It was the custom in feudal China for each imperial dynasty to have its own family burial ground where successive emperors and other members of the royal family were entombed. The 1argest of these is the Eastern Tombs(Dongling) of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), 1ocated at the foot of a mountain in Zunhua County, some 125 kilometers east of Beijing.
The site was chosen by Emperor Shun Zhi(1638-61), founder of the Qing dynasty, who discovered the place one day while out hunting. He was so enchanted by the landscape that he chose the spot there and then as the site of the imperial tombs of his dynasty. And indeed, the mountain scenery here is splendid. The main peak is flanked on either side by descending hills that fan out, an ideal setting. The workers and artisans conscripted for the Construction work numbered in the thousands, while high-grade timber and special stones and tiles were shipped to the site from distant places. Work continued for over two and a half centuries.
The entire area of 48 square kilometers used to be enclosed by all and heavily guarded like another“Forbidden City”. Buried here are five emperors, I5 empresses, one hundred imperial concubines and one princess. Flanked by other tombs, the mausoleum of the founding emperor Shun Zhi, occupies the central position below the main peak. Knowns Xiaoling(Mausoleum of Filial Devotion), it monopolies the tomb area.
The main entrance to the mausoleum is a towering stone portico With a red gate beyond and then the imposing Great Stele Hall. Inside are two 6.7-meter-high steles bearing inscriptions in both the Han and Manchu languages, extolling Emperor Shun Zhi’s“virtue and merits”.
A road of brick and stone slabs leads straight to the tombs. This is the Sacred Way along which only emperors, high court officials and the royal family might pass when they made sacrificial visits. Pairs of huge stone sculptures of men and animals 1ine the road, while beyond stretch groves of gnarled old pines and grass that contribute to the solemnity and dignity of the atmosphere. Each statue including the base is caved from a single block of stone.
At the end of this Sacred Way towers a stately stone memorial arch of stone with five gateways. Once through these gateways officials dismounted and proceeded on foot. Visitors now cross a square and one of five marble bridges spanning a moat to enter a spectacular hall which houses the spirit tablet of Emperor Shun Zhi. Sacrificial ceremonies were hold here each year.
Behind the hall is Soul Tower with a tall stone tablet denoting that the Emperor Shun Zhi’s tomb lies nearby. Then beneath a Hill-like tumulus at the back of the tower is the underground palace containing the coffins of the emperor and his empresses. It is a distance of five kilometers from the stone portico at the mausoleum entrance to the tower and tomb.
To the West of Xiaoling is the Mausoleum of Emperor Qian Long, the fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty. His underground palace is by far the largest and finest among the Eastern Tombs. It is the second underground palace excavated and opened to the public in China so far. Born in l711, Emperor Qian Long died at the ripe old age of 88 His 60-year-reign was the most flourishing period of the Qian dynasty. His vaulted under- ground palace, 54 meters long, has three chambers and four double doors all of stone. The doors are three meters high and one and a half meters wide, each weighing about three tons. Their construction makes them easy to push open, however, on each door is a carving of a Bodhisattva, all of them different in expression and pose. The inner walls, arched chamber ceilings and gateways are all carved with Buddhas, celestial guardians, lions and sacrificial fruits. Buddhists scriptures cover entirely the wall of the first chambers, carved surprisingly in Sanskrit and Tibetan. Sanskrit symbols number 647, and there ae 29,464 Tibetan symbols. All are engraved in a flowing powerful style which demonstrates a high technical level in Chinese sculpture in the 18th century. These carvings required fifty thousands work days.