Xi’An’s “Other” Tomb- The Mausoleum of Emperor Jingdi (Han Yanling)

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Xi’An’s Terra Cotta Warriors is probably the most famous and well known historical site in the area, and with good reason. The Terra Cotta Warriors are very impressive in terms of scale of the excavations, the size of the warriors, and the artistic craftsmanship of the work, particularly when you consider that they were created well over 2000 years ago. However, that doesn’t mean it is the only tomb in town to visit (I mean that metaphorically, since both sites are well outside of Xi’An).

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This mausoleum belongs to the Emperor Jingdi who reigned from 157-141 B.C.E. Amazingly enough, even though that was over 2000 years ago, this tomb postdates the tomb of Qin Shi Huang (i.e. the Terra Cotta Warriors) by 300 years. Unlike the militarily turbulent time the Terra Cotta Warriors were built, Emperor Jingdi built his tomb during an economically peaceful and optimistic time, and the nature of his tomb reflects that.

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Like the Terra Cotta Warriors, Emperor Jingdi’s tomb was lost to history for over two thousand years, only to be stumbled upon in the course of other explorations. The Terra Cotta Warriors were accidentally discovered by villagers digging a well in the 1970s, and Jingdi’s mausoleum was discovered in 1990 during the construction of the highway from the Xi’An airport.

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Also like the Terra Cotta Warriors, only part of the tomb complex has been excavated. The main tomb is still a grassy hill, and only about 16 pits to the east of the main tomb have been excavated so far. Remains of the eastern gate are currently being excavated, and the southern gate post has been reconstructed.

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Emperor Jingdi set up his tomb in a sort of similar fashion as Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in the sense that there are a series of pits filled with figurines of persons, horses, chariots and other stuff. However, the figurines are only a third of the size of the Terra Cotta Warriors.

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However, the experience of visiting Emperor Jingdi’s tomb is a different experience than visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors. Both sites are enclosed in  buildings, but Jingdi’s tomb encloses the pits themselves so you can walk over them and see the figurines inside where they’ve rested for a couple thousand years.

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The chariots were made of wood and have long since disintegrated, but the fossil remains of the chariots and the wheels remain, preserved in the dirt. However, there is a model example of how the tombs probably looked like when they were first created.

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Since the timeframe Jingdi created his mausoleum was more peaceful, most of the figurines aren’t of military origin, but rather of a bucolic nature. There are many farm animals in some of the pits along with all the other figurines  from the royal court.

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The setup for the museum is in one building, rather than three like the Terra Cotta Warriors. Also, this is a very peaceful tomb to visit. Even though Emperor Jingdi’s tomb is only around an hour’s drive from Xi’An, and on the way to and from the airport, this site does not receive nearly the same amount of visitors as the Terra Cotta Warriors. Which means that instead of fighting through crowds to get a view of the pits, and having to block out the cacophony created by hordes of tourists, you can stroll through the mausoleum in greater peace and quiet.

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If you are fascinated by historical and archaeological sites, this place is definitely worth your time. All hotels and hostels will offer a half day tour to the tomb, or you can take a taxi there on your own. I do suggest that if you are visiting this tomb and the Terra Cotta Warriors, that you visit Emperor Jingdi’s tomb first. While it is a worthwhile place to visit, it is of a much smaller scale than the Terra Cotta Warriors, and there is the possibility of feeling let down if you see this tomb after.

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