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THE MING TOMBS OF CHINA., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 68, 20 March 1909
THE MING TOMBS OF CHINA.
(By CAPTAIN HERBERT NOYES.) I A vast amphitheatre of grassy meadows, through which winds a noble 'river Jed by clear and sparkling brooks, on which, like the myriad facets of inj numerable diamonds, the sunbeams glance and glitter. A wide avenue of white marble stretching across the plain, and beyond, a great green valley carpeted with daisies and buttercups, dotted with marble bridges, spanning tlie rippling rills; and here and there, on the lower ground or nestling in the shadows of the foothills the red and yellow tombs of the dead Emperors of China. Around, a stately chain of lofty mountains, encircling the Xeoropolis and its immediate surroundings, guarding the last resting-places of the mighty dead, whose records reach back to the dim dawn of history, before the days when the progenitors of the Anglo-Saxon race, naked and stained, roamed their native woods, animal-wise, in search of an all too precarious living; before the days of an undreamt of Western civilisation, before the days when the Naaarene founded the creed that marked the beginning of the Christian era. Such are the Ming Tombs of China! At once the most beautiful, tbe most impressive burial ground the world has ever known. For five and forty years tbe dusty high road from Pekin straggles over level and undulating country, over wide stretches of sparsely cultivated land, until, leaving the road, the traveller is guided by a narrow, little-used path to where a huge square vermilion pagoda guard 3 the entrance to the City of the Dead. Further on is a larger and more striking temple, with roof and ridges surmounted by the roj-al dragon with scaly outstretched wings and tail, whilst at each corner of the building, tall, stately columns of white marble rear their griffin-crested heights aloft. Age and unnumbered suns have weathered the 'flawless stone to an old ivory tint; otherwise, Time and the centuries have dealt kindly with it. No scar or chip mar 3 the prefect beauty of the polished stone, save where a tiny graven character bears witness to the cunning of the dead hands that wrought that marvellous sur--1 face in the days when the world was young. Within tbe pagoda, and placed in the centra of its two intersecting halls, stands an enormous marble turtle, bearing on its back a shaft of jet black stone, which soars upward till lost in the shadows of the lofty roof; from plinth to roof, it is covered with Chinese characters, a poem composed and engraved by the Emperor Kiu-Lung three thousand years ago —a composition which will doubtless endure long after the ephemeral essays of our own fretful, fevered age have sunk into the oblivion which is the part and portion of less firmly established civilisations, suc_—shall >ye say—as our pwn,
Leaving the pagoda, one enters a wide | avenue of marble columns, stretching away into the far distance like a profession of pale ghosts, while Hanking | these lofty pillars, and reaching even 'further towards the dim horizon, are great stone presentments, heroic size, I of animals and men. I They stand in pairs; camels, horses, ,dragons, elephants, iions, mastodons, I unicorns, and other fabled beasts, and, I finally, statues of soldiers and kings. 1 question if the world holds anything more impressive, more weirdly grotesque, than these faithfully wrought representations of the animal kingdom. Seasons pass, the snows of winter vanish i where they have fallen on the backs of the monstrous beasts; the suns of countless summers have beaten down on the weathered stone; but the vast shapes, untouched of either, stand or crouch amid the wide expanse of that fertile plain, mocking with their calm, immutable serenity alike the flight of Time and the tourist, who, the ephemeral insect of a day, gazes with awe at their mighty bulk. The .Sphinx, whose origin is wrapped in mystery, impresses us with the magic of its fathomless enigma, but appeals far less (o the senses than these sculptured beasts, many of whose forms are familiar to us, nnd whose originals we can conceive existing aeons ago, and, perchance, in the very plains wherein their duplicated forms now stand. The end of the avenue reached, one passes through a fine gateway of cafven marble—and indeed no meaner stone is used anywhere—to a roadway paved with the same material, which is followed for some four or five miles over marble bridges • crossing and recrossing the sparkling rivers, till, mounting a small hill at the further end, the traveller reaches the tomb of the Emperor Yung Lo, embowered in trees and guarded by two lonely Buddhist priests, who open the doors, and depart without exchanging a word either with the sightseer, his guide, or his interpreter. Through a lofty gateway of red and yellow stone is reached a spacious courtyard, and, passing up a broad flight ol steps, the stranger emerges into an entrance hall, where strangely carven gods and dragons stare solemnly at the intruder. Thence along a wide terrace another courtyard opens on to a vast hall, known as the Hall of the Tablet of the Dead. Huge columns of carved teak, springing from a richly wrought plinth, under which are various tombs, support the roof, and at tbe base of each column the guide points out a tiny hole, explaining that it serves as tho breathing hole of the turtle that was built into the base at each successive burial. Save for the wilderness of teakwood columns, and a sacrificial table or altar, with its flowers, candlesticks, and incense urn, the huge hall, in which five thousand people could easily be seated, seems bare and empty, until at the further end the guide draws one's attention to a small teakwood throne, in which is set the tiny red tablet with a golden inscription, from which this vast chamber takes its. name, But tlie last rest-
ing place of the lirst Emperor is not yet reached. Leaving the Hall of the Tablet, the way leads through yet .another court, guarded by the übiquitous dragon and grilfin hall-hidden, many of them, by thickly planted ancient oaks and pines. Then, at last, through and over the tangled undergrowth, from which satyr-like heads peer stonily out on the passing stranger, one sees the tomb itself rising from a triple terrace of purest marble. No breath of wind can penetrate to that walled-in spot, though the bright sun pours its rays on to the luxurious jungle-growth; and even when the pagoda forming the mausoleum is entered, the outside world seems far away. There is no sound of life, no voice, nothing to break the awesome silence, which is the keynote of this last resting place of the .founder of i the Ming dynasty. Within the pagoda one passes through a succession of lofty chambers, rich with carvings and sculptures, but innocent of tawdry decorations or anything approaching bad taste, till the "tomb itself is reached, and the traveller pauses in a hall, where centuries ago the dead Emperor was laid. One solitary tablet marks the spot, but in other chambers, some of them up flights of stairs, are stone obelisks, covered with the titles and eulogies of the dead monarch. And over all is the silence that makes anything but a whisper appear brutal sacrilege; silence unbroken by the murmuring of the river close to the outer walls, the song of birds, the hum of insects, or the sound of human footsteps. So that, when the guide halts in the outer hall, and lifts his hand, nothing but the breathing of the visitor and himself can be heard. Nothing, did I say? Wait! Faintly at first, but growing gradually louder, comes the sound of invisible footfalls, approaching down the vista of the columns. Nearer and nearer it draws, the soft, shuffling slip of Chinese shoes, until the visitor, startled in spite of himself, glances uneasily around for visible signs of the unmistakable footsteps. But sign there is none, and as the uncanny shuffle sounds within touch of the traveller, it ceases momentarily, re-oocurs in diminishing strength, nnd finally fades away until lost in the dim distance of the inner halls. It is a manifestation of the legend of the tomb, which the guide explains, shakily, when he has recovered from the incumbent position, promptly assumed at the first sound of the footsteps. The walking of the Emperor Yung-Lo. There is no explanation of it, but of one thing the traveller may be certain, and that is that no living being is within the tomb with the exception of the guide and himself. And. unlike the disciples of Brahma and other strange gods, the Chinese must be readily acquitted by nil who know them, of any idea of complicity or vulgar miraele-mongering in the production of this weird manifestation. But I doubt if the most hardened materialist could listen unmoved in the Hall of the Outer Silence to the footsteps of the dead Emperor of the Mings, Yung-Lo, -
THE MING TOMBS OF CHINA., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 68, 20 March 1909
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