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Eastern Qing Tombs (Qing Dong Ling)

125km (78 miles) E of Beijing

The Qing Dong Ling have been open for more than 20 years but are still little visited despite offering considerably more to visitors than tombs of the Ming. Altogether 5 emperors, 15 empresses, 136 concubines, 3 princes, and 2 princesses are buried in 15 tombs here. The first to be buried was Shunzhi -- the first Qing emperor to reign from Beijing -- in 1663, and the last was an imperial concubine in 1935. The tomb chambers of four imperial tombs, the Xiao Ling (the Shunzhi emperor), Jing Ling (Kangxi), Yu Ling (Qianlong), and Ding Ling (Xianfeng), are open, as well as the twin Ding Dong Ling tombs (Dowager Empress Cixi and Empress Ci'an). Others of interest include a group site for the Qianlong emperor's concubines.

Essentials

Visitor Information -- The tombs are in Zunhua County, Hebei Province (daily 8am-5:30pm summer, 9am-4:30pm winter). The tong piao, which offers access to all the tombs, costs ¥120.

Getting There -- A special Qing Dong Ling tourist (you) bus departs from northeast of the Xuanwu Men metro stop (departures 6:30am-8am; ¥170, includes admission); this gives you about 3 hours at the site. From Qianmen, you can take tourist (you) bus no. 13.

Where to Stay & Dine -- The Yuyuan Shanzhuang (Imperial Gardens Mountain Villa; tel. 0315/694-5348) is a battered three-star set to the east of the tombs where the asking price for a twin room is ¥288, about twice what it's worth. Its best feature is the attached Manchurian restaurant, Qing Yan Lou (daily 11am-2pm and 6-9pm), which offers inexpensive game meats, and delicious green bean flour noodles (culiu laozha).

Exploring the Area

Although few others are as elaborate, the Xiao Ling was the first tomb on the site, and a model for others both here and at the Western Qing Tombs. As here, usually an approach road or spirit way may have guardian figures, and the entrance to the tomb itself is usually preceded by a large stele pavilion and marble bridges over a stream. To the right, the buildings used for preparation of sacrifices are now usually the residences of the staff, and hung with washing. Inside the gate, halls to the left and right were for enrobing and other preparations, and now house exhibitions, as usually does each Hall of Eminent Favor, at the rear, where ceremonies in honor of the deceased took place. Behind, if open, a doorway allows access past a stone altar to a steep ramp leading to the base of the Soul Tower. Through a passageway beneath, stairs to either side lead to a walkway encircling the mound, giving views across the countryside. If the tomb chamber is open, a ramp from beneath the Soul Tower leads to a series of chambers.

The twin Ding Dong Ling tombs have nearly identical exteriors, but Cixi had hers rebuilt in 1895, 14 years after Ci'an's death (in which she is suspected of having had a hand), using far more expensive materials. The main hall contains reproductions of pictures produced in 1903 by Cixi's photo studio within the Summer Palace. Everywhere there are reminders of the Forbidden City, such as the terrace-corner spouts carved as water-loving dragons (che). The interior has motifs strikingly painted in gold on dark wood, recalling the buildings where she spent her last years. There are walls of carved and gilded brick, and superbly fearsome wooden dragons writhe down the columns. After this, the other tombs seem gaudy.

The enclosure of the Yu Fei Yuan Qin (Garden of Rest) contains moss-covered tumuli for 35 of the Qianlong emperor's concubines. Another is buried in a proper tomb chamber, along with an empress whom Qianlong had grown to dislike.

The Jing Ling is the tomb of Qianlong's grandfather, the Kangxi emperor, and is surprisingly modest given that he was possibly the greatest emperor the Chinese ever had, but that's in keeping with what is known of his character. The spirit way leading to the tomb has an elegant five-arch bridge; the guardian figures are placed on an unusual curve quite close to the tomb itself, and are more decorated than those at earlier tombs. The Yu Ling has the finest tomb chamber, a series of rooms separated by solid marble doors, with its walls and arched ceilings engraved with Buddha figures and more than 30,000 words of Tibetan scripture. The 3-ton doors themselves have reliefs of bodhisattvas and the four protective kings usually found at temple entrances. This tomb is worth the trip in its own right.

