All Things Ming

The Ming Dynasty was one of the golden eras of Chinese history, lasting for a bit less than three centuries between 1368 and 1644. It had the world’s largest economy at the time; built the Forbidden City in Beijing; constructed most of the Great Wall; and is well-known even today for its ceramic excellence (and those blue and white porcelain vases). It was also the time of the Porcelain Pagoda and Zheng He’s epic voyages noted in earlier postings.

It all started here in Nanjing with Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor), buried now on Purple Mountain. His crown prince son passed away, so he chose his grandson as successor – but another son, Zhu Di, had a rather different idea. After a multi-year battle, Zhu Di defeated his nephew to become the 3rd Ming Emperor (the Yongle Emperor) – and since his political base was Beijing, he built the Forbidden City & moved his capital there.

Although the Ming burial grounds on Purple Mountain were an obvious must-see years ago, I’ve had several other historical Ming site visits over recent weeks:

The stele at Yangshan Quarry

First was a visit to the Yangshan Quarry, located about fifteen kilometers east of the city…. and arranged by Dr. Yu Ningping and her hubby Lejing. [Dr. Yu is the same person who had humored me by arranging a visit to the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge…. but this request was even stranger!] I had first read about the quarry in Louise Levathes’ book about Zheng He….. and had trouble believing the story. The Yongle Emperor had wanted to honor his father (the Hongwu Emperor) by building the world’s largest stele (i.e., upright stone columns marking the tomb). But after considerable stone-cutting work had been completed, there was a terrible realization: the pieces were simply too big & heavy to move! So now, more than 600 years later, they remain in the quarry — the stele column (on the right) and its top section (on the left) in the photo above. The bottom section – another massive piece – lies nearby.

Stele Pavilion at Ming Tombs near Beijing

A second outing was a wonderful visit to the Ming Tombs located outside Beijing, and arranged by CUSEF as part of our ‘China Energy Transition’ tour (see posting below). This is, of course, a world-famous site, and I had been there once before (in 1991) – but admittedly didn’t have sufficient understanding of China’s history to fully appreciate it then. After completing the Forbidden City, the Yongle Emperor employed feng shui and chose the site where he was to be buried – and twelve other Ming Emperors subsequently followed him there.

On this visit we took a stroll down Spirit Way, the pathway leading to the tombs that is lined with large statues of guardian animals and officials; stopped next at the Stele Pavilion, to see the (much more reasonably-sized) stele, evident in the archway of the picture above, and resting upon a carved turtle’s back; and finally headed to the Dingling tomb, the mausoleum of Zhu Yijun (the 13th Ming Emperor) and his two empresses. The latter has an underground section (unearthed in the 1950s) we were able to visit, and a nearby display holds some of the relics found there.

Back in Nanjing again, my third Ming excursion — on a brisk December afternoon — was to the original site of the dynasty’s Imperial Palace (i.e., the illustration below showing Nanjing’s earlier ‘Forbidden City’). Not much remains today, except a few column bases, the Meridian Gate (in lower left of picture below), and some moat bridges and statues. But the city has developed a pleasant park around these relics…. and it’s a powerful reminder of the ebb of even such an illustrious history.

Relics of Nanjing’s Ming Palace

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