It is commonly assumed that the game ping pong was invented in China. It actually started in England. Mind you, the Chinese may well have invented the pong bit, if the vile excuse for a toilet at the Changeling Tomb is anything to go by. Absolutely stomach turning.
The correct name of the place is Chang Ling (you don’t strictly need to add “tomb” because Ling means tomb). Naomi and I referred to it as the changeling tomb because it is hard to read Chang Ling without your brain “correcting” an apparent missing “e”.
Chang Ling is the tomb of 15th Century Ming Emperor Yongle who seems to have been a right busy person. His list of achievements includes establishing the Chinese capital at Beijing (it was previously Nanjing), being behind the building of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, a refortification of the Great Wall of China, and the Ming Tomb area itself including the Sacred Way. In fact, were it not for Yongle it would hardly have been worth going to the Beijing area at all.
Chang Ling is one of only three Ming Tombs to have been excavated to date. We did not visit the burial chamber itself as the treasures have been moved to an exhibition in the Hall of Eminent Favour, part of the Chang Ling complex the latter being built like a miniature version of the Forbidden City.
The Hall is supported on wooden pillars and there is a large bronze statue of Yongle in the centre.
There are a number of artifacts on display which were recovered from the tomb, including Yongle’s golden threaded crown and the Empress’s Phoenix crown …
… and, it would seem, their ceremonial teapot. Just the thing for when the mother in law calls in for a quick cup of Oolong tea.
At the back of the complex is the Soul Tower which contains a stele.
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The Hall of Eminent Favour viewed from Soul Tower.
The Sacred Way (Shen Dao), a wide avenue flanked by two rows of willow trees, was the ancient ceremonial pathway to the Ming Tombs where 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors are buried. The tombs themselves are loosely clustered in a rural area round 30 miles North West of Beijing.
To get to the Sacred Way from the car park you first have to run the gauntlet of a row of souvenir stalls staffed by screaming harpies. At the first sight of a coach party they strike up a deafening din as they try to persuade you to buy any amount of tomb related memorabilia.
If you make it past them you come to the ShenGong ShengDe Stele Pavilion, built in 1435.
Entering through the arch you find a 50 ton dragon-headed stone tortoise bearing a massive stone tablet. It looks like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel. Impressive but weird and bewildering.
Once past the big tortoise you are on to the Sacred Way itself. In addition to the willow trees there are statues of animals (mythical and otherwise) and, further along, court officials, soldiers, etc. The statues come in pairs of the same animal or creature, one standing guard to protect the Emperor’s tomb while the other is seated, resting. I would be fascinated to watch them swap shifts.
Apparently just walking along and looking at the statues is not enough.
We had to cherish them. Naomi obliged.
To say the statues are around 500 years old they are in excellent condition. When 500 years old I reach, look as good I will not.
Around half way along the avenue was a gift shop. We took the opportunity to buy Esther a genuine Beijing Olympics T shirt, not having had the chance in Beijing the day before.
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As we came to the end of the Sacred Way our coach was waiting to take us to visit one of the tombs, but not before we had to endure another chorus of screeching harpies. The sound was so similar to the first auditory attack that it was easy to imagine those screaming women who staff the stalls had hitched a lift on our coach to get a second shot at us.