Qianling Mausoleum
The Qianling Mausoleum is a Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 (618–907) tomb site located in Qian County
Qian County
Qian County is a county of Xianyang, Shaanxi, China.-Historical monuments:A Tang Dynasty imperial tomb complex, Qianling Mausoleum is located on Liangshan Mountain in Qian County, 6 km away from the county's urban center and 74 km from Xi'an....

, Shaanxi
' is a province in the central part of Mainland China, and it includes portions of the Loess Plateau on the middle reaches of the Yellow River in addition to the Qinling Mountains across the southern part of this province...

 province, China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, and is 85 km (52.8 mi) northwest from Xi'an
Xi'an is the capital of the Shaanxi province, and a sub-provincial city in the People's Republic of China. One of the oldest cities in China, with more than 3,100 years of history, the city was known as Chang'an before the Ming Dynasty...

, formerly the Tang capital
Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was restored...

. Built by 684 (with additional construction until 706), the tombs of the mausoleum complex house the remains of various members of the royal Li family
Li (surname)
Li is a common transliteration of several Chinese family names, including 李 , the most common Chinese family name, and the Korean family name Lee...

. This includes Emperor Gaozong of Tang
Emperor Gaozong of Tang
Emperor Gaozong of Tang , personal name Li Zhi , was the third emperor of the Tang Dynasty in China, ruling from 649 to 683...

 (r. 649–83), as well as his wife, the Zhou Dynasty usurper and China's first (and only) governing empress Wu Zetian
Wu Zetian
Wu Zetian , personal name Wu Zhao , often referred to as Tian Hou during the Tang Dynasty and Empress Consort Wu in later times, was the only woman in the history of China to assume the title of Empress Regnant...

 (r. 690–705). The mausoleum is renowned for its many Tang Dynasty stone statues located above ground and the mural paintings adorning the subterranean walls of the tombs. Besides the main tumulus mound and underground tomb of Gaozong and Wu Zetian, there is a total of 17 smaller attendant tombs or peizang mu. Presently, only five of these attendant tombs have been excavated by archaeologists, three belonging to members of the royal family, one to a chancellor of China
Chancellor of China
The Chancellor , variously translated as Prime Minister, Chancellor of State, Premier or Chief Councillor, was a generic name given to the highest-ranking official in the imperial government in ancient China...

, and the other to a general of the left guard.


Following his death in 683, Emperor Gaozong's mausoleum complex was completed in 684. After her death, Wu Zetian was interred in a joint burial with Gaozong at Qianling on July 2, 706. Tang Dynasty funerary epitaphs in the tombs of her son Li Xián (Crown Prince Zhanghuai, 653–84), grandson Li Chongrun
Li Chongrun
Li Chongrun , né Li Chongzhao , formally Crown Prince Yide , was an imperial prince of the Chinese dynasties Tang Dynasty and Wu Zetian's Zhou Dynasty. He was the only son of Emperor Zhongzong and Emperor Zhongzong's second wife Empress Wei...

 (Prince of Shao, posthumously honored Crown Prince Yide, 682–701), and granddaughter Li Xianhui (李仙蕙, Lady Yongtai, posthumously honored as Princess Yongtai, 684–701) of the mausoleum are inscribed with the date of burial as 706 AD, allowing historians to accurately date the structures and artwork of the tombs. In fact, this Sui
Sui Dynasty
The Sui Dynasty was a powerful, but short-lived Imperial Chinese dynasty. Preceded by the Southern and Northern Dynasties, it ended nearly four centuries of division between rival regimes. It was followed by the Tang Dynasty....

 and Tang Dynasty practice of interring an epitaph that records the person's name, rank, and dates of death and burial was consistent amongst tombs for the imperial family and high court officials
Scholar-officials or Scholar-bureaucrats were civil servants appointed by the emperor of China to perform day-to-day governance from the Sui Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, China's last imperial dynasty. These officials mostly came from the well-educated men known as the...

. Both the Book of Tang
Book of Tang
The Book of Tang , Jiu Tangshu or the Old Book of Tang is the first classic work about the Tang Dynasty. The book began when Gaozu of Later Jin ordered its commencement in 941...

and New Book of Tang
New Book of Tang
The New Book of Tang , is a classic work of history about the Tang Dynasty edited by Ouyang Xiu and Song Qi and other official scholars of the Song Dynasty. The emperor called for a revision of the former Book of Tang in 1044. The New Book was presented to the throne in 1060. It was given its...

record that, in 706, Wu Zetian's son Emperor Zhongzong of Tang
Emperor Zhongzong of Tang
Emperor Zhongzong of Tang , personal name Lǐ Xiǎn , at times during his life Li Zhe and Wu Xian , was the fourth Emperor of the Tang Dynasty of China, ruling briefly in 684 and again from 705 to 710.Emperor Zhongzong was the son of Emperor Gaozong of Tang and Empress Wu...

