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Notes on the Geography of China: Beijing: Eunuch Tombs

What's the most interesting thing to see in Beijing?  Silly question--what's your favorite color? what's your favorite number?--but one unusual candidate is Tianyi Mu, a relic of Beijing's once much more extensive eunuch cemeteries.  The tombs here are exceedingly derivative--shamelessly imitative miniatures of the imperial tombs.  Still, they're ignored, which makes them feel like graveyards, instead of monuments on the tourist circuit.

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Tianyi Mu was established in 1600. It's 12 miles straight west from Tian'anmen. Shortly after the road finally bends right to avoid a steel mill, you'll want to take a right turn. The cemetery will soon be on your left, at the toe of a very modest hill. At the entrance, there's a budget version of a monumental column or huabiao.

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The main entrance, on a path heading north, is a linteled star gate (lingxingmen, more popularly called a Dragon and Phoenix Gate (longfengmen), intended in either case to bar malevolent spirits. 

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A second gate.

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The path leads past a pair of statues of military and civil officers, much like those on the Sacred Way at the Ming tombs.

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Yet another gate, with a circular stele pavilion behind it.

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The central ornament is variously described as a ball wrapped in flame, as a peach--a Taoist symbol of longevity--or as a modified Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of the Law.

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Similar gates exist at many imperial tombs, including those of the Qing emperors at Zunhua, Hebei. They, too, have sculpted flanking panels.

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The stele pavilion, with double eaves under a pommel.

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Inside, the stele rests on a base ornamented with dragons.

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Outside, a more bucolic picture.

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Still farther along (and this is about as far as the cemetery extends), three steles can be seen rising in front of conically roofed tombs.  A stone incense burner stands at the end of the path.

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View to the right.

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View to the left.

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The tomb in the background is open, through this trap door. Twenty steps await.

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It's empty--but in summer pleasantly cool.

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A pair of tombs, both with sacrificial altars.  How could eunuchs have descendants to offer sacrifice?  Most couldn't, but of the 20,000 eunuchs said to have worked in the Imperial City in 1600, some became wealthy enough to adopt children.  Such was the case for the last eunuch, Sun Yaoting, who died in 1996. (He is not buried here.)

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A common theme on these tombs is a eunuch serving his emperor.

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Performing music for his master.

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Detail of one side of an altar.

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On either side of the stele but set back in front of the hedge are stone vases used in sacrifices.

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Assemblage of the five sacred vessels needed for sacrifice: two flower vases, two candlesticks, and an incense burner.

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An altar carved to resemble a cabinet.

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Graveyard bric-a-brac: a lattice screen, with ornamental handle.


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