Xiaoling is located at Dulongfu on the south slope of the Purple
Hills in the east suburbs of Nanjing. In the place is a thick
growth of age-old pine trees and cypresses, with a stream winding
in the hills. Some famous ancient Buddhist temples and tombs are
Xiaoling is the mausoleum of the first Ming Dynasty emperor Zhu
Yuanzhang. It is one of the largest imperial mausoleums existing in
China, as a historical monument put under state protection. From
the "Officials and Others Dismount Here" Tablet in the front to the
Square Walls at the back, it is 2.62 kilometers. Records note the
red wall of the mausoleum at 22.5 kilometers in circumference. The
perimeter of the red wall is two-thirds that of the dh] wall at
that time. Although no wooden structures were found existent over
the last six hundred years, one still has some idea of the
mausoleum built on a large scale. Xiaoling has its layout and
architecture the same as those of the Ming Tombs on the outskirts
of Beijing, but on a much greater scale than the latter. This
speaks of the fact that all Ming Dynasty imperial tombs were
modeled after the former.
Zhu Yuanzhang was from a poor peasant family. Orphaned at
a tender age, he became a Buddhist monk in Huangjue Monastery
because he had no one to support him.
Portrait of Ming Emperor Tai Zu (Zhu
Later, he joined Guo Zixing in his peasant uprising. After Guo
died, he took over the command, and with an insurrectionist army of
peasants under him, he overthrew the rule of the Yuan Dynasty and
ascended to the throne in 1368. He titled his dynasty Ming, under
the reigning title of Hong Wu. Not long after, Zhu Yuanzhang took a
fancy to Dulongfu (Single Dragon Hill) on the south slope of the
Purple Hills and set out to build his mausoleum. He saw to it that
Kaishan Temple, built in the Six Dynasties, was moved from its
original site at Dulongfu to Zixiadong. But as the temple was
nearing completion at the south side of Zixiadong, some geomancers
talked nonsense, saying it was not good for the mausoleum to have
the temple there. The old monks had to move and built the present
Linggu Temple known as "The First Grove Under Heaven," a name given
by Zhu Yuanzhang. There were once about one thousand monks in the
temple during its most active age. The hall, without a single beam
or column, was built at that time. It dates back more than six
Construction of the Xiaoling mausoleum took five years. The year
of 1381 during the Hong Wu reign saw its completion. The next year,
Empress Ma, the consort of Zhu Yuanzhang was buried there. She was
posthumously honored as Xiao Ci and for this the mausoleum was
named Xiaoling. In the l6th year of the Hong Wu reign, adding to
the structures of Xiaoling was a large temple hall built which had
earned Li Xin, an official in charge of the construction work, a
In the 25th year of the Hong Wu reign (1392), Zhu Biao, the
crown prince was buried in the eastern area of the Xiaoling, known
as Dongling, or Eastern Mausoleum. In the 31st year of Hong Wu
(1398), Zhu Yuanzhang was buried in the Xiaoling. Such Xiaoling
peripheral tomb projects lasted to the 3rd year of the Yongle reign
(1405). A "Tablet of the Divine Merit and Sage Virtue of Xiaoling
of the Great Ming" was the final project. Xiaoling construction
spanned thirty years.
The entrance to Xiaoling Mausoleum is just opposite the present
Nanjing Agricultural College. Three tablets of the Ming Dynasty
have been brought from their original locations to the entrance.
One is the tablet inscribed with "Officials and Others Dismount
Here." In order to show respect for the emperor, all officials were
to dismount from their horses and walk to the mausoleum.
The second tablet is the Shenlie Hill tablet. It was erected in
the 10th year of the Jiajing reign (1531). The third one is the
Restricted Area tablet. It was erected by Emperor Chong Zhen, the
last emperor of the Ming Dynasty in I641, three years before
peasant insurgents led by Li Zicheng entered Beijing. The
inscriptions on the tablet reiterated previous order: Execution for
anyone found destroying the mausoleum.
It was evident that Emperor Chong Zhen wanted to glorify the
soul of the deceased Tai Zu, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. By doing so, he
wanted to bolster the crumbling Ming regime.
Big Golden Gate, the front gate of the Xiaoling Mausoleum, is
755 meters beyond the "Officials and Others Dismount Here" tablet.
