The Ming Mausoleums

There are a total of 13 mausoleums for Emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) here, so it is generally called the Thirteen Mausoleums. In fact, in the mausoleums you will find 13 emperors, 23 empresses, 2 princes, about 30 imperial concubines and even 1 palace eunuch, who were all cremated and placed in this group of tombs.


“Shendao” in Chinese means “the way of the spirit” or “the sacred way”. It is 7 kilometres long, and stretches from the Memorial Arch through to the gate of the main tomb, Changling Mausoleum (the mausoleum of Emperor Yongle).

The Memorial Arch is made of white marble and was built in 1540. It has 5 arches supported by 6 pillars, each with beautiful bas-relief carvings of qilin (Chinese unicorns), lions, dragons, other unusual animals and lotus flowers pared into them.

After the Memorial Arch, you’ll find the Great Red Gate, which was built in 1426. About 457 metres away from the Great Red Gate, there stands the Tablet House. A marble column, known as a Mubiao, stands at each corner of the Tablet House. A Mubiao was an ornamental column which was erected in front of a tomb, much like a tombstone. A huge tablet, which is 6.5 metres high, stands in the middle of the Tablet House and rests on the back of a marble tortoise.

The most distinctive work of art in the mausoleums is known as the “avenue of stone animals and statues”. Avenues of stone animals and statues can often be found at the entrance to imperial mausoleums from the Han Dynasty (206 BD— 220 AD), but none of them are as famous as this one.

The avenue, which boasts 36 stone animals and statues, has two columns (called wangzhu in Chinese) on either side of the entrance. They are hexagonal, with a cloud design carved into them, and the top of them is shaped like a cylinder. The animals included in the avenue were specifically chosen because culturally they are all symbolic. There are lions, which were symbols of power. There are xiezhi, which were mythical feline beasts that were said to be able to distinguish right from wrong and thus were symbols of justice. There are camels, which were symbols of transportation, and elephants, which were symbols of peace. There are qilin, another mythical animal with a scaly body, a cow’s tail, deer’s hooves and a horn on its head, which were also symbols of peace. And finally there are horses, which were symbols of expedition. There are 24 stone animals in all. These beasts are followed by a group of 12 human statues (officials), which symbolize the funeral cortege of the deceased emperors.

Dingling Mausoleum

Dingling Mausoleum is the only one of the Ming mausoleums that has been excavated so far. The excavation lasted more than two years and took place from 1956 to 1958.

定陵It is the mausoleum of the Emperor Wanli (1563-1620) and his two wives – Empress Xiaoduan and Empress Xiaojing. Empress Xiaoduan died only a few months before his death. Empress Xiaojing died in 1612, eight years before the emperor’s death, and was buried in a nearby tomb reserved for imperial concubines. Since Xiaojing did not hold the title of Empress at the time of her death, she wasn’t initially permitted the privilege of sharing the emperor’s tomb.

Xiaoduan never bore the Emperor a son, whilst Xiaojing gave birth to one son, who then became the emperor after Wanli’s death. Although Xiaojing’s son was only emperor for 29 days, he left the throne to his son. When Xiaojing’s grandson ascended to the throne and became the emperor, he promoted his grandmother to the rank of queen dowager and it was decided that her body should be moved into the imperial mausoleum.

The construction of the mausoleum started in 1584, when Emperor Wanli was only 22 years old. The mausoleum was finished when he was 28, and he had to wait another 30 years to finally use it.

When the Ming Dynasty collapsed in 1644, the tomb was damaged in a peasant uprising led by Li Zicheng and was not restored until the reign of the Qing Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795).

The underground palace is 27 metres below ground level and has a total surface area of 1,195 square metres. It is divided into 5 chambers – the antechamber, the middle chamber, the rear chamber and the left and right annex chambers. The vaulted chambers are built of stone, without employing a single beam or column. The antechamber and central chamber form a long passageway, at the end of which is the rear chamber, with the two annex chambers set at right angles to it forming a T-shape.

Beihai Park (the Winter Palace)

beihai park

Located in the centre of Beijing, Beihai Park is adjacent to the Forbidden City in the west, and to Coal Hill Park in the east. It connects the Central Lake and the South Lake, and borders Shichahai Lake in the north. Beihai Park has the longest history among the Chinese imperial parks. Its history also ties in with the history of Beijing’s development as a city.

