Part 2. Mausoleum of Qin Shihuang
In the centre of the Chinese province of Shaanxi a mysterious and very large pyramid is located 35 km to the North-East from Xi’an. This pyramid is known as the mausoleum of the First Emperor of the united China Qin Shihuang.
The brief story of Qin Shihuang:
One day in January 259 BC, a boy was born in Handan (now Handan City in the Hebei Province) to the family of Yi Ren, who was a grandson of the former king of Qin State. The boy was named Ying Zheng. In 238 BC, at the age of 22, Ying Zheng was crowned the King of Qin State. After coronation he started a series of wars with many states because he wanted to be the ruler of all Chinese lands. In 230 BC Ying Zheng started a 10-year war of unifying China by defeating Han State. The King of Zhao State was trapped by Qin State and killed by his own general Li Mu by mistake and Zhao State was occupied by Qin State. The King of Yan State sent Jing Ke to murder Ying Zheng but failed and Yan State was defeated. Qin State then conquered Wei, Chu and Qi states, and by 221 BC Qin State unified the whole of China. The King of Qin State Ying Zheng named himself Qin Shihuang meaning the First Emperor of Qin (China).
Later Qin Shihuang established the first united centrally-ruled feudal country. He set up a feudal bureaucratic system, promulgated the country’s administration and took a series of measures to strengthen his power, such as standardizing Chinese characters, grain measures and weights, and money, destroying weapons, building the Great Wall and many imperial long distance roads (ancient highways). But he took very autocratic acts such as using huge conscripted labour for the construction of palaces, the Great Wall and many other things. People came to hate him for his cruel methods and the economic collapse of the country.
Some Confucian scholars criticized the Court and the spiritual life of the First Emperor and he ordered their books to be burnt, many Confucian scholars were captured and buried alive. Thousands of valuable books about Chinese philosophy and ancient history was damaged and burnt. It was a great tragedy in Chinese history like the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
In 221 BC Qin Shihuang died of illness at Shaqui (now Guangzong Country, Hebei Province) at the age of 50. High official Zhao Gao and Prime Minister Li Si forged the dying edict of the First Emperor where he gave power to his elder son. Instead Zhao Gao and Li Si proclaimed another edict saying that his second son Hu Hai was chosen by Qin Shihuang to succeed the throne. Chinese historians said that the body of Qin Shihuang was carried to Xianyang and buried in Qin Mausoleum.
So, the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang is one of the most mysterious in Chinese history. The mausoleum is situated in Lintong Country 35 kilometres east of Xi’an, looking like a colossal structure at the foot of Lishan Mountain. The mausoleum is a great archaeological complex under the Chinese government’s protection and an item on UNESCO’s list of first-class cultural heritage.
Area of Qin Mausoleum cemetery garden: 56/25 square km
Area of the remains of the inner city of Qin Mausoleum cemetery garden: 785,000 square metres
Area of the remains of the ceremonial palace: 36,304 square metres
Attendant vaults and tombs discovered so far: about 600
An ancient and well respected Chinese historian Sima Qian (145 to 90 BC) in his “Historical Records” wrote that Qin Shihuang started building the tomb for himself after he became king. He conscripted 700,000 craftsmen and convicts for the project. All building materials (clay and soil) were transported from the capital city of Qin Xiangyang (15 km North-West from modern Xi’an). The tomb was completed after 38 years. Sima Qian described an underground palace inside the pyramid:
“the tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices, fine vessels, precious stones and rarities. Artisans were ordered to set up crossbows in the tomb so that any thief breaking in would be shot dead. There was a map of the sky on the ceiling and a topographical map on the floor with circulating mercury to represent water on the earth. Eternal lamps were lit with man-fish grease”.
All workers were killed and buried with the remains of the emperor and all the artisans who had worked inside the tomb were slaughtered so that none of its secrets were divulged.
After geological explorations beginning in the 1960s archaeologists concluded that the pyramid had an original height of 115 metres! The measures of the foundation of the pyramid were exciting: 345 metres wide from east to west and 350 metres from north to south. Today after weathering processes and human interventions the pyramid has shrunk to a height of 60 metres, and you can see in the photo that the pyramid looks like a “shrunken cake”. All surface structures such as inner and outer walls, archways, palaces, memorial hall have crumbled with age and become hidden underground.
The pyramid has never been excavated therefore nobody knows of the actual structures of the underground palace. All digging at the pyramid is forbidden because “no there are no scientific methods for the safe excavation of the inner structure of the pyramid”, - Chinese scientists say.
A great many vaults of the underground stables, terracotta acrobatic figures and horses, buried animals, bronze birds have been already found around the pyramid. The world famous Terracotta Warriors are situated 1.5 km east of the pyramid of Qin Shihuang.
Archaeologists are sure that the mausoleum complex with its pyramid in the centre was built by Qin Shihuang as a tomb and ceremonial place for himself but they aren’t sure that the emperor was buried there. As we know Prime Minister Li Sin and many other officials didn’t like the First Emperor so they could have buried him near Shaqui where he died. Moreover the inhabitants of the capital hated Qin Shihuang they could have rioted against his burial procession. Only archaeological methods can unveil the mysteries of the greatest pyramid of imperial China.
- Informative posters and stands at the Qin Shihuang Mausoleum, 2008.
- Latest Discoveries in Qin Mausoleum Cemetery Garden, Xi’an Press, 2004.
- Ancient Capital of Many Splendors: Xi’an, edited by The Foreign Office of Xi’an Municipal Government, Xi’an, 2003
- Philip Coppens, The New Pyramid Age. P. 124-126, UK 2007.