Tian Yi, born in Shaanxi Province, died at 72. He carved a remarkable niche in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as a model for his followers.
Tian Yi served three emperors of the Ming Dynasty in a row, rising from the bottom rung of the job ladder. As a sure-footed eunuch, he was exalted to a position on par with a second-grade official in the royal hierarchy.
During the Ming Dynasty, a host of eunuchs became tangled up in notorious politicking. Yet Tian marched to a different drummer. He was impartial and upright, as evidenced by some historical materials. It was said that Tian once suggested that the emperor abolish an unpopular taxation system in defiance of his anger, but this eventually failed.
In 1583, Tian got so ill that the best imperial doctor could not heal him. On his death, the mournful emperor ceased court work for three days. He also asked his craftsmen to build an underground coffin chamber for Tian, proclaiming imperial glory few men received.
Tian accomplished everything that a eunuch could accomplish in his life.
Rock carvings at Tian Yi Tomb
"The rock carvings at Tian Yi Tomb should be considered national heirlooms!" Shu Yi, son of famous writer Lao She (1899-1966) and curator of the Chinese Contemporary Literature Museum, was prodigal in his praise of the stone sculptures there. "They are absolutely the best of the Chinese ancient stone inscriptions at its peak, showing prime decorative art with classical Chinese style!" he said.
In his eyes, the most interesting articles should go to three big rectangular stone tablets with low relief patterns. Shu Yi said: "A magical decorative carving could be seen on one side of a stone tablet, where I find nearly 10 kinds of flowers and trees in an area less than one square meter, including a dandelion and a morning glory. You may also discern the figure of a mantis hidden in the bushes as well as a katydid and a cicada. These patterns are life sized with completely true presentations, even the long palps and transparent wings being accurately carved. It is first rate art."
Shu Yi wrote an article with a strong appeal for more protection of the tomb. "This is a museum of valid decorative art carved in rock. Everyone should have a look to understand the mindset, romance, playfulness and grace upon China's lowliest people. Together with their unique culture and art heritage this is a part of China totally different from the rest of the world."
(China.org.cn December 7, 2007)