Home>>>City Guide>>>>Attraction>>>>Beijing
Ming Tombs
Although Beijing has been the capital of China for five dynasties, the only imperial mausoleums in the immediate vicinity of the city today are those of the Liao and Qing emperors are in the northeast China and in Hebei Province respectively. The tombs from the Jin Dynasty were destroyed at the end of the Ming Dynasty, and since the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty had no specific funeral rituals, there are no extant burial sites from this period.    The Map of The Ming

World's Largest Concentration of Royal Tombs

At a distance of 50 km northwest of Beijing stands an arc-shaped cluster of hills fronted by a small plain. Here is  where 13 emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) were buried, and the area is known as the Ming Tombs.

     Construction of the tombs started in 1409 and ended with the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. In over 200 years tombs were built over an area of 40 square kilometres, which is surrounded by walls totalling 40 kilometres. Each tomb is located at the foot of a separate hill and is linked with the other tombs by a road called the Sacred Way. The stone archway at the southern end of the Sacred Way, built in 1540, is 14 metres high and 19 metres wide, and is decorated with designs of clouds, waves and divine animals.

    The Ming tombs lie in a broad valley to the south of Tianshou (Longevity of Heaven) Mountain in Changping County, about 50 kilometers northwest of Beijing proper. To the southwest of this valley, a branch of the Yanshan Range suddenly to breaks off and forms a natural gateway to the 40-quare-kilometer basin in which the tombs were built. This gateway is "defended" on each side by the Dragon and Tiger hills, which are said to protect this sacred area from winds carrying evil influences. Thirteen out of the 16 Ming emperors are buried in this peaceful valley.

Some 50 kilometers northwest of the capital, the Ming Tombs are generally combined with a visit to the Great Wall.

Otherwise known as the 13 Tombs, this is the burial site of 13 out of 17 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. However, the only one you can get a good look at is the tomb of Emperor Wanli, who reigned from 1537 to 1620. This tomb was unearthed in 1956. There are two others that have been uncovered, but the rest remain illusive.

A trip to the Ming Tombs is a standard part of the Great Wall tour package. But don't get your hopes up. The best part of the Ming Tombs is the road there. The spirit Way is the path leading to the mouth of the tomb. Along the path are bizarre, mythical stone monsters standing guard. To get to the tomb itself, you

have to walk down many flights of stairs till you are deep inside the mountain. It is kind of creepy and cool to go down and down, but the actual tomb chambers are a little disappointing. There is not much in there, just a couple of stone rooms, excavated treasures.

Sacred Way(Shen Dao)is 7 kilometers long ,the longest in China's royal tombs, from south to north across the center of the tombs area. It was thought to have leaded the emperors' souls to enter heaven. It was a path built as a part of the tomb for the Ming emperors, connecting the entrance with real tomb. It was built for the first tomb Changling - the tomb of Emperor Yongle at first, the most powerful emperor in the Ming dynasty. But as the later tombs were built either to the right or to the left, it became the main road to all of them.It is a long, straight path flanked by statues first of ancient government officials and then by animals. The Sacred Way ends at a pavilion sheltering a stone tablet. They formed one group, but each tomb is independent of the other. Each locates at the foot of a hill.

Within Chinese thinking, the number "13" is not an inauspicious omen, except in the case of the Ming Dynasty imperial family. The 13th imperial family tomb marks not only the burial ground of Emperor Chongzhen himself, but also of the entire Ming Dynasty.

16 Emperors and 13 Tombs

The Ming Dynasty saw the reign of 16 emperors (excluding the last three who lived in exile after the downfall of the Ming Dynasty), over a period of 277 years. Thirteen of them are buried in Beijing in what are known today as the Thirteen Ming Tombs. Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming Dynasty, made Nanjing his capital, and died there. Therefore his tomb, still well preserved, is in Nanjing.

The second emperor whose tomb is not among the 13 tombs is Zhu's grandson, Emperor Huidi. He stripped a number of his imperial relatives of their land titles and privileges, and consequently made enemies. He was eventually ousted in 1403 by his fourth uncle, Zhu Di, and his whereabouts since have remained undiscovered. Some say he died in battle. Others believe he escaped and became a monk, and there are those that say he fled abroad.

