon Beard Ditch).

Long'en Palace and Baocheng (Treasure Castle)

Further north is Long'en Palace. On both sides as one enters Long'en Palace are five wing rooms and three guard rooms. On east wing are tea houses and dining rooms; cakes and fruits were served in the west wing rooms. At that time were submitted tributes from here by the Ministry of Rites. The guard rooms were used by those on duty. The Long'en Gate has five rooms with single eaves. High red walls flank the gate which is directly in front of the Long'en Palace. Under the eave is the name of Long'en Palace carved on a horizontal board in Manchu and Chinese. This was the site of memorial services. The platform once held a brass tripod, deer and cranes, all long since disappeared. [Source: China.org]

The palace is fronted by a brick slope. East and west of the main room are wing rooms and at the south end is a silk burner, used by prayers to burn paper money or place sacrificial offerings. The back door of Long'en Palace is decorated with color glazed tile in three arches. A wall divided the palace's rear area into two segments, the imperial court and a living area. On the north face of the palace stands the color glazed door. Passing through the two pillars door, one sees a five-piece stone altar. A stone incense burner placed in the center of the altar is decorated with patterns and its four legs are in the shape of elephant trunks. The burner is flanked by stone flower vases and candlesticks.

After the five-piece stone altar is the magnificent Soul Tower with double eaves in the style of flying rafters. The slopes are flat and gutters curve up. Inside the tower is a tablet inscribed with the title of the tower and the name of the tomb in Manchurian, Chinese and Mongolian languages.

Under the Soul Tower is the Square Castle. On both sides of the castle is a city wall extending around the entire tomb area, which is called Baocheng (Treasure Castle). The forepart of the Baocheng connects with a glazed screen wall formed into the shape of a crescent moon; hence the name, Crescent Moon Castle. There are stairs on both sides of the Crescent Moon Castle which lead to the Soul Tower and there is a paved path on the upper part of Baocheng lined with a lower wall.

The large mound in the center of Baocheng is the grave of the Emperor and Empress which is called Baoding (Precious Dome) or Dulongfu (Single Dragon Mound). To the south side of Baoding is a glazed screen wall under which is a tunnel leading to the underground palace of the Emperor and Empress.

Qing Emperor Mausoleums

Xiaoling Mausoleum is central of the Shun Zhi mausoleum. It is located at the foot of Changduan Mountain in the center of the mausoleum complex. Emperor Shun Zhi, also going by the name of Fu Lin (1636-1661), was the first emperor after the Qing court moved inside the Great Wall. Only six when he ascended the throne. The eighteen years of his reign brought great changes to China and its history.[Source: China.org]

In the first year of Shun Zhi reign (1644), a peasant army led by Li Zicheng overthrew the Ming rule in Beijing, which was in turn betrayed by traitor Wu Sangui and the Qing Army defeated Li Zicheng and occupied Beijing. Shortly, Shun Zhi came to Beijing from Shenyang and made Beijing the capital. In the 18th year (1661) of his reign Shun Zhi died in Yangxindian (the Hall for Cultivating Character) in the Forbidden City. In the summer of the second year of Kang Xi reign (1663), Shun Zhi's coffin was buried in Xiaoling. Half a kilometer east of Xiaoling Mausoleum is Xiaodongling where seven empresses and concubines were buried, induding Xiao Huizhang and Duan Shun.

Jingling Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Kang Xi, located to the east of Xiaoling. Built in 1681 in the 20th year of the Kang Xi reign, it is nearly as large as Xiaoling Mausoleum and columns of the Long'en Palace are particularly magnificent. The Kang Xi reign lasted for 61 years, one of the longest in Chinese history.

Yuling Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Qian Long, located in Shengshuiyu west of Xiaoling Mausoleum, coveting an area of over 690 mu. Qian Long's reign lasted for 60 years from 1736 to 1795. In the 60th year of his reign (1796), Emperor Qian Long enthroned his son and became overlord for four years. When Qian Long was on the throne China was flourishing, but as he left the throne it was beginning to decline. In the 4th year of the Jia Qing reign (1799) Qian Long died at age 89.

