China’s political situation over the last 70 years could easily be described as manic. Mao Zedong proclaimed his country the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and quickly began a long and troubled relationship with China’s history, that seemed to sway with his moods. Unfortunately for many historical sites like the Dingling tomb, moving out of Mao’s favor meant sanctioned disaster.
Built in the 15th century, the Ming Dynasty Necropolis is one of the largest in the world and was chosen specifically at the feet of the Tianshou Mountain for its feng shui. The necropolis holds all of the Ming Emperors until the end of the dynasty in 1644, but many supposed the real gems of the area were hidden beneath the extravagant tombs.
In 1956, a group of archeologists proposed a scholarly excavation of the Dingling tomb in preparation for uncovering the secrets of the largest Ming Tomb, the Changling. Given a brief window to explore and uncover the tomb’s treasures and history, the team hurriedly excavated and formed a museum on the site, which held Ming crowns, jewelry and the skeletons of the Wanli Emperor and his wife. The museum and site, although hardly maintained, honored the Ming Dynasty.
Only a decade later, the Cultural Revolution was in full swing, and a new fate arrived at the tomb. A group of Red Guards, with full sanction from the state, visited the tombs and began a horrible raid on the Dingling tomb. They destroyed priceless Ming artifacts and pulled out the skeletons of the Wanli Emperor and Empress. Denouncing them as bourgeoisie, the guards proceeded to light the bones on fire in front of a crowd in the necropolis.
Today, the government has adopted a new policy because of the excavation debacle and will only excavate a historical site for restoration.
Visit China with Atlas Obscura Trips
Springtime in Eastern China: Exploring the Birthplace of Tea
From bustling night markets to fine-dining institutions, this journey down China’s east coast reveals the story of countless delicious dishes and culinary traditions.