Several weeks ago we had a Sunday afternoon with decent air quality and pleasant spring weather, but not a lot of time, so we continued our exploration of some of the Ming Tombs outside of Changping town. The previous week we had visited the tombs called Yongling, Deling, and Jingling. None of these tombs were open to the public, so we just walked along the outside of each.
We hoped to do the same again, if only to enjoy the weather with a side of history, but without the crowds that would inevitably be at places like the Spirit Way and Changling. We didn’t set out with a plan, intending just to see the Tombs as we ran into them.
Our first stop was at the tomb of the Hongxi Emperor, Xianling. This tomb is remarkable for its small size, especially considering how early in the Ming Era it was built. However, the Hongxi Emperor did not reign long, and he was reportedly frugal. This website suggests that one of the reasons this tomb hadn’t been looted was because everyone believed the emperor would not have placed anything of value inside.
Here we managed a peek through a gap in the locked doors.
Again, there were indications that this area at one time was so much wetter and needed drainage.
Our next stop was Yuling, the tomb of the Zhengtong Emperor. This tomb, too, is small as Ming Emporers’ tombs go. We could walk around it, though the wandering didn’t yield any surprises, like Yongling’s dragon head gargoyles.
There was a long, lonely Spirit Way with a bridge that spanned a dry, grassy ditch.
The wooden gate showed signs of restoration, with some evidence left behind of older buildings.
The doors were tightly closed, so it was hard to see inside.
We did get an impression of the fortress-strength walls that enclosed these tombs. Fortresses for the dead.
Driving away from Yuling, we saw this sign touting the healthful benefits of the fruits picked in this village. I guess we will have to return in the fall for their special dates.
We next drove up to Maoling, the final resting place of the Chenghua Emporer. Once we arrived, though, we saw that this tomb was under extensive renovation. It even seemed that some sort of ticket office was being built, between the tomb and the road. I took a few pictures, and watched the workmen move things around, but I was overcome by the smell of rot coming out of the tomb complex. I don’t think they actually opened the burial chamber, which having been sealed centuries ago likely wouldn’t stink any longer. But somehow in their cleaning up around the grounds uncovered something foul.
There did not seem to be a lot of room for parking, so I wonder how they will manage the cars and tour bus crowds.
A grainy phone-camera zoom
Randy had spotted a small dirt-covered road to the left of Qingling that appeared to lead to another tomb. It seemed strange, that there might be a tomb directly behind another in this way. Once we started walking around, we realized that this tomb was actually built in two separate, walled sections, with a bridge in between. Had we planned better, and done some homework before we set out, we would have known this.
The ceremonial and sacrificial parts of the tomb were on the other side of this back door.
Of course, we had to look through the parting between the doors. There wasn’t much to see.
A three-lane bridge connects the two sections. There is only one door out of the ceremonial section, but the three lanes on the bridge, and three doors into the burial section.
Of course, we had to see what we could see.
I’m always amazed that there was this much care restoring parts of the tomb, like this recently painted soul tower, and yet it remained closed to the public.
So, our tally for this spring is Yongling, Deling, Jingling, Xianling, Yuling, Maoling, and Qingling. We often see Kangling, most recently on a snowy day. That leaves us Tailing and Siling of the closed tombs yet to visit.
This post first appeared on Jennifer Ambrose’s site on April 24, 2015.
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside the Sixth Ring Road in Changping, northwest of Beijing.
Photos: Jennifer Ambrose