Yuling Mausoleum is a tomb in which the emperor, two empresses and three concubines were buried. At present the underground palace of this tomb is open to public. A traditional arch stone structure, unique in construction, the underground palace is 54 meters long, consisting of three rooms and four doors with an area of 327 meters. Carved on the walls and ceiling of the palace are large-size eight stone bodhisattvas, four heavenly kings and Buddhas, five-piece stone altar, with thousands of words of Buddhist sutra and incantation in Sanskrit and Tibetan. All these carved works are in sharp relief with clear-cut lines and vivid figures. As many patterns as there are, they are arranged systematically with differentiation between principal and subordinate. This underground palace with its art treasury is a witness to the luxurious life led by feudal rulers, as well as a crystallization of the wisdom of the laboring people. The cemetery of concubine Yu Fei lies half a kilometer west of Yuling. The latter housed 35 remains including those of Wulanala, Qian Long's empress.

Dingling Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Xian Feng, located in Pinganyu, west of Yuling. During Xian Feng's reign from 1851-1861 the Qing government was on the verge of collapse. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Revolution (I85I-I864) and the Second Opium War took place during that time. On the 11th year of his reign (1861), Emperor Xian Feng died at the imperial Summer Resort in Chengde, Hebei Province, at the age of 31, a victim of a life of dissipation. In the 4th year of the Tong Zhi reign (1865), Xian Feng was buried in Dingling. Empress Xiaodexian was also buried in this underground palace. There are two other empresses' tombs from the Xian Feng reign. One is called Puxiangyu East Dingling and another is called Putuoyu East Dingling. [Source: China.org]

Huiling Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Tong Zhi, located in Shuangshanyu, 6 kilometers southeast of Jingling. Tong Zhi became emperor when he was six years old. He reigned as a puppet emperor for thirteen years from 1862 to 1874 and died at the age of 19, short-lived emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).

Tomb of Empress Dowager Ci Xi

The Putuoyu East Dingling is the tomb of Xian Feng's concubine, Nalashi. After Xian Feng died, Zai Chun, Nalashi's six-year-old son, succeeded to the throne under the reign title of Tong Zhi. So she was promoted to be empress dowager and her title of honor is Ci Xi. In the 11th year of Xian Feng reign (1861) she worked hand in glove with her brother-in-law Yi Xin, launched a coup d'etat, wiped out her political enemies and directed state affairs from behind the screen. Thus, she became an unofficial empress during reigns by Tong Zhi and Guang Xu for 48 years. The Empress Dowager died in 1908. Three years after she died, the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) came to its end with the Revolution of 1911.[Source: China.org]

Ci Xi's tomb was exquisitely constructed in a unique style. It ranks as the best for building details among the tombs of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Railings around Long'en Palace are replete with carved motifs of roaring waves, floating clouds, dragons and phoenixes symbolizing auspicious omens. The stone steps in front of the palace are carved with three-dimensional phoenixes and dragons playing with pearls appearing as living dragons and phoenixes moving and dancing in fleecy clouds. Motifs of phoenixes are purposefully arranged above those of dragons. According to tradition, dragon symbolizes emperor while phoenix stands for empress so dragon should be put above phoenix.

Carved on walls are intricate designs marking happiness, prosperity, and longevity. On the arch beams and ceilings are gilded golden paintings such as a golden dragon coiled around all exposed pillars. These kinds of designs are not seen in other mausoleum palaces. The underground palace of Ci Xi's tomb has been opened to visitors. This is the first underground tomb of an empress to be excavated in China, so far.

The Puxiangyu East Dingling is the tomb of Niuyoulushi, another empress of Emperor Xian Feng. She was respected as Empress Dowager Ci An after Xian Feng died. Together with Empress Dowager Ci Xi, she attended to state affairs behind the screen after a coup d'etat in 1861. But military and political powers were retained by Ci Xi. In 1881, Ci An died in Zhongcuigong. Cause of her death was a mystery.

