Ming Tombs

Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs were established by the third Ming emperor, Yongle, in the fifteenth century and house the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty.

Three of the Ming Tombs are open to the public. Emperor Yongle’s tomb, known as Chang Ling, is perhaps the most remarkable of the three, with its ornate interiors and impressive architecture. However, it is the Ding Ling tomb which is the only one to have been excavated and the only Ming Tomb in which visitors can enter the underground vault.

The Ding Ling tomb is the final resting place of emperor Wanli, the longest serving Ming emperor, often blamed for the fall of the dynasty. Unfortunately, most of the artefacts and original pieces in the Ding Ling tomb have been destroyed, but visiting the tomb is an interesting experience in itself.

The final tomb, known as Zhao Ling, is the mausoleum of the emperor Longqing, the 13th Ming emperor. This site features as one of our Top Visitor Attractions of China.

The 13 Imperial Tombs of the Ming Dynasty

We have discussed earlier the Contributions Of the Ming Dynasty. They had a foothold in every Chinese Monument like The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City . The Ming Dynasty ruled from 1368 to 1644. Almost 13 Kings Served during this TimeLine. The Ming Dynasty Decided to Built a mausoleum for Each king and also a collection of Artifacts during his period. The First Tomb was Built near Nanjing, But Later all the Other Tombs are located near Beijing.


Emperor Taizu’s empire was one of military discipline and respect of authority, with a fierce sense of justice. If his officials did not kneel before him, he would have them beaten.

Taizu was considered a suspicious ruler who transformed his palace guard into a form of secret police to root out betrayals and conspiracies. In 1380 A.D., he began an internal investigation that lasted 14 years and brought about 30,000 executions.

So deep was his paranoia that he conducted two more such efforts, resulting in another 70,000 killings of government workers, ranging from high government officials to guards and servants.


Off the beaten tourist path in Beijing are the Ming Dynasty Tombs. The tombs have such a fascinating history, but also a dark part of ancient Chinese history as we were about to discover on this winter’s day on our overland travel from Hong Kong to the Netherlands.

The Ming tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty of China. The first Ming emperor’s tomb, Emperor Hongwu, is located near his capital Nanjing. Nanjing was the southern capital of Ancient China. It was the third Ming emperor, Emperor Yongle, who relocated the imperial capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1424.

Most of the Ming tombs are in a cluster near Beijing, and collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). Since 1420, when the Emperor Yongle built his tomb here, the succeeding twelve emperors had their resting places built around Changling during the next 230 years, covering a total area of over 40 square kilometres.

Map of Beijing and The Ming Dynasty Tombs, Beijing

Ming tombs are located 42 kilometers or 26 miles northwest of Beijing’s city center in suburban Changping District of Beijing. The site, on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain, was chosen by Emperor Yongle.

According to UNESCO World Heritage website: “The Ming and Qing imperial tombs are in topographical settings carefully chosen according to principles of Fengshui and comprise numerous buildings of traditional architectural design and decoration. The tombs and buildings are laid out according to Chinese hierarchical rules and incorporate sacred ways lined with stone monuments and sculptures designed to accommodate ongoing royal ceremonies as well as the passage of the spirits of the dead. They illustrate the great importance attached by the Ming and Qing rulers over five centuries to the building of imposing mausolea, reflecting not only the general belief in an afterlife but also an affirmation of authority.”

Presently, the Ming Tombs are one of the components of the World Heritage Site, the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It includes several other locations near Beijing and in Nanjing, Hebei, Hubei, Liaoning province. The Ming Tombs were added into UNESCO World Heritage listed sites in August 2003.

Five Offerings, Ming DynastyTombs, Beijing

The Chinese Ming Dynasty lasted for 276 years (1368 – 1644 AD) and has been described as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history.” This dynasty became a global superpower, yet while this dynasty was praised for its stability and innovation there was a darker more gruesome underbelly.

At the time, as we were told some of the information by our guide, we thought we were hearing it wrong, but now I have time to research and understand its cultural significance.

To understand the dark part of history of these tombs you need to walk down the Changling Scared Way to the Changling Tomb. The Scared Way means the road leading to heaven. The Emperor, known as the Son of the Heaven, who came from Heaven to his country through the Sacred Way, would return to Heaven through this road.

Mark at Ling Xing Men Archway

All along the Way from south to north, you will see several sites of interest and beauty, including the Stone Tablet Archway, Great Red Gate, Tablet Pavilion, Ornamental Columns, Stone Figures, Lingxin Gate.

Walking along the Sacred Way to the end, you can see the Changling Tomb built in 1420, where lies the third Emperor of Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle and his Empress Xu.

The Blessing and Grace Palace, or Ling’en Palace

Approaching the Changling Tomb, you will first see the tomb’s gate called the Alhambresque gate with its three red doors, which take you into the first courtyard. The gate to the second courtyard is named Blessing and Grace Gate or Ling’en Gate. It is impressive to see this beautiful gate. Once you go thru the gate, I saw these magnificent stone carvings. On further research the lower part of the carved picture is a surging sea, in which mountains stand and two sea horses are leaping out in the upper part, two vigorous dragons are flying up and down, chasing fire beads. The workmanship blew me away, so beautiful in yet such a sad place.

The beautiful stone corner stone carvings at Ming Tombs, Beijing

Once you are in the second courtyard, you will see the main building of the Changling Tomb, the Blessing and Grace Palace, or also known as Ling’en Palace. This place was used for making sacrifices to Emperor Zhu Di and Empress Xu. This palace really deserves a visit for its uniqueness. It is the only preserved tomb palace from the Ming Dynasty and the only huge palace made of camphor wood. It is the one of oldest wooden structure of ancient China. You stand this beautiful place and wander about this history. After seeing the lifeline bronze statue of Emperor Yongle sitting on his throne decorated with dragons, you feel overwhelmed by the beauty of this place, but my eyes went straight to the ceiling. I had got so used to looking at the ceilings in Asia once you walk into these beautiful ancient buildings.

Crown, Ming Tombs, Beijing

It is this palace, that all of Emperor Yongle achievements are discussed. He was responsible for bringing the ancient Chinese capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1424. He also had the Forbidden Place and these tombs built. The palace also holds beautiful items of silk, jewellery and clothing of the Dangling tomb, the third largest of the Ming Tombs. It is the tomb of the Emperor Wanli, his empress consort and the mother of the Taichang Emperor, only Ming tomb to have been excavated. It was selected as a trial site in preparation for the excavation of Changling. Excavation completed in 1957 and a museum was established in 1959.

Hairpin, Ming Dynasty

Once you go leave the palace, you come into the final courtyard, you can see the two stone gate called Lingxing Gate. This courtyard is the most beautiful of all. It is surrounded by trees. The trees were just losing their autumn colours that day. There is another archway and silk burning pots in this courtyard. Once you go thru the final gate you are coming into the back site of the Tomb called Treasure City. We were asked not to take photos out of respect for the deceased, but it is basically an enclosed circular castle with high walls and trees. It is here the Emperor and his wife were laid to rest, but no one has any idea where…

Lingxin Gate, Ming Tombs, Beijing

That is a story of the next time on the following blog.

COSTSCNY 45 ppCNY 35 pp

We did with a tour operator from our Novotel hotel in Central Beijing for CNY800 for 2 pp for the day including Great Wall of China and tea ceremony.

Bus 877 can take you from Deshengmen Bus Station to Badaling Great Wall. After touring the wall, you can take bus 879 to the Sacred Way (Nanxin Village Station), Dingling and Changling. Zhaoling is within walking distance.

Recommended Tours:
Best Beijing Tours: 4 days to Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Badaling, Ming Tombs&hellip
Hutong Experience : 5 days to Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, Hutong&hellip
Capital Highlights: 5 days small group to visit the most popular sites of Beijing
Beijing Tours

Sacred Way

At the entrance to Xiaoling Mausoleum of Ming Dynasty, you will see the Dismounting Archway. As a gesture of deep respect, visitors would discount their horses and sedans at this point. Not far from the entrance is the Tablet Pavilion called Si Fang Cheng. Here a majestic tablet was erected by order of Emperor Zhu Di, the fourth son of Zhu Yuanzhang, to eulogize his father's merits and virtues. The tablet is carried by Bixi, a legendary animal in the shape of a tortoise.

Beyond the animals is a pair of decorative columns called Hua Biao that are carved with dragons. From here the Sacred Way turns into a north-south direction and becomes known at Weng Zhong Road. This location is marked by stone carved statues of ministers and generals. Different from the straight sacred ways in the former dynasties, the Sacred Way at Xiaoling Mausoleum goes in different directions making it unique and unprecedented in Chinese history.

Tablet carried by Bixi,
a leganday animal



Revolt and rebel rivalry

The Mongol-led Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) ruled before the establishment of the Ming dynasty. Explanations for the demise of the Yuan include institutionalized ethnic discrimination against Han Chinese that stirred resentment and rebellion, overtaxation of areas hard-hit by inflation, and massive flooding of the Yellow River as a result of the abandonment of irrigation projects. [12] Consequently, agriculture and the economy were in shambles, and rebellion broke out among the hundreds of thousands of peasants called upon to work on repairing the dykes of the Yellow River. [12] A number of Han Chinese groups revolted, including the Red Turbans in 1351. The Red Turbans were affiliated with the White Lotus, a Buddhist secret society. Zhu Yuanzhang was a penniless peasant and Buddhist monk who joined the Red Turbans in 1352 he soon gained a reputation after marrying the foster daughter of a rebel commander. [13] In 1356, Zhu's rebel force captured the city of Nanjing, [14] which he would later establish as the capital of the Ming dynasty.