Western Qing Tombs (Qing Xi Ling

140km (87 miles) SW of Beijing

The Yongzheng emperor broke with tradition and constructed his tomb here, away from his father (the Kangxi emperor). His son, the Qianlong emperor, decided to be buried near his grandfather and that thereafter burials should alternate between the eastern and western sites, although this was not followed consistently. The first tomb, the Tai Ling, was completed in 1737, 2 years after the Yongzheng reign. The last imperial interment was in 1998, when the ashes of Aisin Gioro Henry Puyi, the last emperor, were moved to a commercial cemetery here. He and 2 consorts were added to 4 emperors, 4 empresses, 4 princes, 2 princesses, and 57 concubines. The site is rural, more densely forested than the Qing Dong Ling, overlapped by orchards and agriculture, and with chickens, goats, and the odd rabbit to be encountered.

The Chang Ling (tomb of the Jiaqing emperor) and Chong Ling (tomb of the Guangxu emperor) are also open, as well as the Chang Xi Ling with the extraordinary sonic effects of its Huiyin Bi -- an echo wall where, as the only visitor, you can try out the special effects available only in theory at the Temple of Heaven.

Essentials

Visitor Information -- The ticket office is open from 8am to 5pm; a tong piao (for access to all the tombs) costs ¥120 and is good for 2 days.

Getting There -- The best way to get here is by taxi, which costs around ¥500. It's possible to visit Marco Polo Bridge (Lu Gou Qiao) on the way.

There's no access by tourist bus -- part of the appeal for most visitors. Take a bus to Yixian from the Lize Qiao long-distance bus station (daily 6:50am-5pm, every 15 min.; 3-hr. trip; ¥20; last bus returns at 4pm), and then switch to a minivan (miandi) for the 15km (9 1/3-mile) ride to the tombs (around ¥20; ¥100 to visit all the tombs), or turn right as you exit the bus station to find bus no. 9 waiting on the first corner (every hour; ¥3).

Where to Stay -- The modest, Manchu-themed Ba Jiao Lou Manzu Zhuangyuan lies just east of Tai Ling (tel. 0312/826-0828; ¥100 standard room). Xing Gong Binguan, near Yongfu Si on the eastern side of the tomb complex (tel. 0312/471-0038; standard room ¥150 after discount), was where Manchu rulers stayed when they came to pay their respects. The room constructed in 1748 to house the Qianlong emperor is now rented as two suites for ¥4,000 -- though the 1980s decor is criminal.

Exploring the Area

The Da Bei Lou, a pavilion containing two vast stelae, is on the curved route to the Tai Ling. The general plan of the major tombs follows that of the eastern tombs and, in fact, the Chang Ling, slightly to the west, is almost identical, brick for brick, to the Tai Ling, with the addition of a purple-tinged marble floor. The Jiaqing empress is buried just to the west on a far smaller scale in the Chang Xi Ling, the tomb mound a brick drum. But the perfectly semicircular rear wall offers the whispering-gallery effects found at some domed European cathedrals, and clapping while standing on various marked stones in the center of the site produces a variety of multiple echoes, while speech is amazingly amplified. The empress can't get much peace.

Jiaqing's son, the Daoguang emperor, was meant to be buried at Qing Dong Ling, but his tomb there was flooded. The relocated Mu Ling appears much more modest than those of his predecessors. There's no stele pavilion or spirit way, it's largely unpainted, and the tomb mound is a modest brick-wall drum, but this is the most expensive tomb: Wood used to construct the exquisite main hall is fragrant nanmu, sourced from as far away as Myanmar. The Guangxu emperor was the last to complete his reign (although Cixi, who died the next day, is again suspected of shortening it), and his Chong Ling, which has the only tomb chamber that is open, uses more modern materials than other tombs. It wasn't completed until 1915, well after the last emperor's abdication.

Several other rather battered tombs are open, and more are being opened, including the Tai Ling Fei Yuan Qin, a group of concubine tumuli, individually labeled with the years in which the concubines entered the Yongzheng emperor's service and their grades in the complex harem hierarchy.

The ashes of Puyi (properly known as the Xuantong emperor) lie buried on the eastern end of the site, up a slope behind a brand-new Qing-style memorial arch (pailou), and behind a shoddy, modern carved balustrade.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.