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Imperial Mausoleums of the Song Dynasty (960-1279)

The imperial tombs of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), the Song Mausoleums, are in western Gongxian County, Henan Province. Except for Emperor Hui Zong, named Zhao Ji (1082-1135), and Qin Zong, named Zhao Huan (1100-1161), who, in the second year of the Jingkang reign (1127), were taken prisoner by the Kin forces and died in captivity in what is present-day Yilan County, Heilongjiang Province, the rest of the nine emperors of Northern Song were all buried here.


They are emperors Tai Zu (Zhao Kuangyin), Tai Zong (Zhao Guangyi), Zhen Zong (Zhao Heng), Ren Zong (Zhao Zhen), Ying Zong (Zhao Shu), Shen Zong (Zhao Xu) and Zhe Zong (Zhao Xu).


The seven mausoleums, plus that of Zhao Hongyin, father of founding Song Emperor Zhao Kuangyin, are popularly known as the Eight Mausoleums of Seven Emperors.


The Northern Song Dynasty founded its capital at Kaifeng but had its mausoleum area built in Gongxian County, 130 kilometers away. The location had beautiful scenery, excellent soil texture, low water level and good features from the geomantic perspective. All were favorable to the digging of deep coffin pits and elaborate burials; moreover, stone hills are numerous there, providing raw materials for stone sculpting. Designs of the eight mausoleums are generally alike, each mausoleum occupying an area of more than 120 mu (8 hectares) with a fairly large tomb terrace.

Terrace and stone sculptures at Songling, tombs of the Song Dynasty in Gongyi City, Henan


Surrounding the tomb terrace were four walls; inside the wall corners were four watchtowers; at the center of each wall was a spirit gate; outside each of the east, north and west spiritual gates were pairs of stone lions.


Arranged along the flanks of the spirit path on a line outside the south spirit gate are rows of majestic stone sculptures. Counted from the alter in front of the mausoleum southwards (moving outward from the gate) are pairs of chuanlu (a minister who transmitted the decrees of an emperor and an empress), zhendian (a general who guarded the imperial mausoleum), lions in a running posture, courtiers, sheep, tigers, horses held by stable boys, unicorns, screens with carved phoenixes, elephants with keepers and pillars. These stone statues and the stone lions guarding the other three gates are finely sculpted, demonstrating that Song Dynasty stone sculptures had gradually discarded a pronounced mythical air and begun to display a sense of real life.


These reflected the artistic creativity of Song Dynasty laboring people and the unified system of stone sculpture of the Northern Song period. The Northern Song sculptures of the early period were rather coarsely carved, similar to Tang Dynasty style. Beginning from the middle period of the Song Dynasty, the sculptings become more and more exquisite and refined.


The Yongxi Mausoleum is an example. The sculpted human figures are vivid in expression and social status is truthfully depicted. For example, the eunuchs are full checked, broad of forehead, reverent and respectful, holding the horsetail whisks, very carefully awaiting the emperor's call; the chuanlu, with square faces and large ears, are immaculately dressed with one hand hanging down, the other on their chests, concentrating their attention awaiting imperial orders; the zhendian generals, holding swords, helmeted and armored, round faced and large-eyed, gaze ahead militantly. Sculptors mostly favored, smooth, round carvings, supplemented by level, straight segments.

Stone figure

Stone figure

Stone sculptures at Songling

Stone sculpture at Songling


Stone animals are also lifelike and spirited. The pair of lions in a running posture, with curly hair and sharp claws, wide-open mouths and glaring eyes, are ferocious; two saddled steeds, their manes flowing in the wind, look ready to leap into the air.

Stone lion at Songling

Stone phoenix

Especially exquisite are stone phoenixes at Yongzhao Mausoleum. On either rectangular stone screen is a carved phoenix spreading its wings, with beautiful lotus petal-shaped flowery tail-feathers like a new fan moving wind and clouds. As a background to the stone phoenix, a panorama of mountains form deep, tranquil valleys, and the cliffs are dotted with mysterious ancient caves, so that people looking at them feel as if they are facing natural scenery. All these show that Song Dynasty stone sculpture reached an advanced stage of maturity.


Here are brief introductions to the eight imperial mausoleums in order of burial year:


Yongan Mausoleum: The mausoleum of Zhao Hongyin (posthumously titled Xuan Zu), who was Zhao Kuangyin's father. The Mausoleum is west of Changfeng Village which is 20.5 kilometers southwest of Gongxian County Seat. It was moved there from southeast of Kaifeng in the second year of the reign of Qian De of the Northern Song Dynasty (964). The tomb base is 23 meters long from north to south, 29 metres from east to west and it is eight meters high. There are eight stone sculptings 120 meters south of the mausoleum, comprising two human statues, a sheep, a tiger, two horses, one unicorn and an ornamental pillar.