With the Yuan dynasty crumbling, competing rebel groups began fighting for control of the country and thus the right to establish a new dynasty. In 1363, Zhu Yuanzhang eliminated his archrival and leader of the rebel Han faction, Chen Youliang, in the Battle of Lake Poyang, arguably the largest naval battle in history. Known for its ambitious use of fire ships, Zhu's force of 200,000 Ming sailors were able to defeat a Han rebel force over triple their size, claimed to be 650,000-strong. The victory destroyed the last opposing rebel faction, leaving Zhu Yuanzhang in uncontested control of the bountiful Yangtze River Valley and cementing his power in the south. After the dynastic head of the Red Turbans suspiciously died in 1367 while a guest of Zhu, there was no one left who was remotely capable of contesting his march to the throne, and he made his imperial ambitions known by sending an army toward the Yuan capital Dadu (present-day Beijing) in 1368. [15] The last Yuan emperor fled north to the upper capital Shangdu, and Zhu declared the founding of the Ming dynasty after razing the Yuan palaces in Dadu to the ground [15] the city was renamed Beiping in the same year. [16] Zhu Yuanzhang took Hongwu, or "Vastly Martial", as his era name.

Reign of the Hongwu Emperor

Hongwu made an immediate effort to rebuild state infrastructure. He built a 48 km (30 mi) long wall around Nanjing, as well as new palaces and government halls. [15] The History of Ming states that as early as 1364 Zhu Yuanzhang had begun drafting a new Confucian law code, the Da Ming Lü, which was completed by 1397 and repeated certain clauses found in the old Tang Code of 653. [17] Hongwu organized a military system known as the weisuo, which was similar to the fubing system of the Tang dynasty (618–907).

In 1380 Hongwu had the Chancellor Hu Weiyong executed upon suspicion of a conspiracy plot to overthrow him after that Hongwu abolished the Chancellery and assumed this role as chief executive and emperor, a precedent mostly followed throughout the Ming period. [18] [19] With a growing suspicion of his ministers and subjects, Hongwu established the Jinyiwei, a network of secret police drawn from his own palace guard. Some 100,000 people were executed in a series of purges during his rule. [18] [20]

The Hongwu emperor issued many edicts forbidding Mongol practices and proclaiming his intention to purify China of barbarian influence. However, he also sought to use the Yuan legacy to legitimize his authority in China and other areas ruled by the Yuan. He continued policies of the Yuan dynasty such as continued request for Korean concubines and eunuchs, Mongol-style hereditary military institutions, Mongol-style clothing and hats, promoting archery and horseback riding, and having large numbers of Mongols serve in the Ming military. Until the late 16th century Mongols still constituted one-in-three officers serving in capital forces like the Embroidered Uniform Guard, and other peoples such as Jurchens were also prominent. [21] He frequently wrote to Mongol, Japanese, Korean, Jurchen, Tibetan, and Southwest frontier rulers offering advice on their governmental and dynastic policy, and insisted on leaders from these regions visiting the Ming capital for audiences. He resettled 100,000 Mongols into his territory, with many serving as guards in the capital. The emperor also strongly advertised the hospitality and role granted to Chinggisid nobles in his court. [22]

South-Western frontier

In Qinghai, the Salar Muslims voluntarily came under Ming rule, their clan leaders capitulating around 1370. Uyghur troops under Uyghur general Hala Bashi suppressed the Miao Rebellions of the 1370s and settled in Changde, Hunan. [23] Hui Muslim troops also settled in Changde, Hunan after serving the Ming in campaigns against other aboriginal tribes. [24] In 1381, the Ming dynasty annexed the areas of the southwest that had once been part of the Kingdom of Dali following the successful effort by Hui Muslim Ming armies to defeat Yuan-loyalist Mongol and Hui Muslim troops holding out in Yunnan province. The Hui troops under General Mu Ying, who was appointed Governor of Yunnan, were resettled in the region as part of a colonization effort. [25] By the end of the 14th century, some 200,000 military colonists settled some 2,000,000 mu (350,000 acres) of land in what is now Yunnan and Guizhou. Roughly half a million more Chinese settlers came in later periods these migrations caused a major shift in the ethnic make-up of the region, since formerly more than half of the population were non-Han peoples. Resentment over such massive changes in population and the resulting government presence and policies sparked more Miao and Yao revolts in 1464 to 1466, which were crushed by an army of 30,000 Ming troops (including 1,000 Mongols) joining the 160,000 local Guangxi (see Miao Rebellions (Ming dynasty)). After the scholar and philosopher Wang Yangming (1472–1529) suppressed another rebellion in the region, he advocated single, unitary administration of Chinese and indigenous ethnic groups in order to bring about sinification of the local peoples. [26]

Campaign in the North-East

After the overthrow of the Mongol Yuan dynasty by the Ming dynasty in 1368, Manchuria remained under control of the Mongols of the Northern Yuan dynasty based in Mongolia. Naghachu, a former Yuan official and a Uriankhai general of the Northern Yuan dynasty, won hegemony over the Mongol tribes in Manchuria (Liaoyang province of the former Yuan dynasty). He grew strong in the northeast, with forces large enough (numbering hundreds of thousands) to threaten invasion of the newly founded Ming dynasty in order to restore the Mongols to power in China. The Ming decided to defeat him instead of waiting for the Mongols to attack. In 1387 the Ming sent a military campaign to attack Naghachu, [27] which concluded with the surrender of Naghachu and Ming conquest of Manchuria.

The early Ming court could not, and did not, aspire to the control imposed upon the Jurchens in Manchuria by the Mongols, yet it created a norm of organization that would ultimately serve as the main instrument for the relations with peoples along the northeast frontiers. By the end of the Hongwu reign, the essentials of a policy toward the Jurchens had taken shape. Most of the inhabitants of Manchuria, except for the Wild Jurchens, were at peace with China. In 1409, under the Yongle Emperor, the Ming Dynasty established the Nurgan Regional Military Commission on the banks of the Amur River, and Yishiha, a eunuch of Haixi Jurchen origin, was ordered to lead an expedition to the mouth of the Amur to pacify the Wild Jurchens. After the death of Yongle Emperor, the Nurgan Regional Military Commission was abolished in 1435, and the Ming court ceased to have substantial activities there, although the guards continued to exist in Manchuria. Throughout its existence, the Ming established a total of 384 guards (衛, wei) and 24 battalions (所, suo) in Manchuria, but these were probably only nominal offices and did not necessarily imply political control. [28] By the late Ming period, Ming's political presence in Manchuria has declined significantly.

Relations with Tibet

The Mingshi – the official history of the Ming dynasty compiled by the Qing dynasty in 1739 – states that the Ming established itinerant commanderies overseeing Tibetan administration while also renewing titles of ex-Yuan dynasty officials from Tibet and conferring new princely titles on leaders of Tibetan Buddhist sects. [31] However, Turrell V. Wylie states that censorship in the Mingshi in favor of bolstering the Ming emperor's prestige and reputation at all costs obfuscates the nuanced history of Sino-Tibetan relations during the Ming era. [32]

Modern scholars debate whether the Ming dynasty had sovereignty over Tibet. Some believe it was a relationship of loose suzerainty that was largely cut off when the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1521–67) persecuted Buddhism in favor of Daoism at court. [32] [33] Others argue that the significant religious nature of the relationship with Tibetan lamas is underrepresented in modern scholarship. [34] [35] Others note the Ming need for Central Asian horses and the need to maintain the tea-horse trade. [36] [37] [38] [39]

The Ming sporadically sent armed forays into Tibet during the 14th century, which the Tibetans successfully resisted. [40] [41] Several scholars point out that unlike the preceding Mongols, the Ming dynasty did not garrison permanent troops in Tibet. [42] [43] The Wanli Emperor (r. 1572–1620) attempted to reestablish Sino-Tibetan relations in the wake of a Mongol-Tibetan alliance initiated in 1578, an alliance which affected the foreign policy of the subsequent Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1912) in their support for the Dalai Lama of the Yellow Hat sect. [32] [44] [45] [46] By the late 16th century, the Mongols proved to be successful armed protectors of the Yellow Hat Dalai Lama after their increasing presence in the Amdo region, culminating in the conquest of Tibet by Güshi Khan (1582–1655) in 1642, [32] [47] [48] establishing the Khoshut Khanate.

