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Among the first imperial mausoleums archaeologically excavated after 1949 are two Southern Tang mausoleums of the Five Dynasties (907-960), Li Bian's Qinling Mausoleum and Li Jing's Shunling Mausoleum. They were discovered in spring 1950; excavation began in October and concluded in January 1951.
According to historical records, Southern Tang had been ruled by three emperors over a period of 39 years (937-975). Founding emperor was Li Bian, second came Li Jing and third was Li Yu, or Li Houzhu, the last monarch of Southern Tang. Li Houzhu, who went north after surrendering to Northern Song, was buried in the Beimang Mountain, Luoyang. Mausoleums of the other two emperors eluded discovery until clues were found in the chamber of a plundered ancient tomb. Miniature wooden structures and colored paintings suggested the presence of royal tombs. Archaeological excavations showed that the opened tomb was on the side of the two mausoleums of Southern Tang.
Qinling Mausoleum and Shunling Mausoleum are only about 50 meters apart. Situated on Mount Zutang of the Niushou (Cattle-Heads) Mountains in Jiangling County, Nanjing, the two mausoleums are 22 kilometers from Zhonghua Gate, Nanjing, and more than 10 kilometers from liangning County Seat. Backed by high mountains and sheltered on the left and right by ridges and small hills, the two mausoleums are called "Grand Lounge Chair" by the local people. Fronting the highest peak of the Yuntai (Cloud-Wreathed Terrace) Mountain and with the two peaks of the Cattle-Heads Mountains in the background, they have been described as "backed as if by the twin watchtowers above a palace gate, they face the lofty terrace wreathed in clouds."
Surface structures for the two mausoleums have long since disappeared, leaving behind only two mounds. The dilapidated mound of Qinling Mausoleum is about five meters high and 30 meters in diameter. The Shunling Mausoleum, built against a mountain slope, has a mound even smaller than that of Qinling Mausoleum. Remnant earth banks south and southwest of Shunling Mausoleum probably were boundaries of the original mausoleum garden and a terrace inside was probably the foundation of the mausoleum hall. In reclaiming land on the terrace, tenants had unearthed a number of bricks, three plinths, broken tile and white porcelain. Similar to those excavated from the underground palace. It can be guessed, therefore, that the original surface architectures was quite magnificent.
The underground palace of Li Bian's mausoleum is fairly large, 21.8 meters long and 10.5 meters wide. The palace is divided from south to north into front, middle and back main chambers. On both east and west flanks of the front and middle chambers are side chambers and three chambers flank the rear chamber to the east and to the west for a total of 13 chambers in the palace. Facing nearly due south, with a deviation of 9º to the west, the tomb gate has an arched door at the center with corbelled door eaves. The architecture imitates wooden parts, with the arched door featuring whitewashed pillars and brackets covered with color paintings.
The rectangular front chamber is 3.8 meters from east to west, 4.5 meters from north to south and 4.3 meters high. In the center of each of the four walls is an arched door. All the built-in square octagonal pillars, brackets, beam ends and the north wall are whitewashed and covered with color paintings, forming a magnificent, colorful interior.
The middle chamber is similar in design to the front chamber; roughly square in form, it is 4.5 meters from east to west and 4.4 meters from north to south. In the center of each of the east, south and west walls is a round door. Both the southeast corner and the southwest corner have built-in octagonal pillars. The rest replicates the front chamber.
The north walls are built of granite and each end bears a sculpting of a warrior. Between the ends, separating the warriors are piled and plastered square granite slabs, forming a wall which was painted red. Atop the granite walls and the plastered walls are horizontal tablets of granite on which are carved relieves of two dragons playing with a pearl.
With a height of 5.3 meters, the middle chamber is more than a meter higher than the front chamber. Between middle chamber and rear chamber is a passage way 3 meters from east to west and 1.9 meters from north to south, to accommodate an opened stone door to the rear chamber.