Tombs of Qing Imperial Concubines

Huifeiling is the tomb of Emperor Tong Zhi's concubine, half a kilometer west of Huiling. Another tomb, the Zhaoxi Tomb of Empress Xiaozhuangwen, is located outside the big red gate. Why should one tomb be built outside the big red gate? The reason is that originally she was a concubine of Huangtaiji Emperor Tai Zong (1592-1643). When Emperor Kang Xi was on the throne she was respected as empress dowager. During the reigns of Yong Zheng and Qian Long, 45 years after her death, she was regarded as Empress Xiaozhuangwen. She was Emperor Shun Zhi's mother but she lived over 20 years longer than Shun Zhi. She died at the age of 75 in the 26th year of the reign of Kang Xi (1687). [Source: China.org]

At the beginning of Kang Xi reign, she had a strong hand in state affairs from behind a screen placed at the rear of the throne in her position as empress dowager. She set a precedent for Ci Xi to usurp power later on. She said to Kang Xi before she died: "Emperor Tai Zong has been dead for a long time, his tomb shouldn't be disturbed for me. Besides, I am always concerned about you and your father, so after I die my body should be buried near Xiaoling Mausoleum that I would be satisfied''

Tai Zong was her first husband, Huangtaiji, who was buried in Zhaoling Mausoleum, Shenyang, according to court rules her body should be buried near Zhaoling Mausoleum. Still, there is a question why she chose Xiaoling Mausoleum in preference to the expected Zhaoling Mausoleum. The reason is not merely that Emperor Kang Xi and his father were dear to her heart. There is a story behind it.

It is known that at the beginning of Shun Zhi reign she was respected as the mother of the country. But as she remarried her brother-in-law, she became wife of regent Dorgon. Though this may not have been an astonishing act, it is, nevertheless, rare in Chinese history. Regent Dorgon was haughty and domineering when he was on throne, falling into disrepute and becoming the target of very strong public criticism by the time he died. She was, of course, reluctant to be buried with him under these circumstances.

Huangtaiji was her former husband but since she had married her brother-in-law after his death, both feudal concepts and religious superstition militated against the burial with her first husband. Thus she did not have much choice but to ask to be buried near Xiaoling Mausoleum.

At first, complying with Xiao Zhuangwen's last words, Kang Xi built a "Zhananfeng Temple" on the south of Xiaoling Mausoleum. But in the second year of his reign (1724), Emperor Yong Zheng built the present mausoleum for her, calling it "the West Zhaoling Mausoleum." Based on the name, it approximated in appearances the Zhaoling Mausoleum of Huangtaiji in Shenyang, the West Zhao]ing Mausoleum is several hundred kilometers from Zbaoling Mausoleum, the only instance of such a burial among Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) mausoleums.

Grave Robbers of the East Qing Imperial Tombs

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), and because factions from the Revolution of 1911 could not agree, separationist warlord regimes fought ceaseless wars against one another. In the chaos of war, grave robbers were very active. Tomb guards left by former Qing governments no longer had wages, so they often stole, or helped to steal, what they were guarding. Trucks full of cultural relics stolen from mausoleums were common sights on the roads of Jixian County at that time. Under the rule of warlord Zhang Zuolin in Northeast China, the time saw so much was stolen that even most trees in the mausoleum areas were felled. [Source: China.org]

In 1928, such a large scale grave robbing operation occurred that almost all the underground funeral objects of the Huifeiling, Yuling Mausoleum and Putuoyu East Dingling disappeared. On June 12 of that year, Ma Futian, Regimental Commander in the 28th Army of Zhang Zuolin quietly occupied Malanyu. Sun Dianying, another warlord, however, ordered Tan Wenjiang, one of his military leaders to capture the tomb area. At dawn on July 2, Ma Futian was driven away and Tan's army looted the mausoleums in Malanyu. After that, Sun's army went straight to the area of Qing East Tombs, pretending to engage in war exercises in the area.

Tan Wenjiang placed policemen all around, denying access to the area and signs declared the army was "protecting the Tombs" to reassure the way. At midnight the engineering corps blew up the entrance, opening the passage leading to the underground palace. The stone door was pried open to give access to the rear room of the grave. Then Sun Dianying gave first priority to officers above battalion commander level to collect treasure for themselves. Finally, ordinary soldiers were allowed to take the leftovers.