Reign of the Yongle Emperor

Rise to power

The Hongwu Emperor specified his grandson Zhu Yunwen as his successor, and he assumed the throne as the Jianwen Emperor (1398–1402) after Hongwu's death in 1398. The most powerful of Hongwu's sons, Zhu Di, then the militarily mighty disagreed with this, and soon a political showdown erupted between him and his nephew Jianwen. [49] After Jianwen arrested many of Zhu Di's associates, Zhu Di plotted a rebellion that sparked a three-year civil war. Under the pretext of rescuing the young Jianwen from corrupting officials, Zhu Di personally led forces in the revolt the palace in Nanjing was burned to the ground, along with Jianwen himself, his wife, mother, and courtiers. Zhu Di assumed the throne as the Yongle Emperor (1402–1424) his reign is universally viewed by scholars as a "second founding" of the Ming dynasty since he reversed many of his father's policies. [50]

New capital and foreign engagement

Yongle demoted Nanjing to a secondary capital and in 1403 announced the new capital of China was to be at his power base in Beijing. Construction of a new city there lasted from 1407 to 1420, employing hundreds of thousands of workers daily. [51] At the center was the political node of the Imperial City, and at the center of this was the Forbidden City, the palatial residence of the emperor and his family. By 1553, the Outer City was added to the south, which brought the overall size of Beijing to 6.5 by 7 kilometres (4 by 4 + 1 ⁄ 2 miles). [52]

Beginning in 1405, the Yongle Emperor entrusted his favored eunuch commander Zheng He (1371–1433) as the admiral for a gigantic new fleet of ships designated for international tributary missions. Among the Kingdoms visited by Zheng He, Yongle Emperor proclaimed the Kingdom of Cochin to be its protectorate. [53] The Chinese had sent diplomatic missions over land since the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) and engaged in private overseas trade, but these missions were unprecedented in grandeur and scale. To service seven different tributary voyages, the Nanjing shipyards constructed two thousand vessels from 1403 to 1419, including treasure ships measuring 112 m (370 ft) to 134 m (440 ft) in length and 45 m (150 ft) to 54 m (180 ft) in width. [54]

Yongle used woodblock printing to spread Chinese culture. He also used the military to expand China's borders. This included the brief occupation of Vietnam, from the initial invasion in 1406 until the Ming withdrawal in 1427 as a result of protracted guerrilla warfare led by Lê Lợi, the founder of the Vietnamese Lê dynasty. [55]

Tumu Crisis and the Ming Mongols

The Oirat leader Esen Tayisi launched an invasion into Ming China in July 1449. The chief eunuch Wang Zhen encouraged the Zhengtong Emperor (r. 1435–49) to lead a force personally to face the Oirats after a recent Ming defeat the emperor left the capital and put his half-brother Zhu Qiyu in charge of affairs as temporary regent. On 8 September, Esen routed Zhengtong's army, and Zhengtong was captured – an event known as the Tumu Crisis. [56] The Oirats held the Zhengtong Emperor for ransom. However, this scheme was foiled once the emperor's younger brother assumed the throne under the era name Jingtai (r. 1449–57) the Oirats were also repelled once the Jingtai Emperor's confidant and defense minister Yu Qian (1398–1457) gained control of the Ming armed forces. Holding the Zhengtong Emperor in captivity was a useless bargaining chip for the Oirats as long as another sat on his throne, so they released him back into Ming China. [56] The former emperor was placed under house arrest in the palace until the coup against the Jingtai Emperor in 1457 known as the "Wresting the Gate Incident". [57] The former emperor retook the throne under the new era name Tianshun (r. 1457–64).

Tianshun proved to be a troubled time and Mongol forces within the Ming military structure continued to be problematic. On 7 August 1461, the Chinese general Cao Qin and his Ming troops of Mongol descent staged a coup against the Tianshun Emperor out of fear of being next on his purge-list of those who aided him in the Wresting the Gate Incident. [58] Cao's rebel force managed to set fire to the western and eastern gates of the Imperial City (doused by rain during the battle) and killed several leading ministers before his forces were finally cornered and he was forced to commit suicide. [59]

While the Yongle Emperor had staged five major offensives north of the Great Wall against the Mongols and the Oirats, the constant threat of Oirat incursions prompted the Ming authorities to fortify the Great Wall from the late 15th century to the 16th century nevertheless, John Fairbank notes that "it proved to be a futile military gesture but vividly expressed China's siege mentality." [60] Yet the Great Wall was not meant to be a purely defensive fortification its towers functioned rather as a series of lit beacons and signalling stations to allow rapid warning to friendly units of advancing enemy troops. [61]

Decline and fall of the Ming dynasty

Later reign of the Wanli Emperor

The financial drain of the Imjin War in Korea against the Japanese was one of the many problems – fiscal or other – facing Ming China during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572–1620). In the beginning of his reign, Wanli surrounded himself with able advisors and made a conscientious effort to handle state affairs. His Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng (1572–82) built up an effective network of alliances with senior officials. However, there was no one after him skilled enough to maintain the stability of these alliances [62] officials soon banded together in opposing political factions. Over time Wanli grew tired of court affairs and frequent political quarreling amongst his ministers, preferring to stay behind the walls of the Forbidden City and out of his officials' sight. [63] Scholar-officials lost prominence in administration as eunuchs became intermediaries between the aloof emperor and his officials any senior official who wanted to discuss state matters had to persuade powerful eunuchs with a bribe simply to have his demands or message relayed to the emperor. [64] The Bozhou rebellion by the Chiefdom of Bozhou was going on in southwestern China at the same time as the Imjin War. [65] [66] [67] [68]

Role of eunuchs

The Hongwu Emperor forbade eunuchs to learn how to read or engage in politics. Whether or not these restrictions were carried out with absolute success in his reign, eunuchs during the Yongle Emperor's reign (1402–1424) and afterwards managed huge imperial workshops, commanded armies, and participated in matters of appointment and promotion of officials. Yongle put 75 eunuchs in charge of foreign policy they traveled frequently to vassal states including Annam, Mongolia, the Ryukyu Islands, and Tibet and less frequently to farther-flung places like Japan and Nepal. In the later 15th century, however, eunuch envoys generally only traveled to Korea. [69]

The eunuchs developed their own bureaucracy that was organized parallel to but was not subject to the civil service bureaucracy. [70] Although there were several dictatorial eunuchs throughout the Ming, such as Wang Zhen, Wang Zhi, and Liu Jin, excessive tyrannical eunuch power did not become evident until the 1590s when the Wanli Emperor increased their rights over the civil bureaucracy and granted them power to collect provincial taxes. [64] [71]

The eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568–1627) dominated the court of the Tianqi Emperor (r. 1620–1627) and had his political rivals tortured to death, mostly the vocal critics from the faction of the Donglin Society. He ordered temples built in his honor throughout the Ming Empire, and built personal palaces created with funds allocated for building the previous emperor's tombs. His friends and family gained important positions without qualifications. Wei also published a historical work lambasting and belittling his political opponents. [72] The instability at court came right as natural calamity, pestilence, rebellion, and foreign invasion came to a peak. The Chongzhen Emperor (r. 1627–44) had Wei dismissed from court, which led to Wei's suicide shortly after.

The eunuchs built their own social structure, providing and gaining support to their birth clans. Instead of fathers promoting sons, it was a matter of uncles promoting nephews. The Heishanhui Society in Peking sponsored the temple that conducted rituals for worshiping the memory of Gang Tie, a powerful eunuch of the Yuan dynasty. The Temple became an influential base for highly placed eunuchs, and continued in a somewhat diminished role during the Qing dynasty. [73] [74] [75]

Economic breakdown and natural disasters

During the last years of the Wanli era and those of his two successors, an economic crisis developed that was centered on a sudden widespread lack of the empire's chief medium of exchange: silver. The Portuguese first established trade with China in 1516, [76] trading Japanese silver for Chinese silk, [77] and after some initial hostilities gained consent from the Ming court in 1557 to settle Macau as their permanent trade base in China. [78] Their role in providing silver was gradually surpassed by the Spanish, [79] [80] [81] while even the Dutch challenged them for control of this trade. [82] [83] Philip IV of Spain (r. 1621–1665) began cracking down on illegal smuggling of silver from New Spain and Peru across the Pacific through the Philippines towards China, in favor of shipping American-mined silver through Spanish ports. In 1639 the new Tokugawa regime of Japan shut down most of its foreign trade with European powers, cutting off another source of silver coming into China. These events occurring at roughly the same time caused a dramatic spike in the value of silver and made paying taxes nearly impossible for most provinces. [84] People began hoarding precious silver as there was progressively less of it, forcing the ratio of the value of copper to silver into a steep decline. In the 1630s a string of one thousand copper coins equaled an ounce of silver by 1640 that sum could fetch half an ounce and, by 1643 only one-third of an ounce. [79] For peasants this meant economic disaster, since they paid taxes in silver while conducting local trade and crop sales in copper. [85] Recent historians have debated the validity of the theory that silver shortages caused the downfall of the Ming dynasty. [86] [87]

Famines became common in northern China in the early 17th century because of unusually dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season – effects of a larger ecological event now known as the Little Ice Age. [88] Famine, alongside tax increases, widespread military desertions, a declining relief system, and natural disasters such as flooding and inability of the government to properly manage irrigation and flood-control projects caused widespread loss of life and normal civility. [88] The central government, starved of resources, could do very little to mitigate the effects of these calamities. Making matters worse, a widespread epidemic, the Great Plague in late Ming Dynasty, spread across China from Zhejiang to Henan, killing an unknown but large number of people. [89] The deadliest earthquake of all time, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor's reign, killing approximately 830,000 people. [90]

Rise of the Manchu

A Jurchen tribal leader named Nurhaci (r. 1616–26), starting with just a small tribe, rapidly gained control over all the Manchurian tribes. During the Japanese invasions of Joseon Korea in the 1590s, he offered to lead his tribes in support of the Ming and Joseon army. This offer was declined, but he was granted honorific Ming titles for his gesture. Recognizing the weakness of Ming authority north of their border, he united all of the adjacent northern tribes and consolidated power in the region surrounding his homeland as the Jurchen Jin dynasty had done previously. [91] In 1610, he broke relations with the Ming court, and in 1618 demanded a tribute from them to redress "Seven Grievances".

