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Maoling Mausoleum of Emperor Wu Di of the Hang Dynasty (206 BC- AD 220)

In 202 BC, Liu Bang (256 BC-195 BC) defeated Xiang Yu (232 BC-202 BC) and set up the Western Han imperial court (206 BC-AD 24), founding its capital at Chang'an, with magnificent city walls and numerous palaces and halls constructed. Chang'an became the very center of the country, and the busiest city for international exchanges.

Carved stone image of Emperor Gao Zu (Liu Bang) of the Han Dynasty


According to burial system regulations in the Western Han Dynasty, construction of a huge tomb for the emperor should begin in the second year of his reign. Each year, one third of the royal revenue was allocated for construction of the tomb. The mausoleum built during the emperor's lifetime was known as "longevity tomb." It was said that the mausoleum occupied a land area of 7 qing (a unit of area equal to 6.667 hectares), of which the tomb mound covered 1 qing. The mound was 12 zhang (a unit of length equal to 3 1/3 meters) high and 13 zhang deep. The tomb chamber, 1.7 zhang high, was reached through four tomb passages, each of which was wide enough to allow a cart &'awn by six horses to move through. In addition, swords and crossbows were concealed behind the four inlets of the tomb chamber to guard against thieves and looters. With each side 100 paces (about 80 meters) long, the tomb pit contained six horse drawn carts, figures of tigers, leopards, and other animals; gold, silver and other precious objects; silk, cloth and grain; and other daily necessities.


The dead emperor had a piece of chan jade in mouth, and was wrapped in "jade clothes sewn with gold thread."


Tombs of emperors in the Han Dynasty were marked by earth mounds packed into square shapes with level tops. Tombs from that time are called fangshang for their square shapes.


The mausoleum contained bed-chambers, sitting halls and temples for the offering of sacrifices to gods or ancestors, and other structures and residences housing several thousand persons, such as those in charge of the tomb, mausoleum officials, entrance guards, tomb guards, gardeners and cleaners. At that time the regulation stipulated that "sacrificial offerings would be placed separately in bed chambers, temples and sitting halls every month, every day and even every hour."


Since the early Western Han Dynasty there had taken place a large-scale removal of merited personnel and high officials, their kith and kin and families to Changling to protect Emperor Wu Di's tomb. Changling County was set up in the north of the mausoleum.


The practice of setting up counties around the locations of imperial tombs was handed down for several dynasties, so that new and prosperous cities and "tomb" counties emerged one after the other, including Changling County of Emperor Gao Zu (Liu Bang). Anling County of Emperor Hui Di (Liu Yin, 194 BC-188 BC, Yangling County of Emperor Jing Di (Liu Qi, 156 BC-141 BC), Pingling County of Emperor Zao Di (Liu Foling, 86 BC-74 BC) and Emperor Wu Di (Liu Che, 140 BC-87 BC).


Therefore, the present city of Xianyang where the five tombs above-mentioned were built was originally called Wulingyuan (the garden complex of five tombs).


Rich and powerful fathers, their sons and younger brothers popularized cockfighting and horseracing, and committed crimes in these tomb city areas. "Rich men wanted to get benefits from merchants whilst persons of exceptional ability wanted to have leisure time and commit adultery." So, later on, the term "five mausoleum youngsters" became a synonym for profligate sons of the rich.


Located in the area of Duima of Weibei Highland, nine kilometers northeast of Xingping County and 40 kilometers from Xi'an, Maoling, the mausoleum of Emperor Wu Di is most known as the largest of the five mausoleums. The book Illustrated Records of Scenic Spots in Central Shaanxi explained that "All Han mausoleums are 12 zhang high and 120 paces (approx 96 meters) wide. However, the Maoling is 14 zhang high and 140 paces (approx 112 meters) wide." A current actual measurement shows that Maoling is 46.5 meters high, 39.5 meters from east to west, 35.5 meters from north to south on the top and 240 meters long at the base of the tomb. These measurements tally basically with historical records. Emperor Wu Di's mausoleum is the most westerly of the five Western Han tombs.