The robbers first took the large treasure objects placed around the remains of Ci Xi, such as jadeite watermelons, grasshoppers and vegetables, jade lotus and coral. They even grabbed objects found beneath the body and ravaged the corpse itself, taking her imperial robe; tearing off her under clothing, shoes and socks, and taking all the pearls and jewels on her body. They even pried open Ci Xi's jaws and took the scarce pearl from her mouth. Finally they looted the objects under the coffin which had been favorites of Ci Xi when she was alive.

While Tan Wenjiang was robbing Ci Xi's tomb, Han Dabao, Brigade Commander under Sun Dianying led another army to Yuling Mausoleum and declared his intention to conduct war exercise. They blew the entrance of the underground palace, struck through the first, second, third and fourth stone doors and rushed into the rear room of the tomb. The coffins of Emperor Qian Long and his two empresses and three concubines were pried open: all the valuables from these coffins were looted and the skeletons thrown into the mud.

The looting operation was directed by Sun Dianying, who inspected from his car. When a truck had been filled with the valuable booty, the army fled quickly. The soldiers then rushed to Yuling Mausoleum and the underground palace of Putuoyu East Dingling and looted what they could.

Finally, local riffraff snuck into the two underground palaces to pick up leftovers. This kind looting left nothing in those two mausoleums except broken coffins; an inestimable lost. Newspapers reported the grave robbing and the news spread throughout China and around the world. People were outraged. Emperor Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, who had dismissed Sun from his post, sent telegrams to Chiang Kai-shek; Yan Xishan, Commander of Garrison Force in Beijing; the Central Committee of Kuomintang, and local newspapers asking them to punish Sun Dianying severely. Many others also called for punishment. However, Sun Dianying bribed those who were in a position to discipline him and nothing was done.

Qing West Imperial Tombs

Qing West Imperial Tombs (120 kilometers southwest of Beijing) are spread out in an area with a circumference of 100 kilometers. Amidst mountains verdant with trees, the setting is beautiful, with the famous Zijinguan Pass to the west, Yishui River and the Langyashan Mountain to the south, and, across the river, the 2,300-year-old ruins of Xiadu (Lower Capital) of the Kingdom of Yan to its east.

The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) had ten emperors altogether, five buried in the East Tombs and the rest, except for final emperor Pu Yi, buried in the West Tombs. China had a tradition in earlier dynasties that the imperial son should be buried near the father, a tradition expected to be perpetuated from generation to generation. After the first two, few of the ten emperors in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) were buried in accordance with the tradition.

Why did they act against the tradition to develop the East and West Tombs separately? It turned out that Emperor Yong Zheng broke the tradition. Yong Zheng, fourth son of Emperor Kang Xi, was said to have usurped the throne by forging his father's testament of succession. Since he had a guilty conscience and was superstitious, he did not want to be buried with Kang Xi.

Yun Xiang (Prince Yi) and Minister Gao Qizhuo knew well what troubled Yong Zheng, so they found an auspicious place at Tianpingyu on Taining Mountain, Yizhou, and pressed the location on Yong Zheng. In their memorial to the throne they wrote: "It is a place having all excellence in heaven and on earth; yin and yang, the two opposing principles in nature are in great harmony; and the mountain ranges and waters are in proper arrangement. Provided with all auspicious things, the terrain is suitable for building an imperial mausoleum."

After reading the memorial, Yong Zheng accepted it as an auspicious location and gave orders to construct the Tailing Mausoleum at the foot of the Taining Mountain. This was the beginning of the West Tombs. Yong Zheng opened the West Tombs not only for himself but for successive emperors as well.

However, his son, Qian Long, acted against his father's will and chose a tomb location for himself in the Eastern Tombs, following principles of geomantic omen. He also made it a rule that after him son and father could not be buried in the same place but must alternate between East and West Tombs respectively.

The Qing West Tombs include four emperors' tombs, three empresses' tombs, and seven tombs for concubines, princes and princesses, covering an area of 50,000 square meters, with more than a thousand structures. Altogether, 76 people were buried here. A hundred or more stone buildings and stone carvings are intact.

