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Qian Mausoleum (Qian Ling)

The Tang Dynasty (618-907) is a truly fascinating period of Chinese history, not only for its high culture but also the personalities that left their mark on the epoch. Not least of these were Emperor Gao Zong and his Empress Wu Zetian. It is not surprising that they should have had impressive burials and that in view of her powerful and dominating character that the Empress should have shared her late husband's tomb. This is the only instance of a mausoleum shared in this way and of course, Wu Zetian was the only woman to have ruled China.

The Qian Mausoleum occupies a prominent site on the summit of Liangshan Hill some 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of the Tang capital, Chang'an (today's Xi'an). The design of the tomb site replicates the city of Chang'an and in accordance with tradition is on a north-south axis. The southern approach is set between two smaller hills and the way to the Emperor's tomb is lined with stone animals as well as human figures. These include horses and ostriches, winged horses and a pair of stone lions. In all there are 124 stone sculptures and these are reminders of the fact that the Tang was very much involved with trade and diplomatic exchange with the world far beyond China's borders as there are distinct Western Asian and Greek influences in these sculptures.

The tomb is of a very strong and secure construction and is notable as the only mausoleum to escape the unwelcome attention of tomb robbers.

In total the mausoleum site covered an area of 2.3 square meters (0.88 square kilometers) and within this area stood 378 buildings that included the Sacrifice Hall, a Pavilion, a Hall of Ministers and numerous corridors. Unfortunately, the above ground structures have not survived unlike the stone sculptures that still delight visitors.

Two ornamented octagonal columns mark the south entrance and the mythical winged horses are the first of the sculptures. The pair of ostriches was a gift from Afghanistan; of the five pairs of horses that are next along the route only three still have their attendant grooms. Ten pairs of military figures bearing swords stand guard along the path. Further life-sized sculptures of men represent the sixty one foreign emissaries that attended the Emperor's funeral and were created on the instructions of Empress Wu Zetian, who wanted a permanent reminder of their visit. Each figure is depicted in a long robe with a wide belt and wearing boots. The name of each individual and the country he represented is carved on the back of the statue. It is not known how or why but regrettably each statue has been decapitated at some time in the distant past.

The Qijie Bei (Tablet of Seven Elements), so called because it symbolizes the Sun, Moon, Metal, Wood, Water, Earth and Fire, carries an inscription composed by the Empress Wu Zetian that describes the achievements of her late husband. The calligraphy is that of Emperor Zhongzong whom the Empress deposed but later returned to the throne following her own eventual retirement from office. An unusual feature is the Blank Tablet that has carved dragons and oysters upon it but no inscription, there is nothing like this at any other royal tomb site. It is thought that this tablet was erected upon the orders of the Empress and that it would eventually bear a description of her achievements, to be recorded by some future generation. Maybe she thought that in this way only her good deeds would be remembered and recorded for posterity!

Tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai

There are seventeen other tombs, the most important of which are those of Crown Prince Yide, Princess Yongtai and Crown Prince Zhanghuai. The underground chambers of these tombs are richly decorated with colorful murals and they are often referred to as the Underground Tang Art Gallery.

The Tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai

The second son of Emperor Gao Zong and Empress Wu Zetian, Zhanghuai was created crown prince in 675 AD but was removed him from that rank in 680 AD by his mother. Four years later, he was ordered to commit suicide when aged 31. He was reinstated posthumously in 711 and buried along with his wife in this tomb.

Three kilometers (1.86 miles) south east of the Qian Mausoleum, the tomb is 71 meters (233 feet) long by 3.3 meters (11 feet) wide and 7 meters (23 feet) deep. It consists of a paved path, arches, a patio and two chambers sited one behind the other. Fifty murals in an excellent state of preservation decorate the walls. Covering some 400 square meters (478.5 square yards) these murals illustrate scenes from the life of the unfortunate prince. One of the most interesting of these is known as the 'Meeting of the Guests'. This mural shows three Tang officials accompanying ambassadors from abroad such as Rome and Korea as well as ethnic groups from north-east China and elsewhere. During the Tang Dynasty Chang'an was a cosmopolitan city with a population exceeding a million. The mural serves to remind us that much of the prosperity of the Tang was due to their international relationships with more than 300 different countries.