By 1636, Nurhaci's son Huang Taiji renamed his dynasty from the "Later Jin" to the "Great Qing" at Mukden, which had fallen to Qing forces in 1621 and was made their capital in 1625. [92] [93] Huang Taiji also adopted the Chinese imperial title huangdi, declared the Chongde ("Revering Virtue") era, and changed the ethnic name of his people from "Jurchen" to "Manchu". [93] [94] In 1638 the Manchu defeated and conquered Ming China's traditional ally Joseon with an army of 100,000 troops in the Second Manchu invasion of Korea. Shortly after, the Koreans renounced their long-held loyalty to the Ming dynasty. [94]

Rebellion, invasion, collapse

A peasant soldier named Li Zicheng mutinied with his fellow soldiers in western Shaanxi in the early 1630s after the Ming government failed to ship much-needed supplies there. [88] In 1634 he was captured by a Ming general and released only on the terms that he return to service. [95] The agreement soon broke down when a local magistrate had thirty-six of his fellow rebels executed Li's troops retaliated by killing the officials and continued to lead a rebellion based in Rongyang, central Henan province by 1635. [96] By the 1640s, an ex-soldier and rival to Li – Zhang Xianzhong (1606–1647) – had created a firm rebel base in Chengdu, Sichuan, while Li's center of power was in Hubei with extended influence over Shaanxi and Henan. [96]

In 1640, masses of Chinese peasants who were starving, unable to pay their taxes, and no longer in fear of the frequently defeated Chinese army, began to form into huge bands of rebels. The Chinese military, caught between fruitless efforts to defeat the Manchu raiders from the north and huge peasant revolts in the provinces, essentially fell apart. Unpaid and unfed, the army was defeated by Li Zicheng – now self-styled as the Prince of Shun – and deserted the capital without much of a fight. On 25 April 1644, Beijing fell to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng when the city gates were opened by rebel allies from within. During the turmoil, the last Ming emperor hanged himself on a tree in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City. [97]

Seizing opportunity, the Eight Banners crossed the Great Wall after the Ming border general Wu Sangui (1612–1678) opened the gates at Shanhai Pass. This occurred shortly after he learned about the fate of the capital and an army of Li Zicheng marching towards him weighing his options of alliance, he decided to side with the Manchus. [98] The Eight Banners under the Manchu Prince Dorgon (1612–1650) and Wu Sangui approached Beijing after the army sent by Li was destroyed at Shanhaiguan the Prince of Shun's army fled the capital on the fourth of June. On 6 June, the Manchus and Wu entered the capital and proclaimed the young Shunzhi Emperor ruler of China. After being forced out of Xi'an by the Qing, chased along the Han River to Wuchang, and finally along the northern border of Jiangxi province, Li Zicheng died there in the summer of 1645, thus ending the Shun dynasty. One report says his death was a suicide another states that he was beaten to death by peasants after he was caught stealing their food. [99]

Despite the loss of Beijing and the death of the emperor, the Ming were not yet totally destroyed. Nanjing, Fujian, Guangdong, Shanxi, and Yunnan were all strongholds of Ming resistance. However, there were several pretenders for the Ming throne, and their forces were divided. These scattered Ming remnants in southern China after 1644 were collectively designated by 19th-century historians as the Southern Ming. [100] Each bastion of resistance was individually defeated by the Qing until 1662, when the last southern Ming Emperor died, the Yongli Emperor, Zhu Youlang. The last Ming Princes to hold out were the Prince of Ningjing Zhu Shugui and the son of Zhu Yihai, the Prince of Lu Zhu Honghuan (朱弘桓) who stayed with Koxinga's Ming loyalists in the Kingdom of Tungning (in Taiwan) until 1683. Zhu Shugui proclaimed that he acted in the name of the deceased Yongli Emperor. [101] The Qing eventually sent the seventeen Ming princes still living in Taiwan back to mainland China where they spent the rest of their lives. [102]

In 1725 the Qing Yongzheng Emperor bestowed the hereditary title of Marquis on a descendant of the Ming dynasty Imperial family, Zhu Zhilian (朱之璉), who received a salary from the Qing government and whose duty was to perform rituals at the Ming tombs. The Chinese Plain White Banner was also inducted in the Eight Banners. Later the Qianlong Emperor bestowed the title Marquis of Extended Grace posthumously on Zhu Zhilian in 1750, and the title passed on through twelve generations of Ming descendants until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. The last Marquis of Extended Grance was Zhu Yuxun (朱煜勳). In 1912, after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution, some advocated that a Han Chinese be installed as Emperor, either the descendant of Confucius, who was the Duke Yansheng, [103] [104] [105] [106] [107] or the Ming dynasty Imperial family descendant, the Marquis of Extended Grace. [108] [109]

Province, prefecture, subprefecture, county

Described as "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history" by Edwin O. Reischauer, John K. Fairbank and Albert M. Craig, [110] the Ming emperors took over the provincial administration system of the Yuan dynasty, and the thirteen Ming provinces are the precursors of the modern provinces. Throughout the Song dynasty, the largest political division was the circuit (lu 路). [111] However, after the Jurchen invasion in 1127, the Song court established four semi-autonomous regional command systems based on territorial and military units, with a detached service secretariat that would become the provincial administrations of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. [112] Copied on the Yuan model, the Ming provincial bureaucracy contained three commissions: one civil, one military, and one for surveillance. Below the level of the province (sheng 省) were prefectures (fu 府) operating under a prefect (zhifu 知府), followed by subprefectures (zhou 州) under a subprefect. The lowest unit was the county (xian 縣), overseen by a magistrate. Besides the provinces, there were also two large areas that belonged to no province, but were metropolitan areas (jing 京) attached to Nanjing and Beijing. [113]

Institutions and bureaus

Institutional trends

Departing from the main central administrative system generally known as the Three Departments and Six Ministries system, which was instituted by various dynasties since late Han (202 BCE – 220 CE), the Ming administration had only one Department, the Secretariat, that controlled the Six Ministries. Following the execution of the Chancellor Hu Weiyong in 1380, the Hongwu Emperor abolished the Secretariat, the Censorate, and the Chief Military Commission and personally took charge of the Six Ministries and the regional Five Military Commissions. [114] [115] Thus a whole level of administration was cut out and only partially rebuilt by subsequent rulers. [114] The Grand Secretariat, at the beginning a secretarial institution that assisted the emperor with administrative paperwork, was instituted, but without employing grand counselors, or chancellors.

The Hongwu Emperor sent his heir apparent to Shaanxi in 1391 to "tour and soothe" (xunfu) the region in 1421 the Yongle Emperor commissioned 26 officials to travel the empire and uphold similar investigatory and patrimonial duties. By 1430 these xunfu assignments became institutionalized as "grand coordinators". Hence, the Censorate was reinstalled and first staffed with investigating censors, later with censors-in-chief. By 1453, the grand coordinators were granted the title vice censor-in-chief or assistant censor-in-chief and were allowed direct access to the emperor. [116] As in prior dynasties, the provincial administrations were monitored by a travelling inspector from the Censorate. Censors had the power to impeach officials on an irregular basis, unlike the senior officials who were to do so only in triennial evaluations of junior officials. [116] [117]

Although decentralization of state power within the provinces occurred in the early Ming, the trend of central government officials delegated to the provinces as virtual provincial governors began in the 1420s. By the late Ming dynasty, there were central government officials delegated to two or more provinces as supreme commanders and viceroys, a system which reined in the power and influence of the military by the civil establishment. [118]

Grand Secretariat and Six Ministries

Governmental institutions in China conformed to a similar pattern for some two thousand years, but each dynasty installed special offices and bureaus, reflecting its own particular interests. The Ming administration utilized Grand Secretaries to assist the emperor, handling paperwork under the reign of the Yongle Emperor and later appointed as top officials of agencies and Grand Preceptor, a top-ranking, non-functional civil service post, under the Hongxi Emperor (r. 1424–25). [119] The Grand Secretariat drew its members from the Hanlin Academy and were considered part of the imperial authority, not the ministerial one (hence being at odds with both the emperor and ministers at times). [120] The Secretariat operated as a coordinating agency, whereas the Six Ministries – Personnel, Revenue, Rites, War, Justice, and Public Works – were direct administrative organs of the state: [121]

  1. The Ministry of Personnel was in charge of appointments, merit ratings, promotions, and demotions of officials, as well as granting of honorific titles. [122]
  2. The Ministry of Revenue was in charge of gathering census data, collecting taxes, and handling state revenues, while there were two offices of currency that were subordinate to it. [123]
  3. The Ministry of Rites was in charge of state ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices it also oversaw registers for Buddhist and Daoist priesthoods and even the reception of envoys from tributary states. [124]
  4. The Ministry of War was in charge of the appointments, promotions, and demotions of military officers, the maintenance of military installations, equipment, and weapons, as well as the courier system. [125]
  5. The Ministry of Justice was in charge of judicial and penal processes, but had no supervisory role over the Censorate or the Grand Court of Revision. [126]
  6. The Ministry of Public Works had charge of government construction projects, hiring of artisans and laborers for temporary service, manufacturing government equipment, the maintenance of roads and canals, standardization of weights and measures, and the gathering of resources from the countryside. [126]