Yongchang Mausoleum: The mausoleum of the founding Northern Song Emperor Tai Zu (Zhao Kuangyin), two kilometers west of Yongan Mausoleum. Zhao Kuangyin was buried here in the 2nd year of the reign of Tai Ping Xing Guo (977). The base is 60 meters long east to west, 62 meters from north to south and the tomb is 21 meters high. There remain seven stone lions guarding the gates, seven stone human statues, four stone sheep, four stone tigers, four stone horses, two stone unicorns, two stone phoenixes, two stone elephants and two stone ornamental pillars.


Yongxi Mausoleum: The mausoleum of Emperor Tai Zong (Zhao Guangyi), to the east of Hutuo Village in Xicun Area. The tomb base is 62 meters long east to west, 60 meters wide from north to south and the mound is about 29 meters high. Around the mausoleum are 16 mounds which are the sites of structures of the time. Eight are in front of the mausoleum, four at the back and two on either side. Broken bricks and tiles of the Song period have been found in the mounds. The stone sculptures of Yongxi Mausoleum are the best preserved of the eight mausoleums. Pairs of stone lions guard the gates on each side of the mausoleum. In the front are 50 stone sculptures, arranged along the east and west sides of the spirit path. From north to south, on the west side are ten stone human statues, two sheep, two tigers, a human statue, a horse, two human statues, another horse, another human statue, a unicorn, a phoenix, a human statue, an elephant and an ornamental pillar, 25 stone figures in all. The east side has a similar array with one human statue missing, making 24 in all. Fronting the mausoleum is a stone altar.


Yongding Mausoleum: The mausoleum is on a ridge northeast of Caizhuang Village. Emperor Zhen Zong (Zhao Heng) was buried here in the first year of the Qian Xing reign (1022). The tomb base is 55 meters wide from east to west, 57 meters long from north to south and it is 21 meters high. Scattered around the mausoleum are 16 mounds, sites of structures long vanished. In front of each of four mausoleum gates are a pair of stone lions. In front of the mausoleum, the spirit path is lined with 48 stone sculptures. On each side are 14 human statues, two sheep, two tigers, two horses, a unicorn, a phoenix, an elephant and an ornamental pillar, and in front of the mausoleum is a stone altar.


Yongzhao Mausoleum: The mausoleum of Emperor Ren Zong (Zhao Zhen), on Heyigou Ridge, two kilometers south of Xiaoyi Bus Stop. Emperor Ren Zong (Zhao Zhen) was buried here in the 8th year of the Jia You reign (1063). The tomb base is 55 meters wide from east to west, 57 meters long from north to south and 22 meters high, with stone lions and early structures similar to those of Yongding mausoleum. In front of the mausoleum are 13 pairs of stone human statues, two pairs each of sheep, tigers, horses, and a pair each of stone unicorns, phoenixes, elephants and ornamental pillars, east and west sides being in symmetry.


Yonghou Mausoleum: The mausoleum of Emperor Ying Zong (Zhao Shu), only 500 meters west of Emperor Ren Zong's mausoleum. Emperor Ying Zong was buried here in the 4th year of the Zhi Ping reign (1067). The tomb has a base 55 meters wide from east to west, 58 meters long from north to south and 20 meters high. On the west side are 23 stone sculptures while on the east side a stone human statue is missing, reducing its number to 22.


Yongyu Mausoleum: The mausoleum of Emperor Shen Zong (Zhao Xu), half a kilometer south of Baling Village. Emperor Shen Zong was buried here in the 8th year of the Yuan Feng reign (1085). The tomb base is 57 meters wide, east to west, 60 meters long from north to south and 17 meters high. The stone sculptures arranged on the east and west sides number 34 in all.


Yongtai Mausoleum: The mausoleum of Emperor Zhe Zong (Zhao Xu), also south of Baling Village. Emperor Zhe Zong was buried here in the 3rd year of the Yuan Fu reign (1100). The tomb base is 50 meters wide east to west, 55 meters long north to south and 21 meters high. Design of this mausoleum is similar to that of the other imperial tombs. Forty-nine stone sculptures remain in front of the mausoleum.


In the vicinity of the eight imperial mausoleums are those of the empresses, princes and princesses of the Northern Song Dynasty. Besides, in the neighborhood of these mausoleums are many attendant tombs of Northern Song ministers, such as Kou Zhun's tomb at Koujiawan, Bao Zheng's tomb (containing his personal effects rather than his remains) at Houquangou and Gao Huaide's and Cai Qi's tombs at Caizhuang Village. 

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