The gate tower has been destroyed, but three gateways are still
intact. North of Big Golden Gate is the big stone tablet--Tablet of
the Divine Merit and Sage Virtue of Xiaoling of the Great Ming. The
tablet is 8.8 meters high and carries the inscription in regular
script which extols Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's merits. The pavilion
housing the tablet was destroyed, so now there are only the big
tablet, four walls around that tablet and the gateway in the place,
known as Square Walls.
Walking northwestward from Square Walls, there is an
imperial bridge, beyond which is the spirit path lined with
twenty-four stone animals and eight stone human figures along both
sides. From east to west, the procession starts with four lions
(two on each side), four xiezhai (mythical beasts), four
camels, four elephants, four qilin (Chinese unicom) and
four horses. In each group one pair is standing, the other
As the spirit path turns northward there are a pair of
ornamental stone pillars, two pairs of stone military officials and
two pairs of stone civil officials.
In each group of stone figures, one pair is of young
officials and the other is of older ones. The military officials
wear helmets, hold ceremonial clubs, and swords at their waists.
The civil officials wear court caps and hold tablets. These stone
carvings have artistic characteristics of the early Ming Dynasty.
They are rare art treasures.
Stone sculptures lining the spirit path to
Xiaoling in Nanjing
At the end of the sculpture avenue is the Lingxing (Lattice)
Gate. The archway has collapsed, with only six steles still
standing there. Beyond the Lattice Gate is a small river to the
north slope of Plum Hill. There are three stone bridges (surviving
from five bridges of the past) spanning the river. From the bridges
northwards were buildings built on a straight line from south to
Two hundred meters from the bridges is a vermilion wall. To mark
the site of the mausoleum are the characters "Ming Xiaoling
Mausoleum" inscribed over the front gate in the wall. Inside the
gate are two tablets, placed for political reasons, with
inscriptions by Emperor Kang Xi and Emperor Qian Long respectively,
as eulogies to Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang.
Moving further in, the foundation of Ling’endian (Hall of
Prominent Favor) can be seen, with a small exhibition room which
has been built on its base to display a portrait of Zhu Yuanzhang
and a collection of Ming cultural relics.
Beyond the Hall of Prominent Favor, four walls about
twenty meters high enclose an arched passage way whose fifty-four
stone steps slope down to the tomb gate. Walking through the dark,
cool arched passage, one has a feeling of mystery and wonder. At
the end of the passage is a tablet inscribed 'Tomb of Emperor Tai
Zu of Ming." The area is covered with grass and surrounded by
trees, a naturally scenic setting. Upward on a small path along the
wall is the foundation of the Soul Tower, which was destroyed long
ago. Renovation in recent years has strengthened the foundation
ruins, and some hints to the architecture of the tower can still be
seen. Behind high, castle-like walls is a mound 400 meters in
diameter under a luxuriant growth of pines and cypresses, and
beneath it is the underground palace where the emperor is buried.
Layout of the underground palace may be the same as that of
Dingling in Beijing.
Records say there were originally 100 thousand pine trees and a
thousand deer at the mausoleum. Each deer had a silver badge
attached, known as "longevity deer" and no one was allowed to harm
the animals on pain of severe punishment. By late Ming and early
Qing, no deer remained.
A folk legend about Xiaoling Mausoleum circulated among the
people holds that after Emperor Tai Zu died, thirteen coffins were
carried through thirteen city gates at the same moment. Thus,
people wonder whether Emperor Tai Zu was buried in Xiaoling. Some
people said Zhu Yuanzhang was buried under Wansuidian (Longevity
Hall) in his palace; some said he was buried under the Sanqing Hall
in Chaotian Palace in the western part of Nanjing, and some said he
was buried under Wansuishan (Longevity Hill) in Beijing.
A folk legend spread like this because Zhu Yuanzhang was a
person who was always suspicious of others. During his lifetime, he
killed many opponents and was afraid that, after he died, some
would desecrate his grave for vengeance. The legend of Zhu
Yuanzhang's tomb is something like the story about Cao Cao
(153-220), who is said to have had seventy-two tombs built for him.
The legend about Zhu Yuanzhang's tomb may also be copies from
emperors in former dynasties, though all are conjecture.
Archaeological excavations on Xiaoling will provide definite
answers on this subject.