A few days ago, I was revising some Chinese homework with the kids when I stumbled upon the Chinese characters 明代 (míng dài), which refer to the Ming Dynasty.
One thing led to another and I found out that the Ming Tombs we’d visited in 2008 were actually 十三 堎 shí sān líng or the 13 tombs of Chinese emperors of the Ming Dynasty.
Pardon me if I sound like a complete fool in sharing this revelation – you need to know that we did not have the chance to read up on it as we had our hands full running after a 2 year old!
A Grand Entrance
Here’s the beautiful entrance to the area, which is popular to the little kids because they’d step UP and DOWN.
Note the distance we have walked? We have not even entered the actual grounds of the Ming tombs yet.
If I remember correctly, this was a sort of “information” or “exhibition” center for visitors.
Notice the customary Chinese funeral blue color of the main entrance and the sign board here?
The national guards looked so formidable, we didn’t trust the toddler to behave himself among Chinese artifacts and also, we figure most of the information would be in Mandarin, we decided to give it a miss.
Principles of Feng Shui
Here’s a sign in English and Chinese, which attempts to explain the application of feng shui principles in the design and location of the Ming Dynasty tombs or mausoleum:
The Underground Palace?
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when we were told that we were going to visit the Ming tombs.
I caught up with packing a toddler’s food and clothing, my brain hadn’t registered that it’s a mausoleum – a burial ground for the 13 Chinese emperors. Gulp, an underground burial ground!
I can imagine my Chinese grandmother going, “Why would you want to see dead people? And bring along your little boy? Who cares if they were kings???”
We were going in with hardly any knowledge of Mandarin Chinese or Chinese history. I had to take a photo to commemorate this crazy moment.
I am a bit claustrophobic – I felt rather nervous as we walked around the underground palace with no windows in sight. Luckily, the place wasn’t crowded!
The first indication that this is an imperial tomb: the Emperor’s celestial throne.
You can imagine how the Europeans, especially the Italians, would react when they visit this place.
Red lacquer boxes
They contain the Emperors’ treasures to be buried with them.
For a minute there, I thought they were Chinese coffins.
The underground mausoleum is as sombre as it sounds.
Then, we arrived at a sort of “a geomantic hole” where visitors placed yuan as well-wishers.
Finally, we reached the end of the tour of the underground palace:
Perhaps we had reached the actual burial area of the 13 Emperors thus it was considered disrespectful for visitors to walk in noisily.
We were to behave as if we were attending a solemn ceremony like that of an Emperor’s funeral procession.
The guide then led us all upstairs.
We were glad to be out in the open air again.
A Breath of Fresh Air
For what it’s worth, the grounds surrounding the tombs are beautiful:
The toddler had the time of his life climbing, running and trudging along the stone path: