Qianling Mausoleum

Qianling Mausoleum
Located about 80 kilometers northwest of Xian, Qianling is the joint tomb of the third Tang emperor Gaozong (628 AD-683 AD) and his empress consort, Wu Zetian (624 AD-705 AD), the only empress in Chinese history. The mausoleum is the only one in China that contains the bodies of both an emperor and an empress.
Emperor Gao Zong and Empress Wu Zetian
Li Zhi is the ninth son of Li Shimin (the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty). According to tradition, the emperor should establish his eldest son as crown prince instead, because he was the son of Empress Zhangsun who was strongly supported by her brother, Prime Minister Zhangsun Wuji. After Emperor Tai Zong’s death, Li Zhi ascended the throne and was entitled Gao Zong. But he had no political ability. He could hardly make any final decision on court affairs without prime minister’s assistance. He died of illness in 683 AD and was buried in Qianling.

Wu Zetian was the only recognized female ruler in Chinese history. She was a woman of humble birth. In her early youth, she traveled a lot with her parents and suffered a lot, which helped her widen her knowledge a great deal and her strong character.

When she was 14, she was chosen and admitted into the Imperial Palace as a fifth-grade concubine of Taizong as a result of her exceptional beauty and ability. After Taizong's death, Wu Zetian was forced to become a nun in a Buddhist temple. She was then only 26.

Wu Zetian had started her relationship with Li Zhi when she was taking care of Taizong who was the confined to bed. Having stayed in the temple for three years, she returned to the palace in 654 AD, and established an empress the following year. Due to Gaozong's declining health and weak political ability, the power gradually fell into Wu Zetian’s hand. At last, she took the throne, became the only empress in Chinese history.

Wu Zetian displayed outstanding personal ability during her 50-year reign, a living proof against the traditional Chinese idea that "Ignorance is a woman’s virtue". Under her rule, the society was stable, the national defense strengthened and the economy developed further. Wu Zetian was a very enlightened ruler, willing to listen to objections and remonstrations from the court and the ordinary people.

Wu Zetian died in 705 AD, at the age of 82 in Luoyang. Later she was buried together with her emperor husband in Qianling.

The Qianling Mausoleum was built in 684 AD, and brought into completion 23 years later. It is located on Liangshan Hill, 1,047.5 meters above sea level. Of the three peaks of Liangshan Hill, the north peak, where Qianling is located, is the highest. The two peaks in the south face each other, east to east. On each of the two peaks stand the remains of a watch tower. The folk call the two peaks “Nipple Hills”. According to historical records, there used to be two city walls that formed an inner city and an outer city there. There were four gates and many splendid buildings, such as the dedicatory hall, and gate towers. It has been proven through exploration that the total area of the inner city was about 240 square meters. There was a gate on each side of the inner city; namely the Scarlet Bird Gate in the south; the Tortoise Gate in the north; the Blue Dragon Gate in the east and the White Tiger Gate in the west. On both sides of the sacred way in front of the tomb, 124 exquisite and lively stone statues are lined up from north to south. They include a pair of octagonal cloud pillars, a pair of winged horses, a pair of scarlet birds, five pairs of stone horses, and ten pais of guarding generals with helmets on their heads and swords in their hands. There is a pair of stone lions in front of each city gate. There are three pairs of stone lions in front of the north gate. In addition, outside the south gate there are two tall tablets: The Monument to the Holy Deeds of Emperor Gaozong and The Wordless Monument to Wu Zetian. There are also 61 Stone Statues. From the beginning of the construction of Qianling Mausoleum, the number and variety of stone carvings, and the way they were to be arranged were formulated and followed till the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. This arrangement with minor differences was largely identical in successive dynasties.

The Monument to the Holy Deeds of Emperor Gaozong
This tablet lies on the western side of the south gate. It consists of seven joints, so it's also called the Seven-Joint Tablet. It is said that seven joints symbolize the seven elements, that is, the Sun, the Moon, Metal, Wood, Water, Earth, and Fire. The ancient Chinese believed that the universe is composed of these seven elements. The inscription on the tablet was composed by Wu Zetian and written by Li Xian, her third son. It contains over 8,000 words, praising Gaozong's political achievements and military exploits. When the tablet was carved, the strokes of characters were coated with gold fillings, and even today the remains of gold fillings on some characters can still be discerned.

The Wordless Tablet
The "Wordless Tablet" east of the Scarlet Bird Gate is 6.3 meters high, and weighs 98.9 tons. The sides of the tablet were carved with figures of dragons. The top part of the tablet was carved with eight oysters intersecting each other. Why was the "Wordless Tablet" set up for Empress Wu Zetian? Some say that she wanted people of later generations to give her a just and fair appraisal. Others say she thought that her merits and virtues were so immeasurable that they were beyond words. Still some others think that it was probably set up by Emperor Zhong Zong, who was dissatisfied with her arbitrary decisions and peremptory actions on the one hand and unwilling to flatter her against his conscience on the other. But as her son, it was inappropriate for him to reproach her. So he set u the "Wordless Tablet" to let people of later generations appraise her. Anyway, such a tablet has not been found before nay other imperial mausoleums in the country. Ever since the Song and the Jin dynasties, 13 paragraphs nave been inscribed. Now, the "Wordless Tablet" has become a tablet with words. Owing to the passage of time and the ravages of wind and rain, most of the inscription on the tablet is not clear.
                                                                                           Lang Jun's Travelogue”, which was carved in Nvzhen script in the Jin Dynasty (1135 AD), remains intact with its Chinese translation. Nvzhen script, the language is of great value for the study of the language, the history, and culture of Nvzhen nationality.

