Qianling Mausoleum is a joint burial ground of Emperor Gaozong (Li Zhi who lived from A.D. 628 to 683) and his empress Wu Zetian (A.D. 624-705), China’s first and only governing empress. Located in Qian County, Shaanxi province, 85 km (53 miles) northwest from Xi’an, Qianling is the most typical and best preserved of all the eighteen Tang mausoleums. This tomb has not been excavated.
Situated on the higest peak of Liangshan Mountain, 1,049 meters above sea level, Qianling Mausoleum was flanked by Leopard Valley to the east and Sand Canyon on the west. The burial ground was originally enclosed by two walls. Archaeological surveys have discovered the foundations of the inner wall, the four gates in the walls, the Memorial Hall and the watchtowers on the walls. The inner wall, covering an area of 240,000 square meters, was enclosed with four sides in a trapezoidal shape. The north and south segments were each 1,450 meters long, the east wall was 1,582 and the west wall 1,438.
What remains today on the surface of Qianling is mainly carved stone works, which have stood upright on top of Liangshan Mountain for over 1,200 years. Exquisite and elegant, they are demonstrations of the skills of Tang carvers, gems of the ancient Chinese art of stone carving. Most of these stone pieces line the sides of the spirit path leading to the Qianling Mausoleum.
Two high stone tablets stand on either side of the Zhuque Gate. The one on the left is called “Records of the Merits of His Majesty”. It was composed of seven tiers and thus also named Seven-Tiered Tablet. The tablet is 7.53 meters high and 1.86 meters wide, weighing 89.6 tons. Written by Wu Zetian and carved in the handwriting of Emperor Zhong Zong, the inscriptions, totally around 6,000 characters, sang the praises of Emperor Gao Zong for his military and administrative achievements. All the characters and symbols were filled with gold powder, brightening the cemetery. The one on the right is called “Blank Tablet” because it bears no inscription. The tablet was erected blank as a term of Wu Zetian’s will – “My achievements and errors must be evaluated by later generations, therefore carve no characters on my stele.” This blank tablet is 7.53 meters high, 2.1 meters wide and 1.49 meters thick, weighing 98.8 ton.
To the north of the two tall tablets are 61 stone statues of tribe chieftains. Wearing tight-sleeved clothes, broad belts and leather shoes, these figures cup their hands in front in an attitude of prayer. More than half of them had their heads defaced, but the only two, in the western row, whose heads are complete, have prominent noses and deep eyes, and were clearly from the Western Regions or Central Asia. Some of the figures had their nationalities, official titles and names on their backs.
A sloping flight of stone steps directly to the south of the imperial tomb is 575 meters long and 11 meters wide, and drops for 86.2 meters. The flight of 526 steps is paved black jade stone slabs and has 18 terraces. It is even longer than that in front of Sun Yet-sen’s Mausoleum by one third.
There are 17 attendant tombs to the southeast of Qianling Mausoleum. Tombs of Princess Yongtai, Crown Prince Zhanghuai and Crown Prince of Yide have been excavated. The Qianling Mausoleum Museum is located in the graveyard of Princess Yongtai.
ADD: Qian County, 85 km northwest from Xi’an, Shaanxi Province.
Transport: You can get there by tourist bus from the Xi’an Railway Station or by one-day tour bus on the western route.