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Western Qing Tombs

The Western Qing Tombs are located at the southern foot of the Yongning Mountains in Yixian, Hebei Province, 125 kilometer southwest of Beijing. The tombs lie in a hilly region of great natural beauty and has a circumference of more than 100 kilometer. The Zijing Pass in the west, the ancient Yihe River in the south and the former site of the secondary capital of the Kingdom of Yan in the east border it. To the southwest of the tombs is the Yunwu Mountain, site of the legendary Rainwater Cave. The whole Mausoleum complex contains the tombs of 4 Qing emperors (Yongzheng, Jiaqing, Daoguang and Guangxu), 3 empresses, 7 princes and a number of imperial concubines. The buildings occupy an area of over 500,000 square m and were constructed over the course of 2 centuries.

The principal tomb of this imperial burial ground is the Tailing Mausoleum of Emperor Yongzheng (reigned 1723-1735). It is often asked why Yongzheng chose to be buries in a new site rather than in the Eastern Qing Mausoleums. One interpretation is that since Yongzheng ascended the throne in an improper manner, he was reluctant to be buried in the vicinity of the Jingling, the tomb of his father, Kangxi. To consolidate his 13 years' reign, Yongzheng did not shrink from imprisoning and executing his brothers and close ministers. He was highly suspicious and developed a system of spies to watch over the activities of his ministers. Other aspects of his peculiar personality are that he rarely left the palace for very long, and began to look for a tomb site only six years after his ascension to the throne. At that time, he sent Prince Yunxiang, his most-trusted 13th younger brother, together with the able geomancer Gao Qizhuo, Viceroy of Jiangxi, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, to the mountainous region. In 1790, the eighth year of Yongzheng's reign, they chose an auspicious plot to the east of Taipingyu. The tombs of the emperors after Yongzheng were distributed alternately between these 2 royal tomb complexes, in accordance with an edict of Qianlong. Thus emperors Jiaqing and Daoguang were buried at the Western, while emperors Xianfeng and Tongzhi were buried at the Eastern Qing Mausoleums.

Built between 1730 and 1737, the Tailing Mausoleum is the largest imperial tomb structure of the entire mausoleum complex and a natural staring point for sightseeing in the area. Along the "Sacred Way" leading to the mausoleums are a series of meticulously arranged buildings. To the right immediately inside the Great Red Gate (Dahongmen); the main gate to the mausoleums, is the Dressing Hall, where the principal worshiper in the imperial sacrifice would change his robes before performing the rites. To the north of it stands a double-roofed hall, 30 m tall, in which are found 2 tablets in commemoration of "holy virtue and merit". Outside the hall is a small open square with 4 ornamental white marble columns at its corners. Passing over a 7-arch stone bridge, the "Sacred Way" leads northward to a pair of mountain stones and 10 pairs of stone sculptures (6 of animals and 2 each of civil and military officials) which line both sides of the way.

By passing a naturally formed screen wall called Spider Hill, one arrives at the Dragon and Phoenix Gate (Longfengmen). Heading north one passes a small stela pavilion and 3 triple-arch stone bridges before coming to a large square, to the east of, which are found the sacred kitchen and a well pavilion. On the terrace to the north are the eastern and western waiting rooms and the eastern and western guardhouses.

The Gate of Eminent Favor (Long'enmen) serves as the main entrance to the Tailing. Within the gate are burners for sacrificial offerings of silk and the eastern and western auxiliary halls, the former a storage place for sacrificial papers and the latter a temple where Lamaist priests chanted Buddhist scriptures. Both contain displays of cultural relics.

The Hall of Eminent Favor (Long'endian), the main building in the Tailing complex, was where sacrifices were conducted. Built with a double roof, it houses the thrones of the emperor and empress and a sacrificial altar. Behind the hall are two decorative gates, a set of stone sacrificial vessels and a stela tower (minglou) containing a stone stela which stands atop a square rampart, Beneath this rampart is the underground palace of the emperor. Emperor Yongzheng died suddenly in 1735, but it was not until 1737 that he was interred here with Empress Xiaojingxian and his concubine Dunsushuang, who had predeceased him.

