Qian Tomb [乾陵]
Qian County [乾县], Shaanxi [陕西], PRC
50 miles NW of Xi'an [西安]
Jun 2, 2005

The Eighteen Imperial Tang Tombs [关中十八陵]

To the north of the Wei River [渭河] and across the banks of the Jing River [泾河] lie 18 tombs of the Tang emperors. These tombs fan out a range of 150 km (94 miles) with Xi'an [西安] as the supporting point. Nineteen of the twenty-one emperors of the Tang dynasty [618-907] are buried here, with the impressive Qian Tomb as the only burial site of two emperors --- Tang Gaozong [唐高宗] (628-683) and his wife, the indomitable Wu Zetian [武则天] (624-705) --- in Chinese history. Each imperial tomb is surrounded by a number of lesser tombs which are the resting sites of the princes, princesses, and chief administration officials, all associated with the buried emperor.

Four of the eighteen tombs are man-made hills standing out on the Guanzhong Plain [关中平原]. The most representative of this group is Xian Ling (Xian Tomb) [献陵], where the first Tang emperor Gaozu [唐高祖] (566-635) is buried. The remaining fourteen tombs were constructed to take advantage of natural terrains. A downward tunnel starts half-way from the top of a mountain and extends to its base, where the coffin lies. Heavy fortification with a series of stone gates and walls inside the tunnel plus camouflage of trees outside its entrance make any attempt to access the tomb a tremendous task.

Among the eighteen tombs, the Zhao Ling (Zhao Tomb) [昭陵] complex is the largest with a perimeter of 60 km. The tomb belongs to Taizong [唐太宗] (598-649), the actual founder of the Tang dynasty and its second emperor, an outstanding military strategist, and arguably the most open-minded ruler in ancient China. The Qian Tomb [乾陵] at the western end of the 150km stretch, shared by Gaozong [唐高宗] and his wife, empress Wu Zetian [武则天], is the second largest complex with a perimeter of 40km. The third largest is the Tai Tomb [泰陵] with an enclosure of 38 km. Lying at the eastern end of the strech, it is the burial site of Xuanzong [唐玄宗] (685-762), under whom the feudal China reached its most prosperous period -- the High Tang [盛唐].


Shape of Qian Tomb [乾陵之形似女皇]

Viewed from the distance, the mountainside mausoleum of emperor Gaozong and empress Wu Zetian takes the shape of a sleeping beauty believed to resembe Wu herself. Deep below the "head" of the beauty lies the actual tomb. The shorter side of the mountain extension represents her hair while the longer side represents her body with two peaks said to bear "uncanny resemblance" to her bosom. Historical documents reveal that the empress had conducted a vast search before choosing Mount Liangshan [梁山] as the burial site for her husband Gaozong, and later, for herself.

The Imperial Way [司马道] starting from the foot of Mount Liang [梁山] and leading up to its top (ht. 1047m). Yet to be excavated, the Qian Tomb lies in the interior of the mountain.

ostrich on one side of the Imprerial Way Weng Zhong [翁仲], a traditional figure guarding tombs whose origin was based on a general from the Qin dynasty (248-207 BC). Stele about emperor Gaozhong [唐高宗述圣纪碑] introduction to the tablet

The Wordless Stele [武则天无字碑] ordered to set up by empress Wu Zetian herself. A highly successful and yet controversial figure (being the only female emperor in history), Wu wisely left the judgement on her political achievement to later generations and dynasties.

tablet marking the Qian Tomb (which lies hundreds of meters below) Sixth-one foreign kings and tribe leaders [六十一蕃臣] paying tribute to the emperor Gaozong and empress Wu Zetian. All heads were stolen for their artistic values. second group of kings
vague inscription on the back side of a stone figure showing "King of ...". inappropriate pose Breast Peaks [乳峰] said to represent the breasts of empress Wu Zetian. “请看今日之域中,竟是谁家之天下?” (骆宾王)

Tomb of Prince Yide [懿德太子墓]

On the periphery of the Qian Mausoleum, this tomb is the burial site of Prince Yide [懿德], the eldest son of emperor Zhongzong [唐中宗] and the grandson of emperor Gaozhong and empress Wu Zetian. The tomb was excavated from July 1971 to May 1972 and found to have an underground tunnel of 100.8 m leading to a palace where the prince's stone coffin rests.

the 100m-long underground tunnel looking back at the entrance mural on the walls of the tunnel depicting ladies of Tang dynasty mural showing a Tang official event


Yan-Bin Jia