Bureaus and offices for the imperial household

The imperial household was staffed almost entirely by eunuchs and ladies with their own bureaus. [127] Female servants were organized into the Bureau of Palace Attendance, Bureau of Ceremonies, Bureau of Apparel, Bureau of Foodstuffs, Bureau of the Bedchamber, Bureau of Handicrafts, and Office of Staff Surveillance. [127] Starting in the 1420s, eunuchs began taking over these ladies' positions until only the Bureau of Apparel with its four subsidiary offices remained. [127] Hongwu had his eunuchs organized into the Directorate of Palace Attendants, but as eunuch power at court increased, so did their administrative offices, with eventual twelve directorates, four offices, and eight bureaus. [127] The dynasty had a vast imperial household, staffed with thousands of eunuchs, who were headed by the Directorate of Palace Attendants. The eunuchs were divided into different directorates in charge of staff surveillance, ceremonial rites, food, utensils, documents, stables, seals, apparel, and so on. [128] The offices were in charge of providing fuel, music, paper, and baths. [128] The bureaus were in charge of weapons, silverwork, laundering, headgear, bronze work, textile manufacture, wineries, and gardens. [128] At times, the most influential eunuch in the Directorate of Ceremonial acted as a de facto dictator over the state. [129]

Although the imperial household was staffed mostly by eunuchs and palace ladies, there was a civil service office called the Seal Office, which cooperated with eunuch agencies in maintaining imperial seals, tallies, and stamps. [130] There were also civil service offices to oversee the affairs of imperial princes. [131]



The Hongwu emperor from 1373 to 1384 staffed his bureaus with officials gathered through recommendations only. After that the scholar-officials who populated the many ranks of bureaucracy were recruited through a rigorous examination system that was initially established by the Sui dynasty (581–618). [133] [134] [135] Theoretically the system of exams allowed anyone to join the ranks of imperial officials (although it was frowned upon for merchants to join) in reality the time and funding needed to support the study in preparation for the exam generally limited participants to those already coming from the landholding class. However, the government did exact provincial quotas while drafting officials. This was an effort to curb monopolization of power by landholding gentry who came from the most prosperous regions, where education was the most advanced. The expansion of the printing industry since Song times enhanced the spread of knowledge and number of potential exam candidates throughout the provinces. For young schoolchildren there were printed multiplication tables and primers for elementary vocabulary for adult examination candidates there were mass-produced, inexpensive volumes of Confucian classics and successful examination answers. [136]

As in earlier periods, the focus of the examination was classical Confucian texts, while the bulk of test material centered on the Four Books outlined by Zhu Xi in the 12th century. [137] Ming era examinations were perhaps more difficult to pass since the 1487 requirement of completing the "eight-legged essay", a departure from basing essays off progressing literary trends. The exams increased in difficulty as the student progressed from the local level, and appropriate titles were accordingly awarded successful applicants. Officials were classified in nine hierarchic grades, each grade divided into two degrees, with ranging salaries (nominally paid in piculs of rice) according to their rank. While provincial graduates who were appointed to office were immediately assigned to low-ranking posts like the county graduates, those who passed the palace examination were awarded a jinshi ('presented scholar') degree and assured a high-level position. [138] In 276 years of Ming rule and ninety palace examinations, the number of doctoral degrees granted by passing the palace examinations was 24,874. [139] Ebrey states that "there were only two to four thousand of these jinshi at any given time, on the order of one out of 10,000 adult males." This was in comparison to the 100,000 shengyuan ('government students'), the lowest tier of graduates, by the 16th century. [140]

The maximum tenure in office was nine years, but every three years officials were graded on their performance by senior officials. If they were graded as superior then they were promoted, if graded adequate then they retained their ranks, and if graded inadequate they were demoted one rank. In extreme cases, officials would be dismissed or punished. Only capital officials of grade 4 and above were exempt from the scrutiny of recorded evaluation, although they were expected to confess any of their faults. There were over 4,000 school instructors in county and prefectural schools who were subject to evaluations every nine years. The Chief Instructor on the prefectural level was classified as equal to a second-grade county graduate. The Supervisorate of Imperial Instruction oversaw the education of the heir apparent to the throne this office was headed by a Grand Supervisor of Instruction, who was ranked as first class of grade three. [141]

Historians debate whether the examination system expanded or contracted upward social mobility. On the one hand, the exams were graded without regard to a candidate's social background, and were theoretically open to everyone. [142] In actual practice, the successful candidates had years of a very expensive, sophisticated tutoring of the sort that wealthy gentry families specialized in providing their talented sons. In practice, 90 percent of the population was ineligible due to lack of education, but the upper 10 percent had equal chances for moving to the top. To be successful young men had to have extensive, expensive training in classical Chinese, the use of Mandarin in spoken conversation, calligraphy, and had to master the intricate poetic requirements of the eight-legged essay. Not only did the traditional gentry dominated the system, they also learned that conservatism and resistance to new ideas was the path to success. For centuries critics had pointed out these problems, but the examination system only became more abstract and less relevant to the needs of China. [143] The consensus of scholars is that the eight-legged essay can be blamed as a major cause of "China's cultural stagnation and economic backwardness." However Benjamin Ellman argues there were some positive features, since the essay form was capable of fostering “abstract thinking, persuasiveness, and prosodic form” and that its elaborate structure discouraged a wandering, unfocused narrative”. [144]

Lesser functionaries

Scholar-officials who entered civil service through examinations acted as executive officials to a much larger body of non-ranked personnel called lesser functionaries. They outnumbered officials by four to one Charles Hucker estimates that they were perhaps as many as 100,000 throughout the empire. These lesser functionaries performed clerical and technical tasks for government agencies. Yet they should not be confused with lowly lictors, runners, and bearers lesser functionaries were given periodic merit evaluations like officials and after nine years of service might be accepted into a low civil service rank. [145] The one great advantage of the lesser functionaries over officials was that officials were periodically rotated and assigned to different regional posts and had to rely on the good service and cooperation of the local lesser functionaries. [146]

Eunuchs, princes, and generals

Eunuchs gained unprecedented power over state affairs during the Ming dynasty. One of the most effective means of control was the secret service stationed in what was called the Eastern Depot at the beginning of the dynasty, later the Western Depot. This secret service was overseen by the Directorate of Ceremonial, hence this state organ's often totalitarian affiliation. Eunuchs had ranks that were equivalent to civil service ranks, only theirs had four grades instead of nine. [147] [148]

Descendants of the first Ming emperor were made princes and given (typically nominal) military commands, annual stipends, and large estates. The title used was "king" ( 王 , wáng) but – unlike the princes in the Han and Jin dynasties – these estates were not feudatories, the princes did not serve any administrative function, and they partook in military affairs only during the reigns of the first two emperors. [149] The rebellion of the Prince of Yan was justified in part as upholding the rights of the princes, but once the Yongle Emperor was enthroned, he continued his nephew's policy of disarming his brothers and moved their fiefs away from the militarized northern border. Although princes served no organ of state administration, the princes, consorts of the imperial princesses, and ennobled relatives did staff the Imperial Clan Court, which supervised the imperial genealogy. [131]

Like scholar-officials, military generals were ranked in a hierarchic grading system and were given merit evaluations every five years (as opposed to three years for officials). [150] However, military officers had less prestige than officials. This was due to their hereditary service (instead of solely merit-based) and Confucian values that dictated those who chose the profession of violence (wu) over the cultured pursuits of knowledge (wen). [151] Although seen as less prestigious, military officers were not excluded from taking civil service examinations, and after 1478 the military even held their own examinations to test military skills. [152] In addition to taking over the established bureaucratic structure from the Yuan period, the Ming emperors established the new post of the travelling military inspector. In the early half of the dynasty, men of noble lineage dominated the higher ranks of military office this trend was reversed during the latter half of the dynasty as men from more humble origins eventually displaced them. [153]

Literature and arts

Literature, painting, poetry, music, and Chinese opera of various types flourished during the Ming dynasty, especially in the economically prosperous lower Yangzi valley. Although short fiction had been popular as far back as the Tang dynasty (618–907), [154] and the works of contemporaneous authors such as Xu Guangqi, Xu Xiake, and Song Yingxing were often technical and encyclopedic, the most striking literary development was the vernacular novel. While the gentry elite were educated enough to fully comprehend the language of Classical Chinese, those with rudimentary education – such as women in educated families, merchants, and shop clerks – became a large potential audience for literature and performing arts that employed Vernacular Chinese. [155] Literati scholars edited or developed major Chinese novels into mature form in this period, such as Water Margin and Journey to the West. Jin Ping Mei, published in 1610, although incorporating earlier material, marks the trend toward independent composition and concern with psychology. [156] In the later years of the dynasty, Feng Menglong and Ling Mengchu innovated with vernacular short fiction. Theater scripts were equally imaginative. The most famous, The Peony Pavilion, was written by Tang Xianzu (1550–1616), with its first performance at the Pavilion of Prince Teng in 1598.