The third Ming Emperor whose remains are not in the Thirteen Tombs is Daizong. He ascended to power after his emperor brother, Yingzong, had been captured in northern China in 1449. A year later, the captured emperor returned. In 1457, during a bout of ill health, Emperor Daizong was victim of a coup and placed under house arrest. Yingzong was reinstated as emperor, and immediately suspended construction of Daizong's resting place within the Thirteen Ming Tombs. Upon his death, Daizong was buried at Mount Jin in the western suburbs of Beijing. However, in 1465, during the reign of Emperor Xianzong, Daizong's imperial title was restored, and his tomb was repaired and expanded. Jingtai Mausoleum, named after the reign title of Daizong, is the only Ming imperial tomb in Beijing outside of the Ming imperial cemetery.

Origins and Layout

Zhu Di, who had been stationed in Beijing for several years, became emperor in 1403 after toppling his nephew emperor. Four years later, he began constructing Beijing, and in 1421 he moved his capital there from Nanjing. When his empress died in 1407, he dispatched surveyors to Beijing to select a suitable burial site, having long planned a move to the north. After two years of reconnaissance, and Zhu Di's personal inspection and approval, the present site was determined. The area has mountains on three sides, and is rich in fertile soil and water resources, as well as being advantageous in terms of military strategy. Zhu Di decreed immediately that 40 square kilometers be enclosed as a reserve for the imperial burial grounds. In 1409, construction of the Changling Mausoleum began at the foot of Mount Tianshou, and was completed in 1427, and for the next 200 years, construction of imperial tombs ensued on this site.

A vermilion wall encircles the tomb area, and the point of entry is a vermilion front gate that opens to the south. A kilometer south of the gate is a stone archway, 12 meters tall, supported by six columns from which five walkways emanate. The first structure to the north of the front gate is a pavilion, housing a nine-meter-tall stone stele. Further north is the 800-meter-long Divine Path, flanked by 24 large stone animals and 12 stone human figures. This path leads to various tombs.

The area called the Thirteen Ming Tombs comprises 13 separate tombs, each one built at the foot of a hill, with very little variation in design. The tombs are each surrounded by their own dark-red walls. The memorial hall immediately through the gate to each tomb is for worship, and at the rear is an earth mound containing the tomb, girdled by brick walls, named Treasure City. In between stands a memorial tower for the deceased, in front of which are arranged a stone incense burner, two stone vases and two stone candle holders, popularly known as the "five sacrificial utensils."

Largest and Smallest

The Changling Mausoleum, the first to be built, is the largest and best preserved of all the Ming tombs. It is located at the forefront of the burial ground, and its Divine Path starts at the Stone Archway. The 1,956-sq.-m Ling'en (Prominent Favor) Hall is built entirely of precious nanmu. Inside are 32 nanmu columns, each over a meter in diameter, and the central column is so broad, the enjoined arms of three people are required to encircle it. Even today, this mausoleum is still pervaded by the aroma of nanmu.

Zhu Di was a successful ruler and created a period of great prosperity. His success is reflected not only in the construction of his tomb, but also of the Forbidden City, which was built during his reign, as well as in the seven Chinese voyages around Asia and to Africa that took place between 1405 and 1433 at his behest.

The Siling Mausoleum, the thirteenth, last built, and smallest of the tombs in the area, is that of Emperor Chongzhen, which he shares with his empress and Concubine Tian, for whom the Siling Mausoleum was built. The tomb mound is only 1.3 meters high, the designated height for a commoner. In 1644, when peasant rebels led by Li Zicheng captured Beijing, Chongzhen ordered his empress to commit suicide before hanging himself from a tree on Coal Hill (present-day Jingshan Park), immediately north of the imperial palace. His last words, written on his clothes, were: "I am too ashamed to face my ancestors.   I will take off my crown, hide my face in my fallen hair and beg that bandits tear my body apart as they please, rather than harm any of my people." Li Zicheng did not tear him apart, but ordered the late emperor be given a decent burial at the Thirteen Ming Tombs. However, the official responsible for this task had no funds for a new tomb. His only recourse was to open Concubine Tian's tomb, place the dead emperor inside to rest beside his wife, before sealing the tomb with earth and lime. The concubine's tomb was subsequently renamed Siling Mausoleum. After the Manchurians entered Beijing, the Qing imperial court built a memorial hall and a tower for the last Ming emperor.