Qing West Tomb Construction and Administration

The Qing West Tombs construction is similar to that of the East Tombs. From south to north is the avenue of stone animals and human figures, the greater stone archway, big and small stone bridges, Dragon and Phoenix Gate, the lesser tablet pavilion, warehouse of sacrificial offerings, east and west lounges for officials, the Long'en Gate, east and west side halls, the Long'en Hall, the gate of glazed tiles, two-pillar gate, rectangular stone table (altar) with five kinds of sacrificial offerings, Square Castle, Round Castle, Soul Tower, Precious Dome and underground palace. Before Dahongmen (Great Red Gate), there is a beautifully shaped five-arch bridge, which looks like a crescent moon hanging in the sky. [Source: China.org]

To administer the tombs the Qing court established a full set of organizations. The emperor named the general military commander of Taining Town as minister concurrently in charge of the West Tombs. Prince Fu and Prince Zhen were also designated to set up the East and West Mansions and serve as representatives of the imperial family to guard the tombs. Under the East and West Mansions there were the Department of Internal Affairs (in charge of administration and judicature), the Department of Rites, the Department of Works (in charge of offering sacrifices to ancestors and the construction), the "Eight Banners" troops (to protect the tombs) and Luying Army (to safeguard the boundary of the tombs).

Drawn around the West Tombs were three lines of boundary markers in red, black and white, with five li separating each line. Outside the boundary markers were the imperial mountains, which were heavily guarded and closed to common people. In a line with the Red Gate is Yongning Hill, at the foot of which, in the center, lies Tailing for Emperor Yong Zheng. Later emperors could choose either east or west of Tailing for their burial places.

Tailing Mausoleum of Emperor Yong Zheng

Emperor Yong Zheng died in the 13th year of his reign (1735) and was buried in Tailing in the second year of the Qian Long reign (1737). Buried with him are empress Xiao Jingxian and concubine Dun Su. Some 1.5 kilometers northeast of Tailing is the Taidongling, in which is buried empress Xiao Shengxian, Qian Long's mother. South of Taidongling lies Taifeiling where Yong Zheng's 21 concubines, including concubine Yu and concubine Qi, were buried. [Source: China.org]

The Sacred Way leading to Tailing is about five li long, along which are scattered some forty structures, large and small. The path, paved with three layers of huge bricks, is broad and even. Exquisitely carved stone animals and human figures stand on both sides, each wearing a graphic facial expression, and showing precise detail.

Clothing folds, beads in civil officials' hands, designs on military officials' scabbards, animal hair and designs on saddles are all clearly discernible. The verdant pine tree wall along the way sighs in the breeze, adding a taste of classic elegance. A small hill rises in the middle of the way to serve as a screen wall. Behind it is the Dragon and Phoenix Gate carved with innumerable dragons belching mouthfuls of clouds and mist as well as flowers designed in colored glazes.

At the northern end of the Sacred Way are three three-arch stone bridges, under which the Yudai (Jade Belt River flows. Across the bridges is the lesser tablet pavilion. The tablet inside is inscribed with emperors' names in Manchu, Han and Mongolian languages. North of the pavilion is a square, north of which, on a platform, are five east rooms and five west rooms for visitors to rest and three east and three west rooms for guards. In front of the square is Long'en Gate, as wide as five bays (generally, the number of beams required to support ceilings and roof), with a single-eared gable roof. On the left and right inside the gate are color glazed burners to burn funeral orations, gold and silver bullion and paper of five colors.

Main Buildings at Tailing Mausoleum

At the north gate are east and west side halls. The east hall is constructed for the storage of zhuban (a square of wood slightly less than half a meter in width and length covered with yellow paper at four sides, for reading funeral orations when offering sacrifices to ancestors). The west side hall is where lamas chanted scriptures. [Source: China.org]

The Long'en Hall, the main hall, lies on the front platform. It is five bays wide and three bays deep with double eaves and yellow glazed gable roofs. Inside the hall, the beams are painted with gilt lines, dots and circles. Central paintings titled "A United Country" and "Illuminating the Universe" are done in gentle colors to create an air of solemnity. The hall is still bright in colors today and contains three rooms, one for consecrating the figures of Buddha and the other two enshrined with the tablets of emperors and empresses. A memorial ceremony, big or small, was held here each year.

