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Qianling Mausoleum

The Qianling Mausoleum is located along the northern edge of 400-square-kilometer Qinchuan Plain in central Shaanxi Province, where 19 emperors of the Tang Dynasty were buried in 18 mausoleums. The Qianling Mausoleum, lying 76 kilometers in the Liangshan Mountains in Qianxian County, Xianyang, north of Xi'an, is the only tomb shared by two emperors and its environs look like a sleeping woman from afar.

Because of Wu Zetian's unusual experiences and great achievements, the mausoleum's unusual topographical features make it all the more mysterious. Construction of the mausoleum began in 683 and lasted nearly 30 years. On the surface, there used to be 378 elegant winding corridors and halls. All have disappeared with the passage of time. At present, the most conspicuous relics are 103 large stone sculptures lining the passageway that leads to the mausoleum. Known as a museum of stone sculptures, they include tablets as well as statues of generals, civil officials, the heads of ethnic minorities, foreign kings, princes, and envoys.

Dedicated to Wu Zetian (624-705, reigned 690-705), the tablet is made of a single stone piece weighing 98.8 tons. With a height of 7.5 meters, it has no carved characters when it was erected. Emperors liked erecting tablets with articles eulogizing their achievements. There are two explanations about why Wu Zetian had a wordless tablet erected. One is that Wu Zetian considered her achievements were beyond the description of any high-sounding and errors to be judged by later generations rather than by herself and her courtiers.

With different costumes, positions and weapons, the 61 stone statues show the strength of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and people from afar come to show their respects. History books do not record why the statues lost their heads. However, legend has it that the son of a statue was very unhappy to see his father standing in front of Wu Zetian's Mausoleum to show respect for the dead empress and came up with an idea. One evening, he ruined the crops in the fields nearby and spread rumors that the statues had turned into evil spirits, which destroyed the crops. Local peasants believed what he said and cut off the statues' heads. After the collapse of the Tang Dynasty, most of its imperial mausoleums were robbed. But robbers from different dynasties tried in vain to rob the Qianling Mausoleum. When robbers started their work, it was said that there was heavy rain, harsh wind and flying stones, which frightened away the superstitious robbers.

As the Tang Dynasty was one of the most thriving periods in Chinese history, experts believe that the archaeological findings might yields what could be called the ninth wonder in the world as the Qianling Mausoleum is opened one day. They believe the archaeological discoveries in the mausoleum might be as important as, and even more important than that of the terracotta warriors and horses. Included in the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization List of World Heritage, the terracotta warriors and horses of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, are accredited (hailed) as the eighth Wonder of the World.

The Tang imperial cemetery extends some 50 kilometers from Lianshan Hill in the west to Jinsu Hill in the east. For more than 1,000 years, these tombs representing imperial power and dignity often made people recall the most brilliant period of Chinese feudal society. The Qianling Mausoleum, speculated as the grandest, is the joint tomb of Emperor Gaozong (Li Zhi, 628-683, the third emperor of the Tang Dynasty) and his empress Conscort Wu Zetiang the first and only female emperor in Chinese history. Experts believe that there are very rich and valuable treasures in the mausoleum.

According to "Records of the Holy Deeds of Emperor Gaozong," the emperor asked in his last words to have his favorite calligraphy and paintings buried in his tomb. From 1960 to 1971, Chinese archaeologists excavated five imperial tombs around Qianling and found more than 4,000 rare cultural relics. Because Chang'an (today's Xian) was China's most open city at that time, and may also find treasures from Western countries in the tomb. Archaeologists found that although the treasures have been in the tomb for more than 1,000 years, they remain untouched, because the tomb's structure has stopped grave robbers.

Archaeological prospecting proved that the tomb passage, from the entrance to the tomb gate, was built of rectangular stone blocks layer upon layer, 39 in all. Each layer of the stone blocks was fastened together with iron bolts and all the crevices between two layers of stone blocks were filled with molten lead. It was too difficult to open the tomb under the conditions in the past. And there were no holes found around the tomb, and the stone blocks and rammed earth along tomb passages remain untouched as when the emperor and empresses were buried.

In 1950, Shaanxi's archaeologists finally found the tomb passage after a lot of hard work, and in April 1960, the province organized experts to excavate the passage and make a careful preparation for the opening of the Qianling Mausoleum. The central government did not meet with the requirements of protection. Over the last 50-odd years, local archaeologists excavated many important ancient cultural spots in Shaanxi, including the accompanying tombs of Emperor Qinshihuang, where archaeologists discovered the terracotta warriors and horses, underground storehouse of Famen Temple and Mausoleum of Qin Gong.

The researchers in the world have not yet found the best ways to protect the ancient murals, silk, paper, and lacquer wares. The relics buried underneath from more than 1,000 years are usually well kept because the environment within the tombs is balanced out with little oxygen and disturbance from other organisms. Archaeological excavations break off the ecological balance suddenly within a tomb and bring in oxygen, light and other matters that destroy the relics in a couple of hours.

During the excavation of the underground storehouse of the Famen Temple, researchers had no way of dealing with the rolls of ancient silks, which stuck together and whose color began to darken immediately after the silks were exposed to light and air. As a result, the silks are still stored in a refrigerator underground. Some people fear that the excavation of the Qianling Mausoleum will actually open a "Pandora's Box," which will start a new wave of diggings and damage ancient Chinese heritage.

Qianling is encircled by many satellite tombs which belong to the princes, princess, officers and concubines of the emperors in the Tang Dynasty. The Qianling Museum was also built in the Qianling Mausoleum Scenic Area for housing the excavations from the tombs. Tourists can choose to visit these great tombs and places when explore the Qianling Mausoleum.

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