Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum Xian

Qianling Museum - Qianling MausoleumQianling Mausoleum is located on Liangshan Hill about 80 kilometers west of Xian. This well preserved mausoleum is the joint tomb of the the Tang dynasty Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian. Empress Wus rise to power is particularly impressive given that she became an Empress in her own right in a society where the highest position a woman could generally hope to obtain was that of concubine.

Tang Emperor Li Zhi (628-683) was the ninth son of Emperor Tai Zong and Empress Zhangsun. With the help of his maternal uncle Zhangsun Wuji, he was made crown prince and ascended the throne upon Tai Zong's death. Though he was muddle-headed and weak-minded and accomplished little, the flourishing and stable state of early Tang was maintained during the first years of his reign, thanks to such veteran officials as Zhangsun Wuji and Chu Suiliang who actually usurped state power. However, once Wu Zetain moved into the palace, things began to change in the Tang regime power structure.

Wu Zetian (624-705), also named Wu Zhao, was from Wenshui, Shanxi Province and born in Guangyuan (then Lizhou), Sichuan. Her father, Wu Shiyue, was a successful wood merchant who was later appointed supervisor-in-chief of Lizhou Prefecture. As a concubine of Tai Zong, Wu Zetian cut her hair and became a Buddhist nun in Ganye Monastery upon his death in 649. In 654, she was taken out of the monastery and brought into the palace by Emperor Gao Zong, who bestowed on her great favor by making her his chief concubine. The next year the Emperor deposed Empress Wang and named Wu Zetian his empress, allowing her to participate in state affairs. He dismissed and ostracized Chu Shuiliang and in 659 forced Zhangsun Wuji to commit suicide. From then on, Li Zhi remained in poor health, "faint, heavy-headed and sightless" as the chronicles described him, and Wu Zetain attended to most court affairs.Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum

Qianling Mausoleum is the most representative among the eighteen Tang-dynasty tombs and the best preserved. It is located on top of Liangshan (Liang Mountain), six kilometers north of Qian County City in Shaanxi Province, around eighty kilometers from Xi an. The scope of the tomb is very large with the precincts of the tomb and gardens totalling an area of 2,400,000 square meters.

On the grounds of the Qianling Tomb, what one mainly sees today are extremely beautiful stone carvings that stand on top of the hill. They are arrayed in a line leading from the 'crimson sparrow gate' to the north and mark the 'way of horses and grooms,' the double line of statues leading up to the tombs.

The first pair of stone carvings are symbolic and indicate that this is a tomb; then come a pair of war steeds and crimson swallows. The steeds have cloud-pattern curling on their haunches, as though they were flying amidst the clouds. The crimson sparrow is depicted using high relief, with strong, beautiful carving. According to legends at the time, this mythical bird was sent as a funeral gift to commemorate the emperor from the king of what is now Afghanistan. It carried the symbolic meanings of both homage and protection, and so was carved into the stone before the tomb.

Next come five pairs of stone horses, on which are carved saddles, stirrups and other equine accouterments. Originally each pair had stone grooms leading them but now only three remain. Behind the horses are ten pairs of retainers waiting on the emperor. They wear tall crowns and have broad-sleeved long robes that are belted at the waist. Their hands hold daggers and they look forbidding as they guard the tomb.

A mural painting in the tomb of Princess Yongtai in the Qianling Tomb.

Qianling Museum - Qianling MausoleumTwo rows of stone stelae come next, with one on the right that is blank: it holds no characters or writing. This was put up on the orders of Empress Wu Zetian just before she died. She noted that her merit surpassed what later people could judge, and so they were not to write anything on the stele. It stands 6.3 meters high, and 2.1 meters wide, 1.49 meters in depth. Another stele, in contrast, holds some 8,000 characters, all of which were inlaid in gold after being carved so that their message could shine out over the empire. The text extols the civilized rule and military power of Emperor Gao Zong.

Behind the stone tablets on the right side of the horses and grooms way is a row of sixty-one stone statues of men. Almost all of their heads have long since been destroyed, but two remain to show us what they once looked like: these men had high noses, deep-set eyes, and were clearly people of Central Asia.

Two stone lions standing before the crimson swallow gate represent the finest works of sculpture at the Qianling Tomb. These are very large and ferocious: with curling fur, protruding eyes, open mouth and sharp teeth, they exhibit all the authority and power of the Tang dynasty.

According to historical documents, a number of accompanying tombs surrounded the Qianling imperial-tomb precinct. These were mostly robbed in antiquity but certain superlative works of art remain that can be seen at this museum. It is well worth a visit.

  • Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum
  • Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum
  • Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum
  • Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum
  • Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum
  • Qianling Museum - Qianling Mausoleum