East of Beijing
The Eastern Qing Tombs
(Daily ; ¥90; three hrs).
The Qing dynasty tombs are unusually divided between two locales, equidistant to the east and west of Beijing, but the Eastern Tombs at Zunhua, 100 miles from the capital, are the more impressive. While only a paltry three of the 13 Ming tombs are open, the Qing tombs offer access to the burial compounds of all five emperors interred here as well as those of several empresses, including the notorious Empress Dowager, Cixi.
The mausoleums are grander and better preserved than their Ming counterparts, but see fewer visitors and, if you have time for a full day-trip, the Qing tombs offer a more rewarding experience.
Some History: The Changduan mountain location was selected by the first Qing emperor, Shunzhi, for its excellent fengshui and his son, Kangxi followed in his footsteps. But the next emperor, Yongzheng, chose to be entombed over a hundred miles away on the other side of Beijing.
It isn’t completely clear why he made such a decision, but he spent much of his rule trying to justify his legitimate succession and it probably had something to do with his wish to avoid the afterlife anger of his ancestors. In any case, two of China’s most famous emperors, Kangxi and Qianlong, are buried here, as is the Old Buddha, the Empress
Dowager Cixi. The tombs were well-maintained by Manchus brought to the region specifically for the purpose, but after the collapse of the Qing, some of the tombs were plundered by the northern warlord, Sun Dianying. Today the site is protected again but you can still descend into Qianlong and Cixi’s opened tombs.
Visiting the Tombs: Qianlong’s tomb, Yuling, has a grandeur befitting a man who ruled the country for nearly 60 years and is a three-chambered affair 65 feet below ground, covered in exquisite Buddhist carvings inscribed in Sanskrit and Tibetan. Cixi’s doorbell-sounding mausoleum, Dingdongling, was re-built, as she wasn’t happy with the original, and while the burial chamber itself is less impressive than Qianlong’s, the tomb features the usual lavish exuberance associated with her, including a goldthreaded mattress.
Getting to the Qing Tombs: The easiest way to get here is by taxi (around ¥800 for the day-trip), but if you haven’t got the cash to splash you can take the subway to Sihui station, walk a little south and take a bus to Zunhua, from where a taxi should cost ¥10 to the site.