About 30 km west of Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, in the eastern foothills of the Helan mountain range, mounds made from the loess soil in different sizes rise up from a 50-square-km flatland. These are the mausoleums of the Western Xia kings, reputed to be the "Pyramids in the Orient".
The cone-shaped earth mounds are the most direct relics on the ground that tell the history of the Western Xia Kingdom which disappeared nearly 800 years ago.
In 1038, the Dangxiang tribe, under the leadership of Li Yuanhao, established the Xia Kingdom, with its capital being built in a place where Yinchuan now stands. Since it was located in northwest China, especially to the west of the Yellow River, it has gone down in history as the "Western Xia."
The Western Xia Kingdom first came into confrontation with the Northern Song Dynasty and the Liao Kingdom, and then with the Southern Song Dynasty and Kin Kingdom. Later, it was destroyed by Mongolian troops led by Genghis Khan. Ten kings ruled over it during 189 years of its existence.
There are no official records about the kingdom, so people describing it usually have to use such terms as mysterious and enigmatic. Historiographers of the Yuan Dynasty compiled the Song History, Liao History and Kin History, but left no works on the Western Xia.
The Twenty-Four Histories, thought to be the most important collection of history books in ancient times, mentioned nothing of the Western Xia. That a few primitive materials were plundered and carried away by Russian and British explorers at the beginning of the last century further added to the hardships for Chinese study of the Western Xia.
The Western Xia was once a valiant kingdom covering the whole Ningxia, most of Gansu and parts of Qinghai, Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi. It had created unique and brilliant culture, which was recorded in the travel notes of Marco Polo, who praised the camel haircloth produced there as "the most beautiful" in the world.
However, everything about its culture, buildings, and even the nation itself, seemed to disappear in one night. History books show that the Dangxiang tribe defeated the Mongolian armies six times. Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongolians, even made the complete destruction of the Western Xia his dying wish. As a result, the Mongolian troops lured the last king of the Western Xia into surrendering and then killed all the imperial family and people from the Dangxiang tribe. They destroyed the dead kings' resting places and a large number of ancient books and records and cultural relics.
Having been the center of the Western Xia Kingdom, present day Ningxia boasts the most relics from it, one of which is the Mausoleum area, extending five km from east to west and 10 km from north to south. Now it has been confirmed that there are nine mausoleums and 208 subordinate tombs, but the identity of their occupants remain uncertain.
The mausoleums all lie in the north, facing south, each having an area of over 100,000 square meters. What exist today are only bare tombs made of earth. All other buildings have been destroyed, and tablets and brick sculptures broken. People may pick up fragments of glazed tile or blue brick where the octagonal tower-shaped mausoleums once stood.
When people stand in this open and tranquil wildness, faced by the loess mounds and broken walls, they often feel as if time has stood still and they are back in a remote period of history. Now the mausoleums have been designated as a scenic spot, to be carefully maintained and developed. A museum has been established, and a folk custom garden is being planned, where people will find programs related to Western Xia history and culture such as horse-riding and shooting.