Ming Tombs of Jingjiang Princes

Located at the foot of Mount Yao, roughly 5 kilometers east of the city of Guilin, lies the Mausoleum of the Princes Jingjiang, arguably the most important historical site and one of the most popular attractions of Guilin. The imperial mausoleum is the site where eleven princes of the Jingjiang Family lie entombed. The Jingjiang Family of Guilin is comprised of descendants of King Jingjiang, one of the grandsons of Emperor Taizu - aka the Hongwu Emperor - of the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, who ruled China during the period CE 1368-1398.

Since China had become a very large, consolidated empire by the time of the Ming Dynasty, the emperor found it most expedient, in order to further consolidate his rule throughout the empire, to delegate the rule of various administrative regions within the empire to his 24 grandsons, whose grandsons, great-grandsons, etc., in turn would rule the various principalities thus set up, and who would be referred to alternately as princes or kings (since a Ming Dynasty emperor generally ruled for a long period of time (and he may himself have ascended to the throne and an advanced age, relatively speaking), he was succeeded not by a son, but by a grandson, therefore it was these who needed to be "appeased").

This delegation of local authority to family members served a dual purpose for the emperor (the practice was continued by successive emperors throughout much of the Ming Dynasty, a fact that attests to its efficacy): it removed the emperor's potentially meddlesome "grandsons" (who might include the grandsons of the emperor's brothers) from the imperial court, where they might otherwise have vied for power and even have plotted to overthrow the emperor; and it ensured loyalty to the emperor at the local level.*

The first such prince of the Guilin area, King Jingjiang, was thus "founding father" to a mini-dynasty of Jingjiang kings, or princes, who ruled the principality in succession. King Jingjiang had a palace built for himself at the foot of Yao Mountain, with the mountain's Solitary Beauty Peak (Duxiu Peak) towering above it. A mausoleum was eventually built here as well, to house the kings/ princes who would come to rule over the principality. Thus, eleven Ming Dynasty princes of the Jingjiang Family are buried at the Mausoleum of the Princes Jingjiang.**

King Jingjiang's palace was laid out as a city, but a city conforming to the strict layout plans laid down for royal palaces by the king's grandfather, Emperor Taizu (all such palatial constuctions were in fact modelled after the not-yet-constructed, but planned, Forbidden City, also a Ming Dynasty/ Emperor Taizu creation). For example, all of the buildings of King Jingjiang's palace complex are laid out on a typical Ming Dynasty north-south axis, and in the case of King Jingjiang's palace, anchored by Solitary Beauty Peak in the north.

The outer entrance (Duanli Gate) to the palace complex is at the southern extreme of this string of buildings, a palace gate (Chengyun Gate) is located between this outer gate and the next building, the main palace building itself, Chengyun Palace, which is located in the center of the complex. Proceeding northward from Chengyun Palace lie the private residences (royal quarters) of the king/ prince and his family, as well as the imperial garden and the rear gate, Guangzhi Gate, all of which are located at the northern extreme, or at the back of the palace complex.

The palace complex burned down several times over the course of the years, mainly due to the ravages of war. Some parts of the complex remained, while others had to be restored. During the Qing Dynasty (note that while the Ming Dynasty rulers were of Han Chinese ethnic origin, the Qing Dynasty rulers were of Jürchen cum Manchu ethnic origin), the palace complex under China's new rulers was converted into the Guangxi Provincial Examination House, which administered the imperial exams for the region. Later still, during the immediate post-imperial period, i.e., during the period of the Republic of China, the new republic's George Washington, as it were, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leading thinker and military strategist of the new republic, once used the palace complex at Guilin for his regional headquarters during his Northern Expedition.

The palace subsequently became the government offices of Guangxi Province under the Republic of China, and was renamed Yat-sen Park in 1925, in honor of the passing of Dr. Sun. In 1993, the government of the PRC extended national cultural heritage protection to the palace complex, and work was begun to restore the complex to its original glory, with an eye to opening it - and some of the mausoleum's tombs - to the public, which finally occurred in 2003, though only the joint tomb of the third Jingjiang Prince, Prince Zhuangjian, and his consort have been opened to the public.

Today, Jingjiang Palace complex, besides being a popular Guilin tourist site, also serves as Guangxi Province Normal University, something which could only please the deposed Qing Dynasty rulers, who themselves had converted the palace into a place of higher learning.

* Note that a similar arrangement of delegation of authority to princely members of the imperial family had previously existed during the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, though the loose arrangement then - and under a very weak central rule - only led to a break-up of the loosely confederated empire into a number of warring states which were only consolidated again with the emergence of China's first centrally-ruled imperial dynasty, the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty.

** Though there are only eleven Jingjiang Princes buried at the Mausoleum of the Princes Jingjiang, there were in fact fourteen Jingjiang Princes who occupied the palace complex at Guilin. The explanation for the "discrepancy" is as follows...

The first prince - King Jingjiang himself, aka Zhu Shouqian - turned out to be a capricious tyrant. When the people repeatedly complained of King Jingjiang to the emperor, Zhu Shouqian was summoned to Beijing and eventually dismissed. He died, and was buried, in Nanjing. The thirteenth prince, Zhu Hengjia, was captured in war and died in house-arrest in Fuzhou, where he was buried. The fourteenth prince, Zhu Heng, fled the palace - and the area - during a seige by the Han Chinese general, General Kong Youde, who had gone over to the Manchu side due to Ming Dynasty treachery (the Ming Dynasty at the time (roughly 1632), corrupt and increasingly weak, was in its last throes before being ousted by the Manchus in 1644, who would set up China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing Dynasty). Zhu Heng simply disappeared; nothing was ever heard of him again, including news of his final resting place. Thus three of the fourteen Jingjiang Princes, for various reasons, are buried elsewhere.

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The only way to get to the Mausoleum of the Princes Jingjiang is by taxi, by rented vehicle - or by walking, if you don't mind a 5-kilometer trek (the nature around Guilin is truly beautiful).

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