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Qianling Mausoleum


A Rare Mausoleum with Emperor and Empress Buried Together

The Qianling Mausoleum, now a AAAA class tourist attraction with typical grand Tang Dynasty cultural features, is among the first key sites of historic value to be protected and promoted by the government.Scattered around the southeast of the main mausoleum are 17 satellite tombs, five of which have been excavated so far. Over 4,000 pieces of precious cultural relics, 1,200 square meters of mural paintings and 150square meters of linear engraved pictures were unearthed from these tombs. Now, after protective refits ,the tombs of Princess Yongtai, prince Yide and prince Zhanghuai are open to visitors all year.

The Tang Dynasty (618-907) witnessed the second climax in the construction of mausoleums in China, following Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-220AD). The Tang imperial mausoleums are mostly built at the foot of mountains. Take Qianling, where Tang Emperor Gaozong was buried together with his wife Wu Zetian, for example.

Qianling, the tomb of the third Tang emperor, Li Zhi, and Empress Wu Zetian, is located on Liangshan Mountain, 6 kilometers north of Qianxian County seat and 80 kilometers from Xi'an. Here also stands the Qianling Mausoleum and Museum.

Located on the peak of lofty Liangshan Mountain, Qianling is the most typical and best preserved of all the eighteen Tang mausoleums.

Qianling, the tomb of Emperor Gaozong and his empress Wuzetian, is located on the peak of Liangshan, some 80 kilometers away from Xian. The great mausoleum was first built in 684 and is one of the best preserved tombs among the Tang Dynasty's 18 mausoleums.

Qian Mausoleum was originally enclosed by two walls. The inner wall stretches 1,45 kilometers from west to north, 1,58 kilometers from south to north, 24 meters thick. There are four gates, one in each side.

Stone sculptures scatter around everywhere in the mausoleum sites. Exquisite and elegant, these stone carvings upright on top of the mountain for over 1,200 years. The first stone sculpture encounters visitor is a pair of ornamental pillars (called Huabiao in Chinese, which can commonly be seen in front of palace complex and tombs). The tall and upright pillars are charismatic and their shafts, plinths and crown were all decorated with line carvings.

Along the sacred path, visitor will then find pairs of winged horses and rose finches. Ancient Chinese supreme rulers wanted their underground life would be prosperous so they often had propitious creatures, birds, beasts placed in front of their mausoleum to guard them. The winged horses, wings decorated with slender, delicate lines, are in a flying gallop. The rose finches, in high relief, were beautifully shaped and sturdily carved. It is said that because rose finches were a gift from Afghanistan for the funeral and could serve as guards, a pair of them were erected in front of the tomb.

There are also stone steles. The east one, was originally erected blank following Empress Wuzetian's will which read, my achievements or mistaking should be evaluated by the later generations, so left my stele blank. This blank tablet was 6.3 meters high, 2.1 meters wide and 1.5 meters thick. During the Song and Jin dynasties, however, quite a few travelers did inscribe it, changing the uncharactered stele into a charactered one. In the west of the "blank" stele stands the Telling the Emperor's Deeds Stele, 6.3 meters high and 1.9 meters wide. The carvings on the stele give high honor of Emperor Gaozong for his minitary and administrative achievements.

The Qianling Mausoleum, with a circumference of 40 km, is equivalent to Chang'an in magnificence and scale. The stone carvings are splendid. Arranged on both sides of the path leading to the tombs are stone carvings, such as stone pillars, winged horses, ostriches, stone horses and persons leading horses, as well as stone figures. In addition, in the Qianling Mausoleum, between the stone figures and the third watchtower, there are a characterless tablet and a recorded tablet narrating the history of a sage; there are also a total of 61 statues of guests of the king. The east, west and north gates in the inner city are like the south gate, with a pair of stone lions and a pair of earthen watchtowers.

The Qianling Mausoleum is the only one of the 18 Tang imperial mausoleums that hasn't been stolen and also a rare example of emperor and empress being buried together. Since the1960s, more than 4,300 precious cultural relics have been unearthed from five newly discovered satellite tombs. The 10,000-odd beautiful murals excavated in the mausoleum are really a rare underground art gallery.