Informal essay and travel writing was another highlight. Xu Xiake (1587–1641), a travel literature author, published his Travel Diaries in 404,000 written characters, with information on everything from local geography to mineralogy. [157] [158] The first reference to the publishing of private newspapers in Beijing was in 1582 by 1638 the Peking Gazette switched from using woodblock print to movable type printing. [159] The new literary field of the moral guide to business ethics was developed during the late Ming period, for the readership of the merchant class. [160]

In contrast to Xu Xiake, who focused on technical aspects in his travel literature, the Chinese poet and official Yuan Hongdao (1568–1610) used travel literature to express his desires for individualism as well as autonomy from and frustration with Confucian court politics. [161] Yuan desired to free himself from the ethical compromises that were inseparable from the career of a scholar-official. This anti-official sentiment in Yuan's travel literature and poetry was actually following in the tradition of the Song dynasty poet and official Su Shi (1037–1101). [162] Yuan Hongdao and his two brothers, Yuan Zongdao (1560–1600) and Yuan Zhongdao (1570–1623), were the founders of the Gong'an School of letters. [163] This highly individualistic school of poetry and prose was criticized by the Confucian establishment for its association with intense sensual lyricism, which was also apparent in Ming vernacular novels such as the Jin Ping Mei. [163] Yet even gentry and scholar-officials were affected by the new popular romantic literature, seeking courtesans as soulmates to re-enact the heroic love stories that arranged marriages often could not provide or accommodate. [164]

Famous painters included Ni Zan and Dong Qichang, as well as the Four Masters of the Ming dynasty, Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming, and Qiu Ying. They drew upon the techniques, styles, and complexity in painting achieved by their Song and Yuan predecessors, but added techniques and styles. Well-known Ming artists could make a living simply by painting due to the high prices they demanded for their artworks and the great demand by the highly cultured community to collect precious works of art. The artist Qiu Ying was once paid 2.8 kg (100 oz) of silver to paint a long handscroll for the eightieth birthday celebration of the mother of a wealthy patron. Renowned artists often gathered an entourage of followers, some who were amateurs who painted while pursuing an official career and others who were full-time painters. [165]

The period was also renowned for ceramics and porcelains. The major production center for porcelain was the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, most famous in the period for blue and white porcelain, but also producing other styles. The Dehua porcelain factories in Fujian catered to European tastes by creating Chinese export porcelain by the late 16th century. Individual potters also became known, such as He Chaozong, who became famous in the early 17th century for his style of white porcelain sculpture. In The Ceramic Trade in Asia, Chuimei Ho estimates that about 16% of late Ming era Chinese ceramic exports were sent to Europe, while the rest were destined for Japan and South East Asia. [166]

Carved designs in lacquerware and designs glazed onto porcelain wares displayed intricate scenes similar in complexity to those in painting. These items could be found in the homes of the wealthy, alongside embroidered silks and wares in jade, ivory, and cloisonné. The houses of the rich were also furnished with rosewood furniture and feathery latticework. The writing materials in a scholar's private study, including elaborately carved brush holders made of stone or wood, were designed and arranged ritually to give an aesthetic appeal. [167]

Connoisseurship in the late Ming period centered on these items of refined artistic taste, which provided work for art dealers and even underground scammers who themselves made imitations and false attributions. [167] The Jesuit Matteo Ricci while staying in Nanjing wrote that Chinese scam artists were ingenious at making forgeries and huge profits. [168] However, there were guides to help the wary new connoisseur Liu Tong (died 1637) wrote a book printed in 1635 that told his readers how to spot fake and authentic pieces of art. [169] He revealed that a Xuande era (1426–1435) bronze work could be authenticated by judging its sheen porcelain wares from the Yongle era (1402–1424) could be judged authentic by their thickness. [170]


The dominant religious beliefs during the Ming dynasty were the various forms of Chinese folk religion and the Three Teachings – Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The Yuan-supported Tibetan lamas fell from favor, and the early Ming emperors particularly favored Taoism, granting its practitioners many positions in the state's ritual offices. [171] The Hongwu Emperor curtailed the cosmopolitan culture of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and the prolific Prince of Ning Zhu Quan even composed one encyclopedia attacking Buddhism as a foreign "mourning cult", deleterious to the state, and another encyclopedia that subsequently joined the Taoist canon. [171]

Islam was also well-established throughout China, with a history said to have begun with Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas during the Tang dynasty and strong official support during the Yuan. Although the Ming sharply curtailed this support, there were still several prominent Muslim figures early on, including the Hongwu Emperor's generals Chang Yuqun, Lan Yu, Ding Dexing, and Mu Ying, [172] as well as the Yongle Emperor's powerful eunuch Zheng He. Mongol and Central Asian Semu Muslim women and men were required by Ming Code to marry Han Chinese after the first Ming Emperor Hongwu passed the law in Article 122. [173] [174] [175]

The advent of the Ming was initially devastating to Christianity: in his first year, the Hongwu Emperor declared the eighty-year-old Franciscan missions among the Yuan heterodox and illegal. [177] The centuries-old Nestorian church also disappeared. During the later Ming a new wave of Christian missionaries arrived – particularly Jesuits – who employed new western science and technology in their arguments for conversion. They were educated in Chinese language and culture at St. Paul's College on Macau after its founding in 1579. The most influential was Matteo Ricci, whose "Map of the Myriad Countries of the World" upended traditional geography throughout East Asia, and whose work with the convert Xu Guangqi led to the first Chinese translation of Euclid's Elements in 1607. The discovery of a Nestorian stele at Xi'an in 1625 also permitted Christianity to be treated as an old and established faith, rather than as a new and dangerous cult. However, there were strong disagreements about the extent to which converts could continue to perform rituals to the emperor, Confucius, or their ancestors: Ricci had been very accommodating and an attempt by his successors to backtrack from this policy led to the Nanjing Incident of 1616, which exiled four Jesuits to Macau and forced the others out of public life for six years. [178] A series of spectacular failures by the Chinese astronomers – including missing an eclipse easily computed by Xu Guangqi and Sabatino de Ursis – and a return by the Jesuits to presenting themselves as educated scholars in the Confucian mold [179] restored their fortunes. However, by the end of the Ming the Dominicans had begun the Chinese Rites controversy in Rome that would eventually lead to a full ban of Christianity under the Qing dynasty.

During his mission, Ricci was also contacted in Beijing by one of the approximately 5,000 Kaifeng Jews and introduced them and their long history in China to Europe. [180] However, the 1642 flood caused by Kaifeng's Ming governor devastated the community, which lost five of its twelve families, its synagogue, and most of its Torah. [181]


Wang Yangming's Confucianism

During the Ming dynasty, the Neo-Confucian doctrines of the Song scholar Zhu Xi were embraced by the court and the Chinese literati at large, although the direct line of his school was destroyed by the Yongle Emperor's extermination of the ten degrees of kinship of Fang Xiaoru in 1402. The Ming scholar most influential upon subsequent generations, however, was Wang Yangming (1472–1529), whose teachings were attacked in his own time for their similarity to Chan Buddhism. [182] Building upon Zhu Xi's concept of the "extension of knowledge" ( 理學 or 格物致知 ), gaining understanding through careful and rational investigation of things and events, Wang argued that universal concepts would appear in the minds of anyone. [183] Therefore, he claimed that anyone – no matter their pedigree or education – could become as wise as Confucius and Mencius had been and that their writings were not sources of truth but merely guides that might have flaws when carefully examined. [184] A peasant with a great deal of experience and intelligence would then be wiser than an official who had memorized the Classics but not experienced the real world. [184]

Conservative reaction

Other scholar-bureaucrats were wary of Wang's heterodoxy, the increasing number of his disciples while he was still in office, and his overall socially rebellious message. To curb his influence, he was often sent out to deal with military affairs and rebellions far away from the capital. Yet his ideas penetrated mainstream Chinese thought and spurred new interest in Taoism and Buddhism. [182] Furthermore, people began to question the validity of the social hierarchy and the idea that the scholar should be above the farmer. Wang Yangming's disciple and salt-mine worker Wang Gen gave lectures to commoners about pursuing education to improve their lives, while his follower He Xinyin ( 何心隱 ) challenged the elevation and emphasis of the family in Chinese society. [182] His contemporary Li Zhi even taught that women were the intellectual equals of men and should be given a better education both Li and He eventually died in prison, jailed on charges of spreading "dangerous ideas". [185] Yet these "dangerous ideas" of educating women had long been embraced by some mothers [186] and by courtesans who were as literate and skillful in calligraphy, painting, and poetry as their male guests. [187]

The liberal views of Wang Yangming were opposed by the Censorate and by the Donglin Academy, re-established in 1604. These conservatives wanted a revival of orthodox Confucian ethics. Conservatives such as Gu Xiancheng (1550–1612) argued against Wang's idea of innate moral knowledge, stating that this was simply a legitimization for unscrupulous behavior such as greedy pursuits and personal gain. These two strands of Confucian thought, hardened by Chinese scholars' notions of obligation towards their mentors, developed into pervasive factionalism among the ministers of state, who used any opportunity to impeach members of the other faction from court. [188]

The Ming Tombs Beijing

The Ming Tombs in Beijing is a massive area featuring mausoleums for 13 of the 16 Ming Dynasty Emperors, also buried at the site are empresses and concubines of the era. Only a couple of the tombs have been excavated, many are still sealed awaiting the progress of technology to provide a means of preserving everything that is inside once they open the tomb.

On my first visit, I was still feeling pretty ordinary from a bout of travel exhaustion so I chose to join a tour group to see the Great Wall rather than go through all the challenges of how to get there and back. I asked the tour desk at the hotel and they got me into a tour the next morning (Later in the post I am going to include all the details you need to do a self-guided tour of the tombs).

A minibus picked me up from the hotel early in the morning and off we went, all three of us, a grand total of five including the driver! Cool, this could be OK! First stop was the Ming Tombs.

It’s another display of China’s history and the extravagant life of its former emperors. The guided tour rushed through this area and I wish I could have explored the area more, but this is an organised tour, and the tombs are spread out over a very large area, also I think was the ‘there it is, ok, let’s go’ version of a Ming Tombs tour. I suggest a much better experience is to be had by charting your own course and the info below will enable you to do such.

The other problem with guided tours is the stops at shopping halls where the guides will earn a commision from anything you buy, so, be wary of low-priced tour tickets.

Of the 13 tombs, only three are open to the public being Dingling Tomb, Zhaoling Tomb, and the Changling Tomb. The other essential site is the Sacred Way which leads to tombs.

