Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs, located in Changping District, about 50 kilometers from the northwest of Beijing, are surrounded by mountains on three sides. The imperial cemetery covers an area of 120 square kilometers and there are 13 Ming Dynasty emperors buried there (along with 23 empresses and a number of concubines, princes and princesses), thus it is also called The 13 Mausoleums. These tombs are the best preserved Chinese imperial tombs and have been nominated by UNESCO as world cultural heritage.

The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng-shui (geomancy) belief. The first tomb, Chang Ling (the Tomb of Chang) began to be built by the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1409 AD (the seventh year of his reign) under the main peak of Tianshou Shan (Heavenly Longevity Mountain). (The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty was buried in Nanjing). In chronological order over the following 200 years Xiang Ling, Jing Ling, Yu Ling, Mao Ling, Zong Ling, Kang Ling, Yong Ling, Zhao Ling, Ding Ling, Qing Ling and De Ling were built, spreading out on both sides of Chang Ling. All these tombs share the same Sacred Way, an avenue in the middle of the tomb area. The last tomb, for the Emperor of the self-proclaimed Chongzhen era, Zhu Youjian, lying in the southwest of the area, was actually built out of a tomb originally intended for a concubine. Several decades after the death of the last Ming emperor, Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty gave the last Ming Tomb the tile and added the architecture on the ground. Besides the emperor's tombs scatters lots of smaller tombs for concubines and a eunuch.


In keeping with Feng-shui belief the tombs area is screened by high green mountains on three sides and has a river flowing by. Tourists enter the tomb area through the Sacred Way, on both sides of which there stand in total 36 stone sculptures. Of the 18 pairs of the sculptures, 24 are stone animals and 12 human figures. The custom of erecting stone sculptures in front of imperial tombs started as early as the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). They represent the supreme authority and dignity of the emperors and signify that they are still supreme in power after death. All these stone sculptures are huge; some exceeds 30 cubic meters in volume. In ancient times without modern machinery and vehicles, these heavy stone sculptures were transported here entirely by manpower. In winter time, water was poured on the road. When a slippery ice surface had formed on the road, the laborers hauled the sculpture forward on the ice. Every 500 meters a well was dug to get water for making the ice. Therefore, it was an arduous task to build the imperial tombs. The tombs area is so vast that tourists normally only see two of the 13 tombs, namely, Chang Ling – the largest in architectural scale, and Ding Ling – the only one that has been excavated so far.

Continue to read: Changling Tomb, Dingling Tomb and Tianyi Tomb