The 61 Stone Statues
Besides the two tablets, there are 61 stone statues standing in two groups. They represent Chinese minority nationalities and envoys from friendly countries who came to Emperor Gaozong's funeral. Most of their heads were damaged long ago. Now only two of them have heads. Originally on the back of these stone statue were carved their official position and name. Being exposed to the weather over the years, most of the characters are already gone, only those on the backs of two statues from Iran and Afghanistan can still be discerned.

The Tomb of Princess Yongtai
The Tomb of Princess Yong Tai is one of the 17 satellite tombs of the Qianling Mausoleum. The name of Princess Yongtai was Li Xianhui, the seventh daughter of the Tang Emperor Zhongzong. The title of Princess Yongtai was posthumously conferred by his father after he ascended the throne.

The tomb was excavated from 1960 to 1962. it consists of a main passage, five doorways, six skylights, a paved path leading to the tomb, eight small niches, an ante-chamber and a burial chamber. Murals on the walls of the tomb passage mainly depict the elegantly dressed ladies in waiting. In the eight small niches on both sides of the skylights are a multitude of tri-colored glazed pottery figurines, porcelain wares, and some other burial articles. Although the tomb was once robbed, archeologists still found some gold and silver objects, ceramics and clay figures. Many of them are on display today in Qianling Mausoleum.

The Tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai
The tomb of Crown Prince Zhang Huai is one of the 17 satellite tombs. It lies three kilometers of the Qianling Mausoleum. Prince Zhanghuai’s name was Li Xian, the second son of Gaozong and his wife Wu Zetian. In conflict with his mother, Li Xian was driven to suicide at the age of 31.

The excavation of the tomb of Crown Prince Zhang Huai was carried out from July 1971 to February 1972. The ground and the interior structure of the tomb are basically the same as those of Princess Yong Tai, but only a bit smaller in scale. The tomb consists of a long, sloping tomb passage, four skylights, four passages, six niches, a brick corridor, an ante-chamber and a burial chamber. The tomb passage is 71 meters long, 3.3 meters wide and 7 meters deep. Although the tomb was once robbed, over 600 articles were unearthed. They include various ceramic figurines, tri-colored ceramic figurines, articles for daily use and other burial objects. The figures of civil officials and warriors are vivid and life-like. They are over one meter tall. Together with guardians, they are worth special attention. There are more than 50 murals in the tomb, which occupy 400 square meters, and remain basically intact. Of these paintings, "Courtiers and Foreign Envoys", "Hunting Procession", "Polo Game" and "Watching Birds Catching Cicadas" are all true to life and skillfully drawn. These murals demonstrate the superb artistic skill of the Tang Dynasty.

On the western wall of the tomb passage there is a fresco entitled "Polo Game", which depicts 20 figures of horse back. With mallets in hand, the five at the head are trying to chase the ball. One of them hit the ball dexterously behind his back. He looks strong and vigorous. Polo was introduced to China from Persia (present-day Iran) during the Tang Dynasty. It was very popular at the royal court. All the people of the court, from the emperor to civil and military officials and even women, liked playing polo. There were polo grounds in most of the imperial palaces and hunting reserves. Some noblemen had their own polo grounds. After the Tang Dynasty, polo became popular throughout the country. It gradually diminished towards the end of the Ming Dynasty.

The painting entitled "Courtiers and Foreign Envoys" was found on the eastern wall in the middle of the tomb passage. It vividly reproduces the scene of Tang officials greeting foreign envoys. In the front are two enthusiastic Tang officials, and behind them are three foreign envoys. Research confirms that the first envoy came from Tujue tribe, an ethnic minority tribe in ancient China. This mural reflects the active exchange of friendly and diplomatic visits between China and foreign countries during the Tang Dynasty.

"Watching Birds Catching Cicadas" on the western wall of the antechamber depicts the life of the maids in the imperial palace. There are three maids in the painting. The older one seems to have suffered a lot in life in the palace. She looks as if she was thinking of something. She gazes at the sky and complains of its infinity. The other two are trying to get rid of their worries by watching birds catching cicadas.

The Tomb if Crown Prince Yi De
The Tomb of Crown Prince Yi De lies to the southeast of the Qianling Mausoleum.

Prince Yi De, called Li Chongrun, was the first son of Li Xian, the fourth emperor of the Tang Dynasty. He was killed in Luoyang in 701 AD for his anger with Wu Zetian's dictatorship. He was only 19 years old then. In 705, when Li Xian returned to the throne, he was awarded posthumously the title of Crown Prince Yi De. In the year of 706, his body was moved from Luoyang to the Qianling Mausoleum area and was buried in a satellite tomb.

The excavation of the Tomb of Crown Prince Yi De was carried out from July 1971 to May 1972. There were a mound and enclosure walls. To the south of the wall were a pair of stone lions, two pairs of stone figures, and a pair of obelisks. The tomb consists of a tomb passage, three doors, seven skylights, eight niches, front and back tunnels as well as front and back tomb chambers. It is 100.8 meters long.

The tomb is large in scale and abundant with burial articles. There are 40 well-preserved mural paintings on the wall of the tomb passage, doorways, skylights, front and back tunnels as well as front and back chambers. In the paintings are guards of honor, the Blue Dragon, the White Tiger, city walls, which show Li Chongrun’s special identity and extraordinary status.

More than 1,000 pieces of historical artifacts have been unearthed from the Tomb of Crown Prince Yi De, including pottery figures, tri-colored glazed figures, earthen ware as well as gold, bronze and iron ware.

Opening Hours: 08:00 - 18:00

Ticket Price: Qianling: CNY 46           
The Tomb of Princess Yongtai: CNY 31
The Tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai: CNY 31
The Tomb of Crown Prince Yi De: CNY 31