 (r. 684, 705–10, Li Chongrun's and Li Xianhui's father and Li Xián's brother) exonerated the victims of Wu Zetian's political purges and provided them with honorable burials, including the two princes and princess mentioned above. Besides the attendant tombs of these royal family members, two others that have been excavated belonging to Chancellor Xue Yuanchao
Xue Yuanchao
Xue Yuanchao , formal name Xue Zhen but went by the courtesy name of Yuanchao, formally Baron of Fenyin , was an official of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty who served as a chancellor during the reign of Emperor Gaozong....

 (622–83) and General of the Left Guard Li Jinxing.

The five attendant tombs mentioned above were opened and excavated in the 1960s and early 1970s. In March 1995, there was an organized petition to the government about efforts to finally excavate Gaozong and Wu Zetian's tomb.


The mausoleum is located on Mount Liang, north of the Wei River
Wei River
The Wei River is a major river in west-central China's Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. It is the largest tributary of the Yellow River and very important in the early development of Chinese civilization....

, and 1,049 m (3,442 ft) above sea level. The grounds of the mausoleum are flanked by Leopard Valley to the east and Sand Canyon to the west. Although there are tumulus mounds to demarcate where each tomb is located, most of the tomb structures are subterranean. The tumulus mounds on the southern peaks are called Naitoshan or "Nipple Hills", due to their resemblance to the shape of nipples. The Nipple Hills, with towers erected on the top of each to accentuate the hills' name, form a sort of gateway into Qianling Mausoleum. The main tumulus mound is on the northern peak; it is the tallest of the mounds and is the burial place of Gaozong and Wu Zetian. Halfway up this northern peak, the builders of the site dug a 61 m (200 ft) long and 4 m (13 ft) wide tunnel into the rock of the mountain that leads to the inner tomb chambers located deep within the mountain. The complex was originally enclosed by two walls, the remains of which have been discovered today, including what was four gatehouses of the inner wall. The inner wall was 2.4 m (7.8 ft) thick, with a total perimeter of 5920 m (19,422 ft) enclosing a trapezoidal area of 240,000 m2 (787,400 ft2). Only some corner parts of the outer wall have been discovered. During the Tang Dynasty there were hundreds of residential houses that surrounded Qianling, inhabited by families that maintained the grounds and buildings of the mausoleum. The remains of some of these houses have since been discovered. The building foundation of the timber offering hall situated at the south gate of the mausoleum's inner wall has also been discovered.

Spirit Way

Leading into the mausoleum is a spirit way
Spirit way
A spirit way is the ornate road leading to a Chinese tomb of a major dignitary.The term is also sometimes translated as spirit road, spirit path or sacred way....

, which is flanked on both sides with stone statues like the later tombs of the Song Dynasty and Ming Dynasty Tombs
Ming Dynasty Tombs
The Ming Dynasty Tombs are located some 51.35 kilometers due north of central Beijing, within the suburban Changping District of Beijing municipality...

. The Qianling statues include horses, winged horses, horses with grooms, lions, ostriches, officials, and foreign envoys. The khan
Khan (title)
Khan is an originally Altaic and subsequently Central Asian title for a sovereign or military ruler, widely used by medieval nomadic Turko-Mongol tribes living to the north of China. 'Khan' is also seen as a title in the Xianbei confederation for their chief between 283 and 289...

 of the Western Turks
Turkic peoples
The Turkic peoples are peoples residing in northern, central and western Asia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds...

 presented an ostrich
Arabian Ostrich
The Middle Eastern Ostrich or Arabian Ostrich is an extinct subspecies of the ostrich which once lived on the Arabian Peninsula and in the Near East. Its range seems to have been continuous in prehistoric times, but with the drying-up of the Arabian Peninsula, it disappeared from the inhospitable...

 to the Tang court in 620 and the Tushara Kingdom
Tushara Kingdom
Tusharas were a Mleccha tribe, with their kingdom located in the north west of India as per the epic Mahabharata. An account in Mahabharata depicts Mlechchas as the descendants of Anu, one of the cursed sons of king Yayati. Yayati's eldest son Yadu, gave rise to the Yadavas and youngest son Puru...