Despite the Ming Dynasty having ended under the rule of Emperor Chongzhen, neither the rebels nor the Manchurians who suppressed them to establish the Qing Dynasty thought ill of him, or disrespected his memory. He was, on the contrary, considered a capable and upright emperor, but scapegoat for the misdemeanors of his two predecessors. Prior to Chongzhen, Emperor Shenzong had ruled for 48 years, but for the last two decades of his reign had played hermit and neglected his duties. Shenzhong's successor, Emperor Xizong, had no interest in state affairs, preferring to work at carpentry. He filled the role of "emperor carpenter," and left state affairs in the evil hands of his wet nurse, Ke, and a eunuch named Wei Zhongxian. On ascending the throne, Chongzhen was faced with turbulent domestic difficulties as well as troubles on the border. However, he did his utmost to save the dynasty, and within three months of his enthronement, had executed and ousted hundreds of Ke's and Wei's followers. He also recalled formal officials, one in particular being Xu Guangqi, a great scientist, and the first in China to introduce Western science and technology. Chongzhen ruled for 17 years and worked energetically and conscientiously. However, his reign was ill-starred. When the rebels finally came, he neither escaped nor surrendered, but killed himself in self-abasement and remorse - a very rare act for an ancient ruler.

Tailing and Kangling Mausoleums

Some of the 13 Ming tombs, such as the Changling and Dingling mausoleums, have been repaired, and are popular tourist destinations. The Changling Mausoleum lures tourists for being the largest and best preserved of the tombs, while the Dingling Mausoleum provides a fascinating view of ancient relics both above and under ground.

The Tailing and Kangling mausoleums, located in the northernmost area of the site, are rarely visited. Owing to a lack of repair, they are, within the tall green pines that have guarded them through the ages, in ruins, their surrounding walls having mostly collapsed into debris. Only the golden dragons atop the yellow glazed tiles signify the special status of the tomb occupants, as the color yellow and dragon images were for the exclusive use of the imperial family.

The hall foundations are hidden in wild grass, and sections of carved marble balustrade lie here and there. Although the originally white marble has turned dark-gray, its exquisite carving and jade-like texture is still perceptible. The tomb bricks, contributed by various localities, are huge, each weighing over 20 kilograms. There were strict requirements regarding the quality of these bricks. They had to be fine and solid in texture, producing a resonant tone when tapped, and bearing the date of their production and locality. The Kangling Mausoleum bricks clearly show this information, being marked, "Made by Zhangqiu County in the seventh month of the 17th year of the Chenghua Reign (1481)," or "Made by Linqing Prefecture in the 10th year of the Zhengde Reign (1515)."

Both the memorial tower and Treasure City of these two tombs are still standing, albeit with a few tiles missing, exposing the weathered, rusty colored wooden roof bracketing. The five sacrificial utensils, now yellowish with age, are arranged neatly on a stone table before the memorial tower.

These two tombs belong respectively to the father and son, Emperor Xiaozong and Emperor Wuzong. Xiaozong was the ninth emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He was a benevolent, hard-working and competent ruler and created a period of peace and prosperity. His success as a ruler may have been tempered by his lamentable childhood. His father, Emperor Xianzong, was a mediocre emperor and concentrated all his attention on the mean and malicious Concubine Wan, who was 19 years his senior. Having lost a son when she was young, she bore no more children. To protect her privileged status with the emperor, she placed her spies in various corners of the inner court. If another concubine should be discovered to be pregnant, Wan would force an abortion on her. When Xiaozong's mother was pregnant with him, she was also made to take an abortion drug, but Xiaozong miraculously overcame the drug, and lived.

The maid sent by Concubine Wan to spy on Xiaozong's mother pitied her, and lied to her mistress, saying that Xiaozong's mother was not pregnant, but had caught a strange disease. Concubine Wan, nevertheless still suspicious, had Xiaozong's mother placed under house arrest.  Xiaozong was born shortly afterwards, and survived with the help of the deposed empress and Zhang Min, a eunuch. 

One day six years later, on looking at his white hair as Zhang Min helped him comb it, the emperor felt sorrow at having no son. Zhang Min took this opportunity to tell him of his son, Xiaozong. The emperor was overjoyed, and immediately ordered his son be brought to the court, whereupon Xiaozong was crowned, and placed under the care of the empress dowager. In 1488 Xiaozong was enthroned. He knew that without the love and protection of good people, he could never have survived to become emperor. This awareness undoubtedly contributed to the excellence of his reign.

