Most of China’s tombs and temples glorify emperors and royals of high standing, yet the one-of-a-kind tomb of Tian Yi memorializes a member of the serving class who rose to prominence through his life-long service in the imperial court and, more broadly, his stolen manhood.
Tian Yi, like all young boys destined to serve in the imperial palaces, underwent castration at the age of nine. This was the first step in a career that lasted 63 years at the Imperial Palace, now known as the Forbidden City. The devoted eunuch served under three emperors throughout the Ming and into the Qing dynasty, longer than almost any other servant. His committed service earned him a special position in the imperial structure; by the end of his tenure he had risen to become the fourth most powerful figure in the political system of the time. When Tian Yi died, the emperor ordered three days of mourning, and the eunuch’s body was placed in a smaller replica of an imperial mausoleum (an unprecedented honor) located at the foot of Cuiwei Mountain. It is this elaborate burial site that is now a historic treasure.
The beauty of Tian Yi’s Tomb begins long before reaching the tomb itself, as the road leading to the grounds known as the Spirit Way (or Sacred Way) features a succession of exquisitely carved statues of real and mythical animals as well as civilian and military officials. The central compound now features a museum to the lives of the imperial eunuchs and as such there is a small exhibition hall that provides scattered details of their service and all the information you could want about Chinese castration.
The tombs themselves are simple earthen mounds with unique four-foot-tall phallic structures at their base, built from white marble. While there is not a great deal of explicit phallic imagery on the grounds, much of the monuments in Tian Yi’s Tomb take on a penile aspect when viewed in the context of the famous imperial castrato’s life.