 sent another in 650; in carved relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

s of Qianling dated c. 683, traditional Chinese phoenixes
Fenghuang are mythological birds of East Asia that reign over all other birds. The males are called Feng and the females Huang. In modern times, however, such a distinction of gender is often no longer made and the Feng and Huang are blurred into a single feminine entity so that the bird can be...

 are modelled on the body of ostriches. Historian Tonia Eckfeld states that the artistic emphasis on the exotic foreign tribute of the ostrich at the mausoleum was "a sign of the greatness of China and the Chinese emperor, not of the foreigners who sent them, or of the places from which they came". Eckfeld also asserts that the 61 statues of foreign diplomats sculpted in the 680s represents the "far-reaching power and international standing" of the Tang Dynasty. These statues, now headless, represent the actual foreign diplomats who were present at Gaozong's funeral. Historian Angela Howard notes that along the spirit ways of the auxiliary tombs—such as Li Xianhui's—the statues are smaller, of lesser quality, and fewer in number than the main spirit way of Qianling leading to Gaozong and Wu's burial. Besides the statues, there are also flanking sets of octagonal stone pillars meant to ward off evil spirits. A 6.3 m (20.7 ft) tall, tiered stele dedicated to Gaozong is also located along the path, with a written inscription commemorating his achievements; this is flanked by Wu Zetian's stele which has no written inscriptions. An additional stele by the main tumulus was erected by Emperor Qianlong
Qianlong Emperor
The Qianlong Emperor was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796...

 (r. 1735–96) during the mid Qing Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China....



The tomb chambers of Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu are located deep within Mount Liang, a trend that was set by Emperor Taizong of Tang
Emperor Taizong of Tang
Emperor Taizong of Tang , personal name Lǐ Shìmín , was the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty of China, ruling from 626 to 649...

 (r. 626–49) with his burial at Mount Jiuzong. Of the 18 emperors of the Tang Dynasty, 14 of these had natural mountains serving as the earthen mounds for their tombs. Only members of the imperial family were allowed to have their tombs located within natural mountains; tombs for officials and nobles featured man-made tumulus mounds and tomb chambers that were totally underground. Children of the emperor were allowed to have truncated tumulus mounds as their burial place, but officials were only allowed conical-shaped pyramids for their burial sites. The conical pyramids of officials were allowed to have one wall surrounding it, but only one gate—positioned to the south—was permitted. The attendant tombs thus far excavated at Qianling feature truncated pyramid mounds above underground chambers that are approached by declining diagonal ramps with ground-level entrances. There are six vertical shafts for the ramps of each of these tombs which allowed goods to be lowered into the side niches of the ramps.

The main hall in each of these underground tombs leads to two four-sided brick-laden burial chambers connected by a short corridor; these chambers feature domed ceilings. The tomb of Li Xian features real fully stone doors, a tomb trend apparent in the Han
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 and Western Jin Dynasties that became more common by the time of the Northern Qi
Northern Qi
The Northern Qi Dynasty was one of the Northern dynasties of Chinese history and ruled northern China from 550 to 577.-History:The Chinese state of Northern Qi was the successor state of the Chinese/Xianbei state of Eastern Wei and was founded by Emperor Wenxuan...

. The stylistic stone door of Lou Rui's tomb of 570 closely resembles that of Tang stone doors, such as the one in Li Xian's tomb.

Unlike many other Tang Dynasty tombs, the treasures within the imperial tombs of the Qianling Mausoleum were never stolen by grave robbers
Grave robbing
Grave robbery, grave robbing, or tomb raiding is the act of uncovering a tomb or crypt to steal artifacts or personal effects. Someone who engages in this act is a grave robber or tomb raider...

. In fact, in Li Chongrun's tomb alone, there were found over a thousand items of gold, copper, iron, ceramic figurines, three-glaze
Sancai is a type of ceramics using three intermingled colors for decoration.-Technique:The body of Sancai ceramics was made of white clay, coated with a layer of glaze, and fired at a temperature of 800 degrees Celsius. Sancai is a type of lead-glazed pottery: lead oxide was the principal flux in...

 colored figurines, and three-glaze pottery wares. Altogether, the tombs of Li Xian, Li Chongrun, and Li Xianhui had over 4,300 tomb articles when they were unearthed by archaeologists. However, the attendant tombs of the mausoleum were raided by grave robbers. Among the ceramic figurines found in Li Chongrun's tomb were horses with gilt
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...

 decoration supporting armed and armored
Chinese armour
China has a long history of armour and weapons development. China has many varieties of armour, but the most were of the lamellar, coat of plates, brigandine and scaled varieties.-Ancient Armor: Shang to Han:Initially, armour was exclusively for nobles...

 soldiers, horsemen playing flutes, blowing trumpets, and waving whips to spur their horses. Ceramic sculptures found in the tomb of Li Xian included figurines of civil officials, warriors, and tomb guardian beasts, all of which were over a m (3 ft) in height.