Other murals depict parades, dancing, games, female courtiers, ministers and a polo match, the game having been introduced from Persia and very popular among the Tang aristocracy. In addition to the paintings, in excess of 600 terra cotta items and tri-color vessels bear witness to the social systems and customs of the day.

Tomb of Prince Yide

Situated to the south east of the Qian Mausoleum, this tomb is the resting place of Li Chongrun, the eldest son of Zhong Zong and grandson of Gao Zong and Wu Zetian. Yet another victim of his formidable and self-seeking grandmother, he was sentenced to death at the tender age of just 19 for opposing her autocracy. Officially known as Prince Yide, Li Chongrun was laid to rest in a grand mausoleum decorated with stone lions and other figures and although the columns are no longer whole, the edifice was a tribute to his importance. The tomb comprises a paved way, three arches and seven courtyards together with eight niches that probably would have accommodated statues. There are two chambers, one behind the other; the whole being interlinked by corridors. The complex extends 256.6 meters (841.9 feet) in a north-south direction and is 214.5 meters (703.7 feet) in width and was richly endowed with a large number of fine artefacts. Over a thousand items of ceramic figures, tri-color figurines and pottery as well as items of gold, copper and iron have been found here.

The structure has a remarkable array of murals throughout, forty pieces in all that illustrate the day to day life at the Tang court. Symbols of the Prince, the Black Dragon and White Tiger are featured and the mural of the 'parade of the Crown Prince' is of great historical interest as this 2.8 meter (9.10 feet) high picture shows the towers, city walls and other important buildings of the ancient capital city. You can see the guard of honor riding in chariots, on horseback as well as on foot as they prepare to march out from Chang'an in a colorful royal procession.

Other murals illustrate hunts. Members of the Tang court were keen hunters and used specially trained cheetahs to bring down their prey. The cheetahs were presented to the royal family as tribute from client states. This again gives an insight into the strategic influence and importance of the regime.

Tomb of Princess Yongtai

Li Xianhui, the Princess Yongtai was the seventh daughter of Emperor Zhong Zong and grand daughter of Gao Zong and the Empress Wu Zetian. This maiden was considered so beautiful that it was said that even the plum blossom lost its brilliance in her presence. Adored by her imperial father for her beauty and wisdom she was married to Wu Yanji in 700 AD. Her newly wed husband's father was a nephew of the Empress but her family ties gave her no protection from her grandmother. A year after her marriage and only seventeen years of age the princess was put to death in the same fashion as her brother Li Chongrun, the Crown Prince Yide. The young, ill-fated bride was recognized posthumously as Princess Yongtai in 706.

This tomb is situated 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) south east of the Qian Mausoleum and was built to the same specifications as those of an empress' tomb. Once again, this tomb is renowned for the quality of the many items found in it as well as the extremely fine wall paintings. Although the paintings depict famous buildings and towers, the rich trappings of courtly life and magnificent ceremonial parades, it is the painting of sixteen maids of honor that catch the attention of visitors. One of these elegant young women is known as the 'First Oriental Beauty'. Her round face with her well shaped eyebrows, enticing lips and graceful figure has evoked admiration from all who have looked upon her. These images are a wonderful reflection of the glories of the Tang court in its heyday. Despite the intrigue and perils that surrounded members of the aristocracy the court enjoyed wealth, culture and a degree of elegance that made it a source of wonder.

The murals have been removed to the Shaanxi Provincial Museum for safekeeping and replaced with replicas. This tomb had been subject to raids and many grave goods have been stolen. However, some 1046 pieces have survived intact. Ceramic figures, tri-color figures and wooden figurines represent 878 of these pieces. Among them, 700 ceramic figures include heavenly kings, male, female and ethnic equestrians, musicians complete with their musical instruments and animals. The tri-color figurines are of many subjects in a variety of poses. By contrast there are thirty carved wooden figures that are all male.