The main part of the underground palace, the rear chamber, is largest at 5.9 meters from east to west and 6 meters from north to south. In the center of the south wall is a square double door made of huge granite slabs. Each of the east and west walls has three doors leading to the chambers off the main room. At the center of the chamber is the stone coffin platform, the rear part of which extends into a large niche in the north wall. In each corner of the chamber and on both sides of the doors to side chambers are built-in octagonal pillars. The large pillars extend far enough into the chamber to create room-sized recesses at each end and three nooks on each side, and 12 small niches are built into the walls. Atop the east and west walls, layers of granite blocks overlaid with great rectangular stone slabs form a peaked ceiling. The four walls are deep red; the octagonal and square pillars and brackets are covered with color paintings. The whitewashed ceiling displays a painted map of the celestial bodies while the floor is carved with outlines of rivers; these coincide with descriptions found in the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang: "Above is a representation of the celestial sphere and below is that of the surface of the earth," symbolizing the emperor's possession of all territory under heaven.
Colors used in paintings on pillars, beam ends and brackets in the various chambers of Li Bian's mausoleum are very colorful pigments of azurite, malachite, ochre, cinnabar and others. The designs are mostly peonies, stock roses, lotuses, a type of pomegranate flower and wavy cloud patterns. Of a relatively early date, these have provided important concrete data in research on architectural paintings.
Shunling Mausoleum is the common grave of Li Jing and Empress Zhong. Because Southern Tang had declined by the time Li Jing died, and he had declared himself a vassal of the Later Zhou Dynasty, his mausoleum was much smaller than for Li Bian. The layout of its underground palace is similar to Li Bian's, 21.9 meters long, 10.1 meters wide and divided from south to north into the front, middle and rear chambers. Side rooms open off the east and west flanks of the front and middle chambers, arid two rooms open at each side of the rear chamber, for a total of eleven large and small tomb chambers. Construction of the entire mausoleum is much inferior to Qinling Mausoleum, mostly brick and very little stone. There are fewer color paintings and sculptures than in Qinling Mausoleum and no maps of the celestial bodies and the earth's surface. The rest is similar to Qinling Mausoleum in form and construction.
The two mausoleums of Southern Tang are valuable primarily for the underground palace architecture. In addition, up to 600 large and small cultural artifacts were found in them despite numerous lootings over the centuries. Most valuable are several dozen flat jade pieces of aice unearthed in Li Bian's mausoleum. The inscribed eulogy gives an account of Li Bian's life and burial. Though broken and incomplete, the aice pieces are still informative. They were made by carving and gilding characters on flat jade pieces, with a glittering effect. A jade piece on which are carved the characters "The Tenth Lunar Month of the First Year of the Reign of Bao Da, the New Emperor and Subject Yao," among others, is important historical proof of the identity of this mausoleum. Fewer aice pieces are discovered in Li Jing's mausoleum and are of poorer quality, no longer jade but stone.
Among the unearthed cultural relics are sets of various kinds of pottery figurines, ranging from imperial concubines through courtiers down to palace maids, actors, actresses and guards, a complete roster of a royal court. These exquisitely sculpted figurines, vivid and lifelike, are rare works of art.
A native of Xuzhou, Li Bian was an orphan adopted by Yang Xingmi, prince of the state of Wu, in the chaos of war. Later, he became the adopted son of Xu Wen, Prime Minister of the state of Wu, and was renamed Xu Zhigao. After Xu Wen had died, he took power in Wu and was made prince of the state of Qi. In the 3rd year (937) of the reign Tian Zuo he formally proclaimed himself emperor at Jingling, titled his dynasty Great Qi and changed the reign title to Sheng Yuan. Three years later he resumed his surname Li and changed his dynasty title to Tang, which history knows as Southern Tang. Its territory comprising a greater part of modern Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, the whole of Jiangxi and a part of Fujian provinces, the state of Southern Tang was relatively large and rich among the Ten States of the Five Dynasties period. During the years of his reign as emperor, he stressed agricultural production, encouraging and rewarding farming and weaving and developed a comparatively stable rule, with the capital, Jingling, enjoying a fair degree of prosperity. Evidence of these can be seen from the architecture of his mausoleum and its unearthed cultural relics. But, once he was gone, the situation steadily deteriorated to the time of the last monarch, who abandoned himself to dissipation until he finally lamented. "Oh, lost country, the moon is bright; I can't bear to look back."
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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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