The Whole Ming Tombs Site Overview

The Tombs

Of the 13 tombs, only three are open to the public being

  • Dingling Tomb – mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses, Empress Xiaoduan and Empress Xiaojing. Featuring marble stone bridges, Wailuo Wall, courtyards, kitchens and storerooms (for the afterlife), Ling’en Palace, engraved stone road, Lingxing Gate and the tomb itself. Here you will find the underground palace and perhaps the key sight of the whole area being the only unearthed tomb.
  • Zhaoling Tomb – mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Zaihou and his three empresses, don’t miss the stone turtle.
  • Changling Tomb – mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Di and Empress Xu. A highlight here is the Blessing and Grace Palace being made from Camphor and sitting on top of three levels of white marble. It also contains many artifacts and a lifelike bronze statue of the emperor.

The 13 Ming Tombs and their emperors

Here is something interesting about Chinese emperors, they had a convention of naming their reign as if to give it a theme or slogan. For example, Zhu Di who ruled from 1402 to 1424 named himself the Yong Le emperor, Yong Le translating to perpetual happiness.

  1. Changling Tomb (open to public) – Emperor Yong Le, Zhu Di (1360 – 1424)
  2. Dingling Tomb (open to public) – Emperor Shen Zong, Zhu Yijun (1563 – 1620)
  3. Zhaoling Tomb (open to public) – Emperor Mu Zong, Zhu Zaihou (1537 – 1572)
  4. Yongling Tomb – Emperor Shi Zong, Zhu Houzong (1507 – 1567)
  5. Xianling Tomb – Emperor Ren Zong, Zhu Gaozhi (1378 – 1425)
  6. Qingling Tomb – Emperor Guang Zong. Zhu Changluo (1582-1620)
  7. Maoling Tomb – Emperor Xian Zong, Zhu Jianshen (1447 – 1487)
  8. Kangling Tomb – Emperor Wuzong, Zhu Houzhao (1491-1521)
  9. Jingling Tomb – Emperor Xuan Zong, Zhu Zhanji (1398 – 1435)
  10. Tailing Tomb – Emperor Xiao Zong, Zhu Youtang (1470 – 1505)
  11. Deling Tomb – Emperor Xi Zong, Zhu Youjia (1605-1627)
  12. Yuling Tomb – Emperor Ying Zong, Zhu Qizhen (1427 – 1464)
  13. Siling Tomb – Emperor Si Zong, Zhu Youjian (1611 – 1644)

Ming Tombs Facts

  • the Ming Dynasty began in 1368 and lasted until 1644.
  • the first tomb was built in 1409, and the last one in 1644.
  • the timber used in construction came from other provinces and took six years to transport and hundreds of lives as it was so difficult to procure.
  • each brick used in the construction had the name of the manufacturer and the official in charge printed on them
  • The Ming Tombs area covers forty square kilometers
  • Sacred Way is 7 kilometers long featuring stone sculptures, pillars, one archway, gates, a five-arch bridge, one pavilion, and stele.
  • the Changling Tomb is the largest and first, built for emperor Zhu Di (朱棣, 1360-1424) and his empress Xu
  • the Dingling Tomb was built for emperor Zhu Yiyun (朱翊钧, 1563-1620) and is the only tomb to be unearthed and opened to visitors.
  • the Zhaoling Tomb was built for emperor Zhu Zaihou (朱载垕, 1537-1572) and his three empresses.
  • visiting the site was forbidden to ordinary folk
  • in 1644 when Li Zhecheng’s army attacked Beijing to overthrow the Ming rulers the army ransacked the tombs.
  • excavation of the Dingling Tomb was halted due to the Cultural Revolution and much was lost
  • Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003
  • there are more Ming Tombs in Nanjing, Hebei, Hubei, and Liaoning province.
  • Official site: Mingtombs.com

The Entrance & The Sacred Way

Sometimes referred to as the Spirit Way or Divine Road. It is symbolic in that it represents the path to heaven. It also incorporates Feng Shui, as does the entire site, with the road being on a North-South axis. The Stone Archway is one of the first built in China and also the largest. Through the Palace Gate, and further along, you will find the Stele Pavilion, featuring a giant turtle with an inscribed stele. The stele holds a tribute to the Yong Le Emporer (Zhu Di), and record of tombs including costs, and also a record of why the Ming Dynasty fell. Further along is the sacred way, featuring stone pillars and stone sculptures of officials, lions, haetae, qilins, horses, camels, and elephants. Then through the Lonfeng gate over the bridge and the road leads to the Changling Tomb of the Yong Le Emperor (Zhu Di).

Key Sights of the Entrance & The Sacred Way

I. Stone archway
II. Great Palace Gate
III. Stele Pavilion
IV. Sacred Way
V. Longfeng Gate (Dragon and Phoenix Gate)

Tourist Guide

How To Get To

By Metro
Changping Line Take the Subway Changping Line and leave at the Changping Dongguan Station. You can then transfer to bus 314 to go Changling or Dingling. Do not get off the Ming Tombs Subway Station because it’s 4 km away from the Ming Tombs and only a local car can be hired which may charge you too high.
By Bus
Direct Line Take bus 872 from Deshengmen to Dingling or Changling from 7 am to 8:10 pm.
Indirect Line Bus 345 Express or 886, can take you from Deshengmen West Station to Changping Dongguan Station. Here, you can transfer to bus 314.

Ticket Prices

Combo ticket
Apr-Oct 130 Yuan
Nov-Mar 100 Yuan
Apr-Oct 60 Yuan
Nov-Mar 40 Yuan
Apr-Oct 45 Yuan
Nov-Mar 30 Yuan
Apr-Oct 30 Yuan
Nov-Mar 20 Yuan
Sacred Way
Apr-Oct 30 Yuan
Nov-Mar 20 Yuan
Children under 3.9 feet
All Sections Free

Opening Hours

Apr-Oct 8 am to 5:30 pm
Nov-Mar 8:30 am to 5 pm
Apr-Oct 8 am to 5:30 pm
Nov-Mar 8:30 am to 5 pm
Apr-Oct 8:30 am to 5 pm
Nov-Mar 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Sacred Way
Apr-Oct 8:10 am to 5:50 pm
Nov-Mar 8:30 am to 5 pm

The best time for visiting the Ming Tombs is spring as you can enjoy blossoming flowers and a green environment. Besides, it’s not recommended to visit this site on holidays and weekends since it can be highly crowded. If you have any more information to add, feel free to share them with us. Besides, if you need more detailed information, let us know in the comment section and our professional guides will reply as soon as possible.

Ming Tombs - History

Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. It lies at the southern foot of Purple Mountain, located east of the historical centre of Nanjing, China. Legend says that in order to prevent robbery of the tomb, 13 identical processions of funeral troops started from 13 city gates to obscure the real burying site. The construction of the mausoleum began during the Hongwu Emperor's life in 1381 and ended in 1405, during the reign of his son the Yongle Emperor, (see below) with a huge expenditure of resources involving 100,000 laborers. The original wall of the mausoleum was more than 22.5 kilometres long. The mausoleum was built under heavy guard of 5,000 troops.

The Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty

Panoramic View -- Click Arrows for Full Screen and Close-ups

The Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty is the resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. The Ming Tombs (Shisan Ling) are China's finest example of imperial tomb architecture. The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui (geomancy) principles. According to these, bad spirits and evil winds descending from the North must be deflected therefore, an arc-shaped area at the foot of the Jundu Mountains north of Beijing was selected. This 40 square kilometer area - enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley full of dark earth, tranquil water and other necessities would become the necropolis of the Ming Dynasty.

A seven kilometer road named the "Spirit Way" (Shendao) leads into the complex, lined with statues of guardian animals and officials, with a front gate consisting of a three-arches, painted red, and called the "Great Red Gate".

The Spirit Way, or Sacred Way, starts with a huge stone memorial archway lying at the front of the area. Constructed in 1540, during the Ming Dynasty, this archway is one of the biggest stone archways in China today.

Part of the 4-mile (7-km) approach to the tombs, the Sacred Way is lined
with 36 stone statues of officials, soldiers, animals, and mythical beasts.

Sculptures of guardian figures, whether the Terracotta Army or later Buddhist deity figures, are common. Early burial customs show a strong belief in an afterlife, and a spirit path to it that needed facilitating. Funerals and memorials were also an opportunity to reaffirm important cultural values such as filial piety and "the honor and respect due to seniors, the duties incumbent on juniors".

The common Chinese funerary symbol of a woman in the door may represent a basic male fantasy of an elysian afterlife with no restrictions. In all the doorways of the houses stand available women looking for newcomers to welcome into their chambers Han Dynasty inscriptions often describe the filial mourning for their subjects.

Farther in, the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion can be seen. Inside it, there is a 50-ton tortoise shaped dragon-beast carrying a stone tablet. This was added during Qing times and was not part of the original Ming layout. Four white marble Huabiao (pillars of glory) are positioned at each corner of the stele pavilion. At the top of each pillar is a mythical beast. Then come two Pillars on each side of the road, whose surfaces are carved with the cloud design, and tops are shaped like a rounded cylinder. They are of a traditional design and were originally beacons to guide the soul of the deceased, The road leads to 18 pairs of stone statues of mythical animals, which are all sculpted from whole stones and larger than life size, leading to a three-arched gate known as the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.

The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003. They were listed along with other tombs under the "Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties" designation. During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to commoners, but in 1644 Li Zicheng's army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year. Presently, the Ming Dynasty Tombs are designated as one of the components of the World Heritage object, Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which also includes a number of other sites in Beijing area and elsewhere in China.