It can be seen that this mausoleum system is identical with the planning idea of the city of Chang'an. The entire mausoleum area is equivalent to the walled city; the subordinated tombs are in the suburbs' the area stretching northward from the second door is equivalent to the imperial city; the stone figures and stone lions symbolize the guards of honor posted when the emperor goes out. The design of the mausoleum, like the design of the capital city, is permeated with strict ritual system logic, both designed to give prominence to the dignity of imperial power.

Tang Emperor Li Zhi (628-683) was the ninth son of Emperor Tai Zong and Empress Zhangsun. With the help of his maternal uncle Zhangsun Wuji, he was made crown prince and ascended the throne upon Tai Zong's death. Though he was muddle-headed and weak-minded and accomplished little, the flourishing and stable state of early Tang was maintained during the first years of his reign, thanks to such veteran officials as Zhangsun Wuji and Chu Suiliang who actually usurped state power. However, once Wu Zetain moved into the palace, things began to change in the Tang regime power structure.

Wu Zetian (624-705), also named Wu Zhao, was from Wenshui, Shanxi Province and born in Guangyuan (then Lizhou), Sichuan. Her father, Wu Shiyue, was a successful wood merchant who was later appointed supervisor-in-chief of Lizhou Prefecture. As a concubine of Tai Zong, Wu Zetian cut her hair and became a Buddhist nun in Ganye Monastery upon his death in 649. In 654, she was taken out of the monastery and brought into the palace by Emperor Gao Zong, who bestowed on her great favor by making her his chief concubine. The next year the Emperor deposed Empress Wang and named Wu Zetian his empress, allowing her to participate in state affairs. He dismissed and ostracized Chu Shuiliang and in 659 forced Zhangsun Wuji to commit suicide. From then on, Li Zhi remained in poor health, "faint, heavy-headed and sightless" as the chronicles described him, and Wu Zetain attended to most court affairs.    

Once when Gao Zong intended to give up the throne to crown prince Li Hong (eldest son of Wu), the son was poisoned by his mother. In reality Wu Zetain had taken power upon Zhangsun Wuji's death. After the emperor's death, she defied imperial prohibitions on queen mother holding court and, after disposing of emperors Zhong Zong and Rui Zong in short order, took the throne herself and titled her reign "Zhou," becoming the first empress in Chinese history to rule the country. 

Well-versed in culture and history and excelling in trickery, she was ruthless in her tactics. Upon ascension, she recruited treacherous courtiers to kill many Tang imperial clansmen and high officials. She then put the blame on these "wicked" officials when public sentiment grew restive, as a way of relaxing the populace. But she also had talented people enlisted, placing them in important posts, and was receptive to criticism and advice from her courtiers, somewhat like Tai Zong.

Her political competence first showed itself when Tai Zong was still alive. Tai Zong had a strong horse called Lion which was so fiery-tempered nobody could tame it. One day Wu told Tai Zong she could make it docile with three implements: a whip, a hammer and a dagger. First, she would flog it tame with the whip; if that didn't work, she would hit it with a hammer; finally, if necessary, the dagger would cut the horse's throat. Tai Zong appreciated that spirit. 

It was in this way she controlled her courtiers, maintained her autocratic rule for over half a century and strengthened centralized state power. Though she changed the Li house's Tang Dynasty into the Wu's Zhou Dynasty, she had trouble choosing a successor and finally ordered in her will a return of the throne to the Li house's offspring.  

Emperor Gao Zong had ascended it to the throne in 649 and after a reign of 34 years died ill December 683, at age of 56 in Zhenguan Hall, Luoyang. He was buried in Qianling in August 684. Wu Zetain was crowned in 684 and after a reign of 21 years died at 82 in the Hall of Fairy Dwelling, Palace of Rising Sun, Luoyang, in 705. In May 706, she was buried with Gao Zong in Qianling. Thus, it can be inferred that construction of Qianling took between 40 and 50 years. 

Located on Liangshan Mountain, 1,049 meters above sea level, Qianling Mausoleum was flanked by Leopard Valley to the east and Sand Canyon on the west. This limestone mountain was cone-shaped and its top consisted of three peaks, the highest of which is the northern peak containing the Qianling underground palace. The southern peaks, lower than the northern one and facing each other, each has earth mounds on its surface resembling nipples, thus they got the name Naitoushan (Nipple Hills).

