The Eastern Tombs

When the first emperor of the Qing dynasty, Shunzhi (r. 1644-1661) was hunting in Zunhua County in Hebei province, he was so enamoured by its natural beauty, he took off his thumb guard worn by archers and threw it into the air telling his bodyguard "where the thumb guard falls will be my burial place." Many stories of famous men are apocryphal or pious fabrications, but this story seems tolerably well authenticated considering that Shunzhi chose the area as his final resting place.It also became the the burial site of several Qing emperors, numerous empresses,136 concubines, three princes and two princesses. Shunzhi was the first to be buried here in 1663.

The Eastern Qing tombs (Qing Dongling) is a three hour drive east of Beijing. The fifteen tombs at Qing Dongling represent the largest and most complete grouping of imperial tombs in China. The central axis of each tomb faces north towards a backdrop of mountains. Unlike the Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty who buried the dead in a hollowed tree that was then buried under grassland, Ming and Qing rulers built massive tombs for themselves. The burial sites were grand in design and scale and meticulously planned based on fengshui or geomancy principles.

Unlike the Ming emperors who are all buried at Changling, the burial grounds of the Qing emperors are not all buried here. They are in fact buried in three locations: the three early Qing tombs in Shenyang, Liaoning province, the Western Tombs in Yixian county, Hebei and the Eastern Tombs.Why two burial sites in Hebei? When Yongzheng was chosen by his father Kangxi (r. 1662-1722) to be his successor, Yongzheng (r. 1723-1735) executed all his brothers as well as his father's ministers who were perceived as rivals.

Whether the ambitious Yongzheng shed any tears of contrition in killing off his own blood in his aggressive lust for power we will never know, but if there was any repentence, it belonged to another world, to another universe of discourse and another burial ground. Yongzheng chose his final resting place in the west of the province.

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