The tombs are located 42 kilometers north-northwest of central Beijing, within the suburban Changping District of Beijing municipality. The site, located on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain (originally Mount Huangtu), was chosen on the feng shui principles by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (born Zhu Di) (1402-1424), who moved the capital of China from Nanjing to its the present location in Beijing. The name Yongle means "Perpetual Happiness". He is credited with envisioning the layout of the Ming-era Beijing as well as a number of landmarks and monuments located therein.

After the construction of the Imperial Palace (the Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. The imperial cemetery covers an area of 120 square kilometers with 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses and a number of concubines, princes, and princesses buried there, and thus it is also called 13 Mausoleums. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the centre of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Part of the museum's former collection is now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both museums descend from the same institution, but were split after the Chinese Civil War.

Changling is the tomb of Emperor Yongle and his empress. Built in 1413, the mausoleum extends over an area of 100,000 square metres. The soul tower, which tells people whose tomb it is, rests on a circular wall called the "city of treasures" which surrounds the burial mound. The "city of treasures" at Changling has a length of more than a kilometre.

One of China's most impressive surviving Ming buildings, this double-eaved sacrificial hall
is erected on a three-tiered terrace. Cedar columns support the huge weight of the roof.

Statue of the Yongle Emperor

Changling Tomb's Ling'en Gate

Dingling is under ground - about 27 meters deep. The main features are the Stone Bridge, Soul Tower, Baocheng and the Underground Place, which was unearthed between 1956 and 1958. The entire palace is made of stone. The Soul Tower is symbolic of the whole of Dingling and it forms the entrance to the underground chambers. The yellow glazed tiles eaves, archway, rafters and columns are all sculptured from stone, and colorfully painted.

Entering the Underground Tomb Chamber

Here we find the tomb of the longest reigning Ming emperor, Wanli (1573-1620), is the only burial chamber of the 16 tombs to have been excavated and opened to the public. During the 1950s, archeologists were stunned to find the inner doors of the chamber still intact. Inside they found the treasures of an emperor whose profligate rule began the downfall of the Ming dynasty.

Dingling, literally means "Tomb of Stability". It is the only one of the Ming Dynasty Tombs to have been excavated. It also remains the only intact imperial tomb to have been excavated since the founding of the People's Republic of China, a situation that is almost a direct result of the fate that befell Dingling and its contents after the excavation.

The excavation of Dingling began in 1956, after a group of prominent scholars led by Guo Moruo and Wu Han began advocating the excavation of Changling, the tomb of the Yongle Emperor, the largest and oldest of the Ming Dynasty Tombs. Despite winning approval from premier Zhou Enlai, this plan was vetoed by archaeologists because of the importance and public profile of Changling. Instead, Dingling, the third largest of the Ming Tombs, was selected as a trial site in preparation for the excavation of Changling. Excavation completed in 1957, and a museum was established in 1959.

The excavation revealed an intact tomb, with thousands of items of silk, textiles, wood, and porcelain, and the skeletons of the Wanli Emperor and his two empresses. However, there was neither the technology nor the resources to adequately preserve the excavated artifacts. After several disastrous experiments, the large amount of silk and other textiles were simply piled into a storage room that leaked water and wind. As a result, most of the surviving artifacts today have severely deteriorated, and many replicas are instead displayed in the museum. Furthermore, the political impetus behind the excavation created pressure to quickly complete the excavation. The haste meant that documentation of the excavation was poor.

A more severe problem soon befell the project, when a series of political mass movements swept the country. This escalated into the Cultural Revolution in 1966. For the next ten years, all archaeological work was stopped. Wu Han, one of the key advocates of the project, became the first major target of the Cultural Revolution, and was denounced, and died in jail in 1969. Fervent Red Guards stormed the Dingling museum, and dragged the remains of the Wanli Emperor and empresses to the front of the tomb, where they were posthumously "denounced" and burned. Many other artifacts were also destroyed.

It was not until 1979, after the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution, that archaeological work recommenced in earnest and an excavation report was finally prepared by those archaeologists who had survived the turmoil.

The lessons learned from the Dingling excavation has led to a new policy of the People's Republic of China government not to excavate any historical site except for rescue purposes. In particular, no proposal to open an imperial tomb has been approved since Dingling, even when the entrance has been accidentally revealed, as was the case of the Qianling Mausoleum. The original plan, to use Dingling as a trial site for the excavation of Changling, was abandoned.

Only the Changling and Dingling tombs are open to the public. Changling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. The total internal area of the main building is 1956 square meters. There are 32 huge posts, and the largest measures about 14 meters in height. It inhumes Emperor Zhudi, the fourth son of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. Travel China Guide recommends the Lingsi Palace in its second yard as really deserving a visit. This is unique as it is the only huge palace made of camphor wood. The ceiling is colorfully painted and supported by sixteen solid camphor posts. The floor was decorated with gold bricks.

The place where Emperor Chongzhen hung himself

The last Ming emperor was buried at the location was Chongzhen, who committed suicide by hanging (on 25th of April 1644), was buried in his concubine Consort Tian's tomb, which was later declared as an imperial mausoleum Si Ling by the emperor of the short-lived Shun Dynasty Li Zicheng, with a much smaller scale compares to the other imperial mausoleums built for Ming Emperors.

Yongling Tomb, built in 1536, is the tomb for Emperor Shizong, Zhu Houcong who ruled for 45 years as the
11th Ming Dynasty Emperor of China ruling from 1521 to 1567. His era name means "Admirable tranquility".

Funerary art varied greatly across Chinese history: tombs of early rulers rival the ancient Egyptians for complexity, and the value of the grave goods, and have been equally pillaged over the centuries by tomb robbers.

For a long time literary references to Jade burial suits were regarded by scholars as fanciful myths, but a number of examples were excavated in the 20th century, and it is now believed that they were relatively common among early rulers. Knowledge of pre-dynastic Chinese culture has been expanded by spectacular discoveries at Sanxingdui and other sites. Very large tumuli could be erected, and later mausoleums. Several special large shapes of Shang dynasty bronze ritual vessels may have been made for burial only.

The Tomb of Fu Hao is one of the few undisturbed royal tombs of the period to have been excavated.
Most funerary art has appeared on the art market without archaeological context.

The Complex of Goguryeo Tombs are rich in paintings. In July 2004, they became the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the country. The site consists of 30 individual tombs from the later Goguryeo kingdom, one of Three Kingdoms of Korea, located in the cities of P'yongyang and Namp'o. Goguryeo was one of the strongest Korean kingdoms in the north east of China and the Korean Peninsula from 37 BCE to the 7th century CE. The kingdom was founded in the present day area of Northern Korea, and part of Manchuria around 37 BCE, and the capital was transferred to P'yongyang in 427 CE.

The murals are strongly colored and show daily life and Korean mythologies of the time. By 2005, 70 murals had been found, mostly in the Taedong river basin near Pyongyang, the Anak area in South Hwanghae province, and in Ji'an in China's Jilin province.

In the News .

1,000-Year-Old Tomb Reveals Murals, Stars & Poetry Live Science - November 11, 2014

A 1,000-year-old tomb with a ceiling decorated with stars and constellations has been discovered in northern China. Found not far from a modern day railway station, the circular tomb has no human remains but instead has murals which show vivid scenes of life. "The tomb murals mainly depict the daily domestic life of the tomb occupant," and his travels with horses and camels, a team of researchers wrote in their report on the tomb recently published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. On the east wall, people who may have served as attendants to the tomb's occupant are shown holding fruit and drinks. There is also a reclining deer, a crane, bamboo trees, a crawling yellow turtle and a poem. The poem reads in part, "Time tells that bamboo can endure cold weather. Live as long as the spirits of the crane and turtle."

Ancient Tomb of Murals Discovered in China Live Science - June 17, 2013

A colorful, well-preserved "mural tomb," where a military commander and his wife were likely buried nearly 1,500 years ago, has been uncovered in China. The domed tomb's murals, whose original colors are largely preserved, was discovered in Shuozhou City, about 200 miles (330 kilometers) southwest of Beijing. Researchers estimate that the murals cover an area of about 860 square feet (80 square meters), almost the same area as a modern-day bowling lane. Most of the grave's goods have been looted, and the bodies are gone, but the murals, drawn on plaster, are still there. In a passageway leading into the tomb, a door guard leans on his long sword watching warily. Across from him, also in the passageway, is a guard of honor, supported by men on horses, their red-and-blue uniforms still vivid despite the passing of so many centuries.

More Than 100 Han Dynasty Tombs Discovered in China The Epoch Times - June 17, 2014

Chinese archaeologists have discovered more than one hundred tombs from the Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) in Jiangsu province, Eastern China. Such a large cluster of Han tombs are a rare discovery and valuable for studies on funeral customs of the time.

China finds ancient tomb of 'female prime minister' BBC - September 12, 2013

The ancient tomb of a female politician in China, described as the country's "female prime minister", has been discovered, Chinese media say. The tomb of Shangguan Wan'er, who lived from 664-710 AD, was recently found in Shaanxi province. Archaeologists confirmed the tomb was hers this week. She was a famous politician and poet who served empress Wu Zetian, China's first female ruler. However, the tomb was badly damaged, reports said. The grave was discovered near an airport in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, reports said. A badly damaged epitaph on the tomb helped archaeologists confirm that the tomb was Shangguan Wan'er's, state-run news agency Xinhua reported. Experts described the discovery as one of "major significance", even though it had been subject to "large-scale damage".

Watch the video: the Sacred Way u0026 Dingling Museum in the Ming Tombs Beijing 明十三陵之神路定陵