Not far to the west of the Tailing is the Changling Mausoleum of Emperor Jiaqing. The 2 mausoleum complexes are nearly identical in terms of the number of buildings and style of architecture and decoration. The rear square rampart of the Changling stands slightly higher than that of the Tailing stands slightly higher than that of the Tailing. The floor in the Hall of Eminent Favor was laid with polished granite marked with natural purple patterns.

The Changling Mausoleum was completed in 1803, though Jiaqing was not buried there until March 1821, when the underground palace was sealed. In accordance with Qing Dynasty practice, Empress Xiaosurui, who predeceased Jiaqing, was buried in the Changling, but her successor, who died after the demise of the emperor, was buried separately in a tomb to the west of the Changling.

5 kilometer west of the Changling is the mausoleum of emperor Daoguang, the Muling, built between 1832 and 1836. Soon after his ascension to the throne in 1820, however, Daoguang began the construction of a mausoleum at the Eastern Qing Mausoleums district, a project, which went on for 7 years. One year after its completion, however, it was found that the underground palace was flooded. Enraged, Daoguang laid the blame on those in charge of the construction work. The matter was settled when fines were imposed on those officials responsible for the site selection and construction.

In 1832, Daoguang went personally to the Western Qing Mausoleums area and selected a new site for himself. Work began that year and was completed in five years. It was said that Daoguang attributed the flooding to the fact that the construction work had deprived several dragons of a home, forcing them to burrow aimlessly for a new place to live. When he ordered his underground palace built, he had the structures decorated with as many dragons as possible. The Hall of Eminent Favor in the Muling is unique with its nanmu wood checkerboard ceiling, each square of which contains a carved, curled-up dragon, and its unpainted nanmu beams and brackets carved in the form of dragons. On entering the hall one notices immediately the scent of nanmu wood and countless dragonheads with their cheeks expanded as if they were spitting forth clouds. Although the Muling is smaller than both the Tailing and Changling and has no stela pavilion, stone sculptures or stela tower, the quality of its workilometeranship surpasses that of the two other mausoleums.

The site where the nearby Mudongling Mausoleum (Eastern Muling Mausoleum) stands was originally reserved for the tombs of the imperial concubines. Its name, however, was introduced for reasons explained above when an empress of Emperor Daoguang was buried there.

The Chongling Mausoleum of Emperor Guangxu is 5 kilometer to the east of the Tailing. Built in 1909, it is the last imperial tomb to be constructed although its occupant was not the last emperor of China. That honor belonged to Emperor Xuantong (Aisin-gioro Puyi), who reigned from 1909 to 1911 and abdicated at the age of 6. Dying as a commoner in 1967, Henry Puyi, as he was also known, unfortunately had no opportunity to share the underground splendor enjoyed by his predecessors.

The construction of Guangxu's mausoleum was begun posthumously and left unfinished at the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. Funds provided to the former Qing imperial household by the Republican government enabled it to be completed in 1915. Though the Chongling is small in scope, and like the Muling has no stela pavilion, stone sculpture or subsidiary halls, the entire structure is nevertheless quite dignified. The elaborate drainage system still continues to function well.

East of the Chongling stands the mausoleum of Guangxu's concubines. The tombs contain the remains of the famous concubines Zhen and her sister Jin. Concubine Zhen became Guangxu's favorite by extending active support to the emperor's program of reforms, but for this she became an object of Empress Dowager Cixi's enmity. She was subjected to torture, placed in isolation and forbidden any further contact with the emperor. In 1900, the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded Beijing. As Cixi was fleeing Beijing she ordered her chief eunuch Cui Yugui to dispose of Concubine Zhen and, as the legend goes, he threw her down a well in the northeast corner of the Imperial Palace. Her body was recovered in 1901 and buried in Tiancun, a small village outside of Xizhimen. Her remains were interred at the Western Qing Mausoleums in 1915.