The Maoling, mausoleum of Han Emperor Wu Di at Xingping, Shaanxi Province


Emperor Wu Di was the fifth ruling monarch of the Western Han Dynasty, going by the name Liu Che (156 BC-87 BC). Until he was nearly seventy years old, he had reigned for 50 years (140 BC-87 BC), being one of the longest-reigning emperors in China's history. During the reign of Emperor Wu Di, the Han Dynasty was at the height of its power and splendor. To consolidate power over the unified feudal states, he adopted a series of political, economic, and military measures. To strengthen and consolidate the autocratic centralized ruling system, he further weakened the practices of granting hereditary ranks, changed procedures for appointment of governors in provinces, and changed the imperial examination system. Iron smelting, salt boiling and minting industries were brought under state management, with laws and regulations promulgated to establish state control over transport and various trades as a method of accumulating income. Meanwhile, as a measure for increased farm production and lightening the burden on the people Daitian Provisions were also issued.


Emperor Wu Di also saw to it that his armed forces were further strengthened in defending the territory of the Han Dynasty and preventing it from encroachment by Xiongnu (Huns) from the north. To promote economic and cultural exchanges between the Chinese people and peoples of Central Asia, he opened the trade route from Gansu Corridor to Central Asian countries.


Zhang Qian (?-114 BC) was one most known among those going on mission to the Western Regions in the third year of Emperor Wu Di's reign (138 BC). He spent thirteen years on the mission, bringing with him minority nationalities' music and musical instruments, superior species of horse steeds, and more than a dozen species of trees, plants and crop strains, including lucerne, grape, walnut and broad bean pomegranate. These had improved the economy of the Han Dynasty. Under the rule of Emperor Wu Di, the Han Dynasty gained power, prosperity and stability, providing a period of development for the country in ancient history.


In the second year of the Jian Yuan reign (139 BC), that is the second year after Emperor Wu Di was enthroned, he began to build the mausoleum for himself, starting a 53-year project. When he died, trees planted on his tomb mound had trunks so thick a man could barely put his arms around one. This illustrates some of the detail ot preparing Emperor Wu Di's Maoling Mausoleum over half a century. The History of the Han Dynasty recorded that the coffin chamber of Maoling was packed with money and treasures and so many figurines of birds, animals, fish, soft-shelled turtles and figurines of oxen, horses, tigers and leopards that there was no room for additional items by the time Emperor Wu Di died.


It can be imagined what great suffering was brought to the people by the building of the mausoleum under Emperor Wu Di.


While the tomb was under construction, Maoxiang Township was changed into Maoling County and some 270,000 rich and powerful people moved there from various parts of China. It was during that time that Sima Qian, a well-known historian in China moved from Xiayang to Maoling.


At the end of the Western Hah Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), the Red Eyebrows Army (because their brows were painted red as a mark of identification) occupied Chang'an and took away gold and silver and numerous other treasures from the tomb. However, vandalization had already taken place before the Red Eyebrows opened the tomb.


With high walls packed with earth, Maoling was a large mausoleum surrounded by a park. According to surveys, the walls of the tomb formed a square, 400 meters along each side. The tomb mound narrowed to a flat top from a larger base in a trapezoidal form symbolizing solemnity and stability. Buildings were erected both inside and outside the mausoleum. Residences of high officials formed the innermost ring around the tomb of Emperor Wu Di while large numbers of rich and powerful people were located outside. Out palaces, bed-halls and residential structures for maids and tomb guards packed the mausoleum. Tomb magistrate, attendant official, bed-temple magistrate, tomb chief, entrance guard and other official titles were bestowed. Service to the mausoleum required some 5,000 gardeners and cleaners who also lived on the grounds.


Construction material remains from the time of the Western Han Dynasty can still be found in the ruins of the Maoling complex and in nearby rural areas. Since 1949, hollow bricks engraved or painted with unique geometric patterns and "four deities" designs (namely, green dragon, white tiger, rose finch and spirit of water) and tiles with cloud and character patterns have often been found, as have pottery water pipelines, construction ruins and rock-covered passages. Common bricks and tiles made in the Han Dynasty can be found nearly everywhere around the mausoleum. Moreover, small pottery figurines have been unearthed in the area, all of which are lifelike sculptures from the Western Han Dynasty.

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