Behind the Long'en Hall are Sanzuo Gate, Two-Pillar Gate, a rectangular five-piece sacrificial stone altar, the square Castle and Soul Tower. The cinnabar tablet in Soul Tower is inscribed with the names of temples for each emperor in Manchu, Han and Mongolian languages. From Soul Tower, a path leads to the Round Castle and its two parts: Precious Dome, and underground palace.


Changling (one kilometer west of Tailing) is , Emperor Jia Qing's tombs, where Jia Qing and his empress Xiao Shurui (Xitala) were buried. West of Changling are the Xiling and Changfeiling, containing the remains of Jia Qing's concubines. Very close to Tailing, Changling nearly matches Tailing in luxury. Pillars of the Long'eh Hall are decorated with gilded clouds and dragons and look splendid; the floor is paved with precious piebald stones and yellow slabstones streaked with purple lines, looking smooth and bright. [Source: China.org]

Muling is built at Longquanyu, southwest of Changling, where Emperor Dao Guang and his empresses, Xiao Mucheng and Xiao Quancheng, were buried. Not far from Muling is the Mudongling, which contained Dao Guang's empresses Xiao Shencheng and Xiao Jingcheng. The Muling is the smallest among the Qing West and East Tombs, having neither a Square Castle nor a Soul Tower, and its underground palace is enclosed only by a stone fence.

Emperor Dao Guang first selected his tomb site at the East Tombs in keeping with the alternate burial tradition. However, since the underground palace was found soaked with water, he ordered a new tomb constructed at the West Tombs. Emperor Dao Guang thought the water in his tomb might be the spit of dragons as they dug holes. If the dragons were moved to the ceiling, he reasoned, they would no longer spit water in the underground palace. So many dragons carved in nanmu (phoebe nanmu) wood decorated the caisson ceilings, forming an array of dragons and permeating the underground palace with the fragrance of nanmu.

Therefore, the Long'en Hall in Muling is unique with all its ceilings, beams and bracket sets covered with swimming and coiling dragons. Further, the surface of the carved dragons are not painted, retaining the original color of nanmu. The fragrant nanmu smell still greets visitors to the hall.


Chongling (east of Tailing) is the final tomb. It was built in the first year of the Xuan Tong reign (1909) and completed in the fourth year of the Republic of China (1915). It is, then, the newest among the extant tombs of the emperors, under a thick growth of rare trees such as yew podocarpus. In the underground palace are buried Emperor Guang Xu and his empress, Long Yu. [Source: China.org]

In 1980, the underground palace at Chongling was cleaned and some repairs made. Although it had been looted in early years and severely damaged, some cultural relics such as precious pearls and silk fabrics were still discovered. Near the Chongling there is the Chongfeiling where concubine Zhen Fei and concubine Jin Fei were buried.

In August 1900, combined forces of eight imperialist powers took Beijing, forcing Empress Dowager Ci Xi, who had Guang Xu in her power, to flee with imperial court to Xian. Before she left Beijing, Ci Xi ordered her eunuch to drown concubine Zhen Fei, who often opposed her, in a palace well. The corpse was retrieved the next year and buried in Tiancun Village in the western suburb of Beijing. Later her remains were moved to Chongfeiling.

The Qing West Tombs contain many exquisite carvings. The three stone archways outside the Great Red Gate are exquisitely made with each of its top ridges, purlins and bracket sets carved out of one piece of stone. The bracket sets and tie beams are engraved with designs of flowers and animals, exquisite and vividly executed. The stone human figures and animals on both sides of the Sacred Way are also masterpieces of stone carvings, fierce and restless unicorn, elephant, horse and lion are made tractable and lovely. Seen from afar, these stone animals in life size look real and lively. The sculptures of civil and military officials are well shaped and each wears a vivid facial expression. Their long gowns are carved loose and with distinct wrinkles, showing an artistic realism.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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