The tombs thus far excavated for Li Xian, Li Chongrun, and Li Xianhui are all decorated with mural paintings and feature multiple shaft entrances and arched chambers. Historian Mary H. Fong states that the tomb murals in the subterranean halls of Li Xián's, Li Chongrun's, and Li Xianhui's tombs are representative of anonymous but professional tomb decorators rather than renowned court painters of handscrolls. Although primarily funerary art
Funerary art
Funerary art is any work of art forming, or placed in, a repository for the remains of the dead. Tomb is a general term for the repository, while grave goods are objects—other than the primary human remains—which have been placed inside...

, Fong asserts that these Tang tomb murals are "sorely needed references" to the sparse amount of description offered in Tang era documents about painting, such as the Tang Chao minghua lu ('Celebrated Painters of the Tang Dynasty') by Zhu Jingxuan in the 840s and the Lidai Minghua ji ('A Record of the Famous Painters of the Successive Dynasties') by Zhang Yanyuan
Zhang Yanyuan
Zhang Yanyuan , courtesy name Aibin , was a Chinese art historian, scholar, calligrapher and painter of the late Tang Dynasty.-Biography:Zhang was born to a high ranking family in present-day Yuncheng, Shanxi...

 in 847. Fong also asserts that the painting skill of portraying "animation through spirit consonance" or qiyun shendong—an art critique associated with renowned Tang painters like Yan Liben
Yan Liben
Yan Liben , formally Baron Wenzhen of Boling , was a Chinese painter and government official of the early Tang Dynasty. His most renowned work is the Thirteen Emperors Scroll...

, Zhou Fang
Zhou Fang
Zhou Fang was one of two influential painters during the mid-Tang dynasty. He was also known as Zhou Jing Xuan and Zhong Lang. Zhou lived in the Tang capital of Chang'an, which is now modern Xi'an, during the 8th century...

, and Chen Hong—was achieved by the anonymous Tang tomb painters. Fong writes:
Another important feature in the murals of the tomb was the representation of architecture. Although there are numerous examples of existing Tang stone and brick pagoda towers for architectural historians to examine, there are only six remaining wooden halls that have survived from the 8th and 9th centuries. Only the rammed earth
Rammed earth
Rammed earth, also known as taipa , tapial , and pisé , is a technique for building walls using the raw materials of earth, chalk, lime and gravel. It is an ancient building method that has seen a revival in recent years as people seek more sustainable building materials and natural building methods...

 foundations of the great palaces of the Tang capital at Chang'an
Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was restored...

 have survived. However, some of the mural scenes of timber architecture in Li Chongrun's tomb at Qianling have been suggested by historians as representative of the Eastern Palace, residence of the crown prince
Crown Prince
A crown prince or crown princess is the heir or heiress apparent to the throne in a royal or imperial monarchy. The wife of a crown prince is also titled crown princess....

 during the Tang. According to historian Fu Xinian, not only do the murals of Li Chongrun's tomb represent buildings of the Tang capital, but also "the number of underground chambers, ventilation shafts, compartments, and air wells have been seen as indications of the number of courtyards, main halls, rooms, and corridors in residences of tomb occupants when they were alive." The underground hall of the descending ramp approaching Li Chongrun's tomb chambers, as well as the gated entrance to the front chamber, feature murals of multiple-bodied que
Que (tower)
Que is a freestanding, ceremonial gate tower in traditional Chinese architecture. First developed in the Zhou Dynasty, que towers were used to form ceremonial gateways to tombs, palaces and temples throughout pre-modern China down to the Qing Dynasty...

gate towers similar to those whose foundations were surveyed at Chang'an.

Ann Paludan
Ann Paludan
Ann Paludan is a British author of several books on Chinese history, sculpture, and architecture.-Biography:Ann Paludan is the daughter of Basil Murray...

, an Honorary Fellow
Research fellow
The title of research fellow is used to denote a research position at a university or similar institution, usually for academic staff or faculty members. A research fellow may act either as an independent investigator or under the supervision of a principal investigator...

 of Durham University
Durham University
The University of Durham, commonly known as Durham University, is a university in Durham, England. It was founded by Act of Parliament in 1832 and granted a Royal Charter in 1837...

, provides captions in her Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors (1998) for the following pictures of Qianling tomb murals:

External links

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