Located in Zunhua, Hebei Province in China, the Eastern Qing Tombs are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 125 kilometres (78 miles) northeast of Beijing, the tombs are known to be the biggest, most complete and best preserved of all existing mausoleum complexes in China today.
An aerial view of the Imperial Eastern Qing Tombs
Covering 80 square kilometres (31 square miles) and surrounded by the Changrul, Jinxing, Huanghua, and Yingfei Daoyang Mountains, the complex includes the tombs of:
Emperor Shunzhi (1638 – 1661), the 3rd Qing Emperor
Emperor Kangxi (1654 – 1722), the 4th Qing Emperor
Emperor Qianlong (1711 – 1799), the 5th Qing Emperor
Emperor Xiafeng (1831 – 1861) the 9th Qing Emperor
Emperor Tongzhi (1856 – 1875) the 10th Qing Emperor
136 imperial concubines
A map depicting the Imperial Eastern Qing Tombs
An ancient stone arch structure
Statues line the spirit road
The spirit road is an important feature throughout all the tombs
1. Xiaoling: The Tomb of Emperor Shunzhi
The tomb at the centre of the complex is known as Xiaoling, the first tomb to be built here. This is where Emperor Shunzhi is buried, together with Empress Xiao Kang Zhang (the mother of Emperor Kangxi), and Imperial Noble Donggo (consort of Emperor Shunzhi, who was posthumously bestowed the title of Empress). The other tombs within the complex mirror the pattern laid out by the central Xiaoling tomb. This layout consists of a spirit road (an ornate road leading to the tomb, with statues and pillars along its route), palaces and offering kitchens. The spirit road at Xiaoling is the most elaborate and includes archways, decorative gates, halls, statues and various bridges, carved with dragon and phoenix designs. The palace section includes halls of various sizes, areas for court officials, various government buildings, ornate gates, memorial towers, stone altar pieces, a precious citadel and even an underground palace. The offerings kitchen, located to the left of the palace section, consists of kitchens where sacrificial food was cooked, and warehouses to store the offerings.
2.0 Yuling: The Tomb of Emperor Qianlong
The tomb of Emperor Qianlong is perhaps the most beautiful of all imperial tombs throughout Chinese history, and includes a series of nine vaults that are separated by four solid marble doors. The marble gates, walls and vaulted ceilings are all carved or painted with Buddhist images such as the 24 Buddhas, the Eight Bodhisattvas, the Four Heavenly Kings, and more than 30,000 words of Tibetan and Sanskrit scripture. The solid marble doors, themselves carved with reliefs of various Bodhisattvas and the Four Heavenly Kings, weigh a staggering 3-tonnes each.
Entrance to the Tomb of Emperor Qianlong and the spirit road lined with statues leading to the tomb
3.0 Ding Dongling: The Tomb of Empress Dowager Cixi
One of the most luxuriously decorated, this tomb includes numerous halls, three of which are embellished with gold-coloured paintings, gilded dragons and carved stone rails. All over the exterior are reminders of the Forbidden City, including corner spouts on the terrace carved as dragons. The interior features are painted in gold on dark wood, in remembrance of the building in which the Empress Dowager spent the last years of her life.
4.0 Zhaoxiling: The Tomb of Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang
Located to the east of the spirit road leading to Emperor Shunzhi’s final resting place, this tomb houses the remains of his mother. The Empress Dowager was thought to have played a key role in consolidating authority during the early Qing Dynasty. At first, the tomb was constructed as a resting hall under the direction of Emperor Kangxi, who was her grandson. But Emperor Yongzheng had it converted into a mausoleum in 1725.
5.0 Jingling: The Tomb of Emperor Kangxi
Although Emperor Kangxi is possibly the greatest of the Qing emperors, his tomb is surprisingly modest. However, when considering his character, this is very much in keeping with his humble attitude. He did, in fact, decree that his tomb should be humble and simple. The spirit road, one of the most significant features of Jingling, contains a graceful five-arch bridge and there are guardian figures close to the tomb itself, which are more decorated than those of the earlier tombs in the area. Emperor Kangxi’s tomb also mirrors his deep faith in the Buddhas and Buddhist teachings. The walls of his tomb are carved with images of the 35 Confessional Buddhas and other Buddhist deities. The construction of Jingling began in 1676 and ended in 1681. Emperor Kangxi had set strict rules for how the tomb should be built and used. This included the proclamation that if the empress died before he did, that she would be buried first but that the door of the underground palace would remain open until the emperor himself was buried. This was in contrast to the usual procedure which would ensure that the doors of the tomb would be shut as soon as the intended occupant was interred. Emperor Kangxi’s tomb has since become a pilgrimage site for practitioners of the Buddhist faith, owing to his great patronage of the Dharma and the fact that he is considered to be an emanation of Manjushri and a reincarnation of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen. Up to this day, offerings of khatas can be seen draped over his tomb in front of his portrait.
While so many other rulers throughout history have only thought of themselves, Emperor Kangxi lived his life focused on the welfare of his country. During his reign, peace, harmony, prosperity, literary development and patronage of the Dharma was outstanding, the likes of which have rarely been seen in the world since. His achievements stem from his expert rule of the country, his compassionate attitude and his hard work ethic. He was so beloved by his people that those who lived during his time credited the Kangxi Emperor in their stories, writings, poetry and folk lore, which has since been passed down through the generations. All in all, Emperor Kangxi ruled according to the Buddhist teachings of love, kindness, tolerance, wisdom and hard work. It was during his reign that religion, art, literature, culture and science flourished throughout the Qing Empire. And it is a testament of his political astuteness, scholarship and selflessness that even until the present day, the people of China still continue to regard him as one of the greatest emperors to have ever ruled China.
A map showing the locations of the various tombs. Jingling lies on the right.
A map of the tombs. The tomb of Emperor Kangxi is highlighted in red.
The layout of the tomb
An aerial view of Jingling taken using laser camera technology
The tomb of Emperor Kangxi