In 938, under its original name “White Lotus Pool”, Beihai Park though it was not an official palace, was occupied by its first imperial resident, Emperor Tai of the Liao Dynasty (907-1125). During this time it was renamed Yaoyu Palace. After the Liao Dynasty ended, the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) took over and chose Beijing (named Zhongdu then) as its capital, extending and expanding the whole city in the process. Yaoyu Palace was also renovated and the Hall of Jade was added.

From 1163 to 1179 the emperor Shizong of the Jin dynasty used the clay from the lake to make a small island in the centre of the lake, which he named Jade Island (Qionghua Island). With the centre of Jade Island, he extended the palace and renamed it Daning Palace. The Palace in the Moon (Daning Palace) was built on top of this island. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the whole palace area was repaired three times. The Palace in the Moon was extended and made into a large, luxury palace, and this was where Kublai Khan (one of the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty) used to live. Many other buildings were also built on top of the hill (named Longevity Hill then) on Jade Island. Unfortunately, this fabulous palace collapsed in 1579, during the Ming Dynasty. Now the Temple of Eternal Peace sits on the former site of this palace. During the Ming Dynasty even more restoration and construction was done in Beihai Park. The Five Dragon Pavilions and galleries were built during that period. However, the whole palace was badly damaged during the war, towards the end of the Ming Dynasty.

beihai park02The Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) revelled in building gardens. So for 44 years, from 1742 right through till 1786, he oversaw the construction of a monumental project. The project included 126 halls, numerous arches over gateways and temples, 35 pavilions, 25 bridges, 16 stone tablets, and renovations and reconstructions of 12 existing buildings on the shore of the lake. Then came the arrival of one of the most famous women in Chinese history – the queen dowager Cixi. She took a lot of money that was supposed to be allocated to the army and used it to renovate the palace. She even built a 1,510.4 metre long railway, which started at the Tower of Vermilion Light (in the Middle Sea) and ended at the Clear Mirror Study (the Heart – Ease Study) in Beihai Park. During the Qing Dynasty, Beihai Park was regarded as a place of recreation for the imperial family, and was known thereafter as the Winter Palace.


The White Dagoba

276-0606At the top of Jade Island sits the White Dagoba, which is a Tantric Buddhist monument built in honour of the Dalai Lama. The Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty adopted a Tibetan Lama priest named Momhan, and it was Momhan who persuaded him to build the White Dagoba and also the White Temple in 1651. In 1743, when Qianlong was the emperor, the White Temple was renamed the Temple of Eternal Peace.

The White Dagoba is 35.9 metres tall, and was built using bricks and stones that were whitened in lime. There is purposefully no entrance to the White Dagoba. It is said that a red emblem on the surface of the building marks the opening, which was sealed after some sacred articles were stored inside. It is also said that there is a small box painted with a symbol of Taiji hidden inside the dagoba, and it is rumoured that this box contains two Buddhist relics.

The Dagoba rests on a square base constructed from huge stone slabs, and it is topped with two bronze parasols. 16 bronze bells hang around these parasols, and each of them weighs about 8 kilogrammes.

What is the difference between a dagoba and a pagoda?

A dagoba is a multi-storeyed Buddhist temple or sacred paramedic tower, which usually has an odd number of storeys and which is usually built over a sacred relic or as a work of devotion. A pagoda, on the other hand, is a single rounded structure crowned by a golden spire.

The Round City

beihai park round cityThe Round City was built during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), and was famous for being a city within the city. It stands at the south gate of Beihai Park. It is surrounded by a 4.6-metre-high circular wall and has a distinctive courtyard with halls, pavilions and ancient trees. It was originally an islet in the Pool of Great Secretion (Taiyechi). It was formed from the lake excavations and served as an imperial garden. There are two gates leading into the Round City – the Clear View Gate (Zhaojingmen) to the east and the Extended Auspiciousness Gate (Yanxiangmen) to the west.

The building of most significance in the Round City is the Hall to Receive Light (Chengguangdian), which was built during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and renovated once during the Ming Dynasty and once during the Qing Dynasty respectively. In the middle of the Round City is the 13 square-metre Jade Jar Pavilion, which has a blue roof and white columns.

Other important attractions in Beijing Park include:

The Temple of Eternal Peace (Yong’an Temple)

The Imperial Court Restaurant