However, Xiaozong was not a successful father. He spoiled his only son, Wuzong, hopelessly. Wuzong was intelligent, but did not like studying, preferring to live a hedonistic life. On becoming emperor at the age of 15, he turned the imperial court into his playground, and when he tired of playing in the palace, he would go out seeking diversion. Sixteen years later in 1522, Wuzong contracted an illness after falling into the river while fishing, and died soon after, leaving no heir. One of his cousins succeeded him as Emperor Jiajing.

After coming to power, Jiajing conferred the title of Emperor Ruizong on his late father and converted his father's tomb in Hubei Province into an imperial tomb, naming it Xianling Mausoleum. This is the largest single Ming tomb that contains both an old and a new tomb chamber. Emperor Jiajing was criticized for excessive spending and manpower in renovating this tomb, but he would be gratified to know that in December 2000 the Xianling Mausoleum was listed a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO.

 Changling Mausoleum  and  Dingling Mausoleum

      The Changling Mausoleum for the 3rd emperor Zhu Di in the Ming Dynasty is in the center of the Ming Tombs, to the east of which are the Jingling, the Yongling and the Deling mausoleums, and to the west are 6 mausoleums including the Xianling, the Qingling, the Yuling, the Tailing, the Kangling mausoleums. There are three mausoleums, namely the Dingling Mausoleum, the Zhaoling Mausoleum and the Daoling Mausoleum to the southwest. Each mausoleum has a sacred path, a memorial archway and stone statues. The whole layout of the mausoleum consists of two parts: the sacred path and the grave.
The stone memorial archway is the starting point of the sacred path, built in the 19th year (1540) of the Jiajing reign, and was built of white marbles. It has 5 bays, with 6 columns and 11 floors. It is 28.86 meters in width, and 14 meters in height. Patterns of beasts decorate the stones that support columns.

The big palace gate, the stele pavilion and the dragon and phoenix gate in turn stand in the north of the archway. On the two sides of this group of constructions are huge stone carvings, including 24 stone beasts and 12 stone human figures, creating a kingly atmosphere for the sacred path. Except some difference in area and the complexity and simplicity of the construction, the layout and the system are generally the same. The plane of the mausoleum is rectangular, with the mausoleum gate, stele pavilions, the Ling'en Gate, the Soul Tower and the Treasure City along the central axis.

The Ming Tombs are famous for the Changling Mausoleum with grand ground constructions, and the Dingling Mausoleum with its underground palace unearthed. The diameter of the Treasure City in the Changling Mausoleum is 340 meters. On the top of the Dingling there is battlement taking the shape of a brick castle. Inside the city, there is a huge earthen heap, under which is the underground palace. The Ling'en Palace is the most spectacular, and it is located in the three-layer stone platform circled by white marble guardrails. The stone platform is about 3 meters in height; its area is 1,956 square meters. It has 9 bays in the front and 5 bays in depth with yellow tiles, red walls, and double eaves; and 32 spun gold nanmu columns, among which the largest one has a diameter of 1.17 meters, and 14.3 meters in height; the girder, mast, purling, and rafters are all built of nanmu.

The Dingling Mausoleum was the joint tomb of the 13th emperor Shenzong Zhu Yijun and his two empresses. In 1956, approved by Premier Zhou Enlai, it had been excavated and archaeologically studied, unveiling the enigma of the underground palace. The total area of the underground palace is 1,195 square meters. It consists of front, middle, rear, left and right palaces. The arch gate of each chamber is finely carved, and decorated with braveness. Among them, the rear palace is the tallest, with 30 meters in length, 9 meters in width and 9.5 meters in height, and its ground is paved with burnished flower speckle stones. The coffins of Emperor Shenzong and his two empresses are put in the center of the coffin bed together with a red painted wooden case full of funeral objects The rare cultural relics unearthed in the tomb including gold crown, phoenix coronet, and china and silk, which are rare and invaluable in the world, and now on display in the showroom of the Dingling Mausoleum.


Other Surrounding Scenic Spots:

Beijing Private Tour:

Booking a Own Car To Ming Tombs  From 130 USD / Day

 Tour Guide Reservation From 65 USD / Day