Emperor Wan Li of the Ming dynasty who reigned from l573 to l620, began construction of his own tomb when he was 22. It took six years and cost eight million taels of silver. He gave a party in his own funeral chamber, so the chronicles, say, to mark its completion and thirty years later was buried in it amid splendid ceremonies. Emperor Wan Li’s tomb(Dingling) was excavated in1958 and has since been open to the public as an underground museum. Some fifty kilometers northwest of the Beijing(Peking)city Center, Dingling is one of the 13 imperial tombs of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in the capital area. They are popularly known as the Ming Tombs(Ming Ling), or as the Thirteen Tombs(shisanling). The tombs are scattered over a basin approximately forty square kilometers in area，the entire basin being screened by mountain ridges on the east, west and north, while a pare on the south is shaped like the mouth of a bugle. The approach to the Ming Tombs is a stone-paved road seven kilometers long. It begins with a very impressive archway of carved white marble erected in l540, a rare relic of Ming and Qing store work. A stone tablet nearby proclaims that entrants must dismount at this point and proceed on foot. Admittance beyond the archway was forbidden to ordinary citizens, violation of this law being punishable even by death. Further oil the road is lined by giant—size stone statues, 24 0f lions, camels, elephants, horse and mythical animals and 12 of generals and ministers. Each was sculptured out of a single rock. Dingling contains of surface structure, most of which are now in ruins, and the underground palace. A graceful “Soul Tower” of carved stone houses a large stone tablet inscribed with Wan Li’s posthumous title. Immediately behind is the burial mound, 230 meters in diameter of massive brick wall containing indented parapets. This mound is called“The Precious Citadel”. Beneath it is the mammoth burial chamber, the “Underground Palace”where the emperor expected to remain in splendor after death. Until 1956 almost nothing was known about its structure. Although many pas sages led to this underground palace, all were sealed and covered over with earth and 8tone Many explorations by archaeologists finally brought the tomb to light. How the main entrance was revealed and opened without destroying a single building stone of the chamber is difficult to imagine After descending a flight of stone steps to 27 meters below the surface, one comes to the main entrance of the underground palace. This ls a richly carved gateway with a marble double Door, each leaf of which is hewn and carved from a single slab of white marble. Each weighs four tons and measures 3.3 meters high and l.7 meters wide. The massive door was ingeniously closed on the burial scene by a “self-acting stone” behind each leaf. The action of closing the door caused the upper end of the stone to fall automatically into a niche just below a protuberance at the back of each door leaf, preventing it from ever opening again.
There ale three aligned vaults: the Ante-chamber, the Sacrificial Chamber with annexes on each side and the Burial Chamber itself. The underground palace is constructed entirely of stone with an arched ceiling and no columns or beams. The Ante-chamber is bare. The Sacrificial Chamber, 32 meters long and six meters wide, has behind it the third gateway leading to the Burial Chamber before which are three thrones of white marble. The central throne with its back and sides deeply carved with dragons was for the emperor who was to be flanked in death by two empress on thrones carved with phoenixes. In front of each throne is a set of five altar-pieces and a large blue-and-white porcelain jar still containing oil and wick that were supposed to burn and provide“everlasting light”. Midway of the side walls are simple arched doorways opening into the annexes contain stone couches 0.4 meter high on which coffins were apparently intended to be placed. At the end of the annexes are stone doors, again with self-acting stones”, beyond which is a vaulted passage leading nowhere as the doorways are blocked. Chinese archaeologists believe that these“back doors” were designed for the entombment of the two empresses should they have died after the emperor, since his corpse should not be disturbed. Actually, hath empresses died before Wan Li and their coffins were placed beside his.
These are in the Burial Chamber the largest and major part of the tomb, where the three red, lacquered coffins stand side by side on a stone platform. The emperor’s coffin is In the middle, with the First Empress on his left and the second Empress on his right . Actually there are six coffins for each imperial corpse occupies in two, one side the other. In the two narrows spaces between the three sets of coffins are two pairs of vases and three boxes which originally contained a wooden imperial seal and wooden tablets recording the bestowal on the emperor of his posthumous title. There were also an iron helmet decorated with gold and jewels, a suit of mail, a sword, a bow and iron-tipped arrows.