Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Tour: Day 2 08.04.10 13 Ming Tombs, Great Wall at Mutianyu

statue of Emperor Zhu Di and his tomb gate

the Sacred Way leading to the tomb site flanked by stone guardians

Emperor Zhu Di's tomb complex is the biggest at the Ming dynasty tomb site northwest of Beijing. The site was initially chosen for its location south of the Tiansu mountain range, guarded on each side by the Tiger and Dragon hills which sit at the foot of the Sacred Way, a long promenade, which the Emperor would have to walk on his on steam to pay his respects, lined with significant guardian statues leading from the entrance gate to the tombs. Emperor Zhu Di was the third emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) and is one of the most well known for his construction of the Forbidden City and Summer Palace in Beijing. He was an impressive ruler but was also a ruthless man. It is a recurring desire of every emperor, as they are believed to be a mortal god having received the Mandate of Heaven, that they be immortalised in the magnificent buildings and monuments they leave behind. Sacrifices of animals and women were ritually performed to bring better fortune to the productivity of the country and the prevention of natural disasters, seen as the acts of the gods. The emperors would attend the temples at times of harvest making, rice planting and significant changes of season to pay their respects to their ancestors and pray for good rainfall and good fortune and happiness. The emperors, although having ascended the throne through lineage customs, could be usurped by a farmer bent on reform and a desire for power. This happened at the end of the Ming era when the weak emperor was overthrown by one of his lowly subjects. His success as ruler did not last however, because, as history reveals, the Manchurian warriors from the north invaded, and the emperor took his own life. The Manchus managed to break through the Great Wall that bordered the north of China and moved southwards fighting their way into power of the great country and forming the Qing dynasty. They followed the age old ruling customs of the Chinese imperial system and reigned up until 1911, as one of the most important dynasties in Chinese history. The Great Wall was built at three different time periods under different rulers. The first was during the Han (206 BC - 220) when the building period lasted for the entirety of the dynasty. The majority of these earliest undertakings are now lost to the sands of the desert. The later parts remain virtually intact and the 6km stretch at Mutianyu, 2.5 hours drive north of Beijing is maintained and repaired for visiting. We're immediately impressed by the engineering required to traverse the steep sided mountains and valleys. The route of the wall descends in one direction and backs on itself to ascend in another. Arms break off at right angles with watchtowers and a line of beacon towers can just be made out in the distance on the mountain tops to warn the soldiers ready at the wall about any potential invaders. Each section of the wall is, on average, 100m long with a watchtower on each end which doubled as sleeping quarters for the thirty or more soldiers who manned that section. The wall formed a successful line of defence for many years but was scaled and broken through by the Manchus in the 17th century. As we walk along the stone path flanked by low walls we contemplate that even though the wall is, on average, 10-12 m high and manned by thirty guards on each section, if a battalion of mounted Manchu warriors with spears and determination wanted to defeat the wall they could probably kill the soldiers on top quite easily and scale the height using ropes, breaking through with battering rams and dismantle it.