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Beijing China - The Ming Tombs

Beijing's Dingling Ming Tombs

Text & Images - Copyright © 2009 Kevin Hulsey

The Ming Tombs are located sixty kilometers northwest of Beijing in the Tianshou Mountains, near one of the restored sections of the Great Wall. Dingling is the burial grounds for thirteen of sixteen Ming Emperors spanning the 15th and 16th century.

The entire Ming necropolis covers over 40 acres, and is approached via the 'Sacred Way,' which is a long colonnade lined with stone statuary of animals and dignitaries.

Beijing China - The Ming Tombs
Dingling Tomb - Looking at the 'Hall of Eminent Favour'

Zhu Di, known as the third Ming Emperor or the Yongle Emperor, was the first Ming Emperor to be buried at the Dingling in 1424. Zhu Di's mausoleum is called the Changling.

The necropolis is also the final resting place for several of the Zhu Di's concubines and Empresses, some of which were buried alive to accompany the Emperor on his journey into the afterlife. The practice of entombing living concubines was abolished during the reign of the Zhengtong Emperor in the mid 1400s.

Beijing China - The Ming Tombs
Dingling's Main Hall (left), Chang-Ling Tomb (right)

Zhu Di, the emperor responsible for building the Forbidden City, occupies the largest mausoleum at the necropolis, which took 18 years to complete.

The nephew of Zhu Di was the second Ming Emperor, but after fleeing from the empire, he was never heard from again. There is no official record of his final resting place.

Beijing China - The Ming Tombs
The 'Soul Tower' of Dingling (left)

The Dingling necropolis was completed in 1581, before the death of the Wanli Emperor, and thirteenth Ming ruler, Zhu Yijun. To commemorate its completion, Zhu Yijun held a feast at the complex to celebrate his upcoming internment.

Excavation of the Dingling Mausoleum

The only tomb to have been excavated at the necropolis was Dingling, or the 'Tomb of Certainty,' which was occupied by Zhu Yijun, who died in 1619. His tomb was uncovered in in 1956, after the discovery of a stone tablet with instructions to the location of the tomb.

Beijing China - The Ming Crown
The Ming Emperor Zhu Yijun's Crown

Although he ruled for over 40 years, Zhu Yijun was considered one of the most inept and/or corrupt emperors of the Ming Dynasty.

Beijing China - The Ming Tomb Jewelry
Dingling Ming Tomb Jewelry Collection

Zhu Yijun was originally entombed with his one and only Empress. Later, one of his concubines, Xiaojing, was elevated to Empress posthumously by her grandson and re-buried with the Emperor.

The first Ming Dynasty Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, was not buried at Dingling, but in Nanjing. There are three tombs which are opened to the public: the Wanli Emperor's tomb Dingling, the Yongle Emperor tomb, Changling, and the Longqing Emperor's tomb, Zhaoling.

Beijing China - The Ming Tomb Map

Zhaoling belonged to the 12th Ming Emperor, Zhu Daicheng, who was buried in 1572 with three of his Empresses. Zhu Daicheng, who was known as the Longqing Emperor, reigned for only six years. The Zhaoling mausoleum was the first tomb to be fully restored to its original condition.

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