The Qianling, joint burial place of Tang Emperor Gao Zong and Empress Wu Zetian

   According to Maps to the History of Chang'an City, the Memorial Temple was originally beside the Nipple Hills. In it were displayed portraits of Di Renjie and 59 other noted courtiers. Being the most southern mounds, the Nipple Hills formed a natural doorway to Qianling Mausoleum, adding to its magnificence and making it unique among the eighteen Tang mausoleums in the area north of the Weishui River.

Qianling was a grand and imposing structure. The Maps records: Qianling was originally enclosed by two walls. Investigation and prospecting uncovered remains of the inner wall, four gates, a sacrificial hall and some corner parts of the outer wall. The inner wall, 2.4 meters thick, enclosed 240,000 square meters with four sides in a trapezoidal shape. The north and south segments were each 1,450 meters long, the east wall was 1,582 and the west wall 2,438. Four gates were each 2.7 meters wide. The southern gate was called Zhu Que Men (Rosefinch Gate), the northern Xuan Wu Men (Mystical Power Gate), the eastern Qing Long Men (Black Dragon Gate) and the western Bai Hu Men (White Tiger Gate). Describing buildings on the grounds, the History of Administrative Statues of the Tang Dynasty says, "in 798, 378 houses were completed around each of Xianling, Zhaoling, Qianling, Dingling and Tailing." Now only their sites remain.

Stone sculpture
Stone sculptures, one of the key ground cultural relics in the Qianling Mausoleum, are mainly distributed on both sides of the tomb passage. Ornamental columns, horses with wings, the statues of Weng Zhong(a traditional figure guarding tombs whose origin was based on a general from the Qin Dynasty.), 61 stone figures of foreign envoys, the wordless tablet and the tablet recording the holy deeds of the emperor are among the most outstanding representatives

The themes of Qianling stone sculptures are novel, images are vivid and lifelike, carving techniques are simple but profound. They represent the heyday of feudal cultural art of stone sculpture in the Tang Dynasty and have become an open-air museum of stone sculpture culture. They are outstanding masterpieces of ancient group-stone sculptures preserved in China.

Ornamental columns, also known as stone posts, are usually erected in front of the bomb passage. There is a pair of ornamental columns at Qianling Mausoleum. They are 8 meters in height and 1.22 meters in diameter, each of which consists of a square-shaped base and an octahedral body. The connections between the base and the column are carved in the form. of lotus petals with grass and pomegranate flower designs in between, and the cap of the columns are in peach shapes. Omamental columns are symbolic sculptures of an imperial mausoleum.

61 stone figures
61 stone figures, now headless, stand on both sides of the Scarlet Bird Gate,29 on the east side and 32 on the west, with the normal height of 1.6 meters and width of 0.65 meter. From the dressing and the inscriptions on the backs of these figures, they were apparently not Han officials. Two figures on the west side with half head remaining show that they are typical Mid-Asians with deep eyes, thick eyebrows, big noses and short mustaches.
Wordless tablet
The wordless tablet, engraved out of a whole boulder, is 8.03 meters in height and 98.84 tons in weight. It is located on the eastern side of the Scarlet Bird Gate. The tablet was honored as the No.1 tablet by succeeding dynasties even though no word was written on it when firstly built. The reason why Empress Wu Zetian built such a wordless tablet has remained a mystery for thousands of years. 

Holy Deeds Tablet, also called the seven-joint tablet, was built with the order of Wu Zetian to commemorate her husband emperor Gao Zong in the Tang Dynasty. The tablet measures 6.3 meters high, 1.86 meters wide, in seven sections. The top section serves as the roof, the five sections in the middle serve as the body, and the bottom serves as its base with different animal patterns carved on it. Over 6000 character inscriptions were carved on the body of the tablet which Zhong Zong, in praise of Emperor Gao Zong's achievements. Qianling Mausoleum
Mausoleum murals
The murals are one of major cultural relics excavated from the Qianling mausoleum. They are of large-scale, elegant taste, extensive themes and novel content. About 1200 square meters of grandiose paintings were uncovered in the satellite tombs of Princess Yongtai, Prince Zhanghuai and Prince Yide to form. an underground Tang Dynasty fine art exhibition. Among them, Palace Maids, Polo Game, Meeting with Guests ,Hunting, and Bird Preying on Cicada provide valuable information about architecture, dressing, customs, sports and palace life in the Tang Dynasty.

