In Search of the Orphan

The Ding Ling Tombs

August 6, 2012

Having walked up the Spirit Way, we arrive at the Ding Ling tombs. The Wan Li emperor's tomb was excavated back in the 1950s, and today you can visit the mysterious underground palace, buried under a wooded hillside.

The emperor himself designed this chilly damp marble mausoleum, with several interconnecting chambers.

The walls drip with condensation and the crowds are herded through the echoing grey halls past the red lacquer coffins, and the three marble dragon thrones of the emperor and his two empresses.

Niki busily takes photographs for reference and I ponder about the life of this unhappy man whom the Chinese regard as a profligate, responsible for the downfall of the Ming dynasty.

Many of his fabulous treasures were discovered in here, including his threaded gold crown, decorated with dragons. Other burial objects included porcelain urns and yellow glazed incense burners, as well as golden basins and gilded utensils.

There were staggering gems, jewelled coronets and hairpins encrusted with jasper and jade, pearls and rubies.There were even rich fabrics, satin brocades and silks embroidered with winding peonies, and curling phoenix. But the excavations were done too hurriedly and most of the fabrics rotted and disintegrated when exposed to air and light.

Then, in the mid -1960's, during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard broke not the site and dragged out the corpses of the Wan Li emperor and his concubines, and denounced their bodies as traitors to the people, in front of the tombs, before burning them. Since then none of the other tombs have been opened. You can only imagine what sort of treasures they might contain.

There is an exhibition of some of the objects retrieved from the tomb in one of the halls in the courtyard of the tomb. Some of the fabrics have been restored, and you can see just how sumptuous the emperor's court must have been.

There is a catalogue of all the objects on sale in the shop, which I decide to buy: great reference for Alistair McArthur, our head of wardrobe, and his team to pore over.

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet


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