Linear engraved pictures

To the southeast of the Qialing Mausoleum there are seventeen satellite tombs scattered around. The importance of the people buried in these tombs can be identified by their distance from the mausoleum which reflected the hierarchy of their social status in life. Among the tombs, two were for princes, three were for kings, four were for princesses, and eight were for ministers, Up till now, five of precious cultural relics, 1,200 square meters of mural paintings and 150square meters of linear engraved pictures were unearthed. They are valuable artifacts to study the social development of the Tang Dynasty. 
Linear picture engraving on stone is one of the unique traditional folk art forms in ancient China. Through combining the skills of painting and engraving, artists "aint" with a knife on a piece of flat and smooth stone as they paint on a piece of paper. Vivid artistic images are fully expressed by different lines to show softness and forcefulness, which reflected the artist's skillful employment of different engraving techniques in different art forms, some are realistic, some are abstract, some are simple and some are intricate. The uniqueness of Chinese traditional drawing, namely, building the image by lines, conveying the spirit by form, and combining both spirit and form. e\was fully shown in the paintings. It indeed could be reckoned as an amazing and representative form. in ancient Chinese art.
Linear engraved pictures in the Qianling Mausoleum are found on the inside and outside of the stone coffins, on the upper and lower parts of the stone gates, on four sides of stone epitaphs and on the surfaces of stone sculpture bases. The pictures engraved on the stone coffins are the largest in number and the best in artistic quality with various forms, exquisite engraving, rich content and extensive themes.
Tri-colored pottery
Tang tri-color is a special kind of ancient Chinese ceramic pottery mostly glazed with yellow, green, and brown colors. In recent years, many such ceramics have been unearthed from the Tang Dynasty tombs; therefore, people call them Tany Dynasty tri-colored pottery. 

With the increasing number of discoveries, more types of ceramics were unearthed in other areas, people have found that the Tang Tri-color actually contain more then three colors, including light yellow, reddish yellow, light green, dark green, etc---- Because in ancient times, the numbers 'three' and 'five' represented a numerous amount, i.e.more then three or five, but the name ‘tri-color glazed pottery' has been passed down over the centuries.
The Tri-color glazed pottery of the Qianling Mausoleum is divided into fore groups: utensils of daily use (Tri-color glazed plates, green-glazed vases), figures (Tri-color glazed Chinese deities and warriors), animals (Tri-color glazed horses) and a smaller collection of various models. All Tri-color glazed pottery of the Qianling Mausoleum represented a prosperous country open to the outside world.

Metalwork and jade wares
Besides pottery, a great deal of metalwork and jade were excavated. Ironware was divided into the iron lock and the stirrup. The iron lock was used for a niche, and consisted of a bolt, a spring and a key. The stirrup was made of bronze or iron, hung on both sides of a saddle when in use. Since the saddle's first appearance 1600 years ago, it spread quickly, east to Korea, west to Turkey and ancient Rome, finally to Europe.

Gilded iron locks, gilded copper-brass ornaments, gilded horse ornaments, jade pendants and bronze mirrors, all precious relics with beautiful patterns, showed the exquisite workmanship of the ancient Chinese people.

The underground palace
The Qianling underground palace is the most mysterious and attractive place.

In April, 1960, an archeological survey discovered that the entrance to the Qianling underground palace, built half-way up the main peak of Liang mountain, consists of a trench and stone cavity. The trench is 17 meters in depth. After the funeral of Empress Wu Zetian, the stone cavity, 63.1 meters long, 3.9 meters wide on average, stretching from the south to the north, was blocked with layer upon layer of rectangle stone blocks. Each layer of stone blocks was fastened together with iron bolts and all the crevices between the layers were filled with molten metal. Therefore, it is astonishingly secure. According to archaeological records, the Qianling Mausoleum is the only one from the Tany dynasty which remains unsoiled.

Because it has never been robbed, great attention has been drawn to the sacrificial objects within the Qianling Mausoleum. Estimates made by archaeologists suggest that the bomb occupied 2700-5000 cubic meters, and with such priceless treasures, utensils, and 'soft relics', such as silk, calligraphy, classic literature and so on ,many believe that Qianling Mausoleum will be the ninth ''wonder of the world'' when it is unearthed


Admission Fee: CNY 46
Opening Hours: 8:30- 18:00

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