Underground Palace of King Guangling’s Tomb

Museum of the Tomb of Han Guangling King

Tomb with the “Huang Chang Ti Cou” Structure

Underground Palace of King Guangling’s Tomb
Originally situated in Tianshan village, Gaoyou county, about 45 kilometres northwest of Yangzhou, the Han tombs in Shenju hills was first discovered in 1979 when a group of people were quarrying for stones. The four stone-wooden-chambered tombs so far unearthed date from the West Han Dynasty more than two thousand years ago.

No.1 and No.2 of the excavated tombs, with occupants as Liu Xu, the first-generation King Guangling and his queen who lived more than 2,000 years ago, applied the highest rank of tomb structure — Huang Chang Ti Cou.

This is a replica of the Mount Shenju No.1 Han-dynasty Tomb in accordance with the latter’s shape and structure using original pieces of the “Huang Chang Ti Cou” structure. With a 53-meter-long southern route that leads to the entrance on the ground, this tomb’s main body, built with 540 cu.m of Phoebe zhennan wood, measures 16.65 meters from south to north, 4.5 meters from east to west, 4.5 meters in height, 237 aq.m in area.

The Underground Palace is composed of Outer Storage Room (Waicang Guo), Huang Chang Ti Cou, East Wing (Dong Xiang), West Wing (Xi Xiang), Central Room (Zhong Guo), Interior Room (Nei Guo), Leisure Room (Bian Fang), and Coffin (Zi Gong consisting of two layer of coffins).

The outermost section of the Underground Palace is called Waicang Guo, meaning “outer storage room” literally, which served as the dwelling for maids, cooks and horses as a large number of burial objects such as wooden male and female figurines, carriages and harnesses were excavated from this area, indicating that the custom of burying people alive together with the dead had been abandoned in the Han dynasty.

The second layer from the outside is known as “Huang Chang Ti Cou”, which was a special tomb structure that served as an important component in tombs of emperors and kings. While “Huang Chang” refers to cypress log with yellow heartwood, “Ti” means the end of logs next to the root, and “Cou” indicates that all the logs are piled with around the coffin with the “Ti” at the center, “Huang Chang Ti Cou” combined is a term describing the tomb structure that the coffin is surrounded with logs instead of bricks.

The “Huang Chang Ti Cou” in King Guangling Liu Xu’s tomb is composed of 856 Phoebe zhennan logs all together. These logs in different sizes feature many mortises and tenons in various shapes at the two ends, with up to 15 tenons on one side, which help to form a steady structure the joints of which are solid that the seams between a tenon and mortise would not allow the space of even a thin blade. Thanks to the ingenious design of mortise-and-tenon joints which reveals the high-level skills of carpenters in the Han dyansty, the Huang Chang Ti Cou makes a firm, solid, steady log-pile structure (without the use of one single nail) in which each log has its own unique and irreplaceable position. Liu Xu’s mausoleum outshines most of the other tombs of the same period, as it is the one that used the most materials, had the solidest structure, was the most ingeniously- and meticulously-built, and the most well-preserved as well.

The third layer which is named “Formal Storage Room” (Zhengcang Guo) consists of West Wing and East Wing. As indicated by its name, this is where the burial objects are housed. The cultural relics excavated here include lacquerware, pottery, bronzeware, tableware and bathware in sets, etc. The East and West wings are inscribed with “food official” (name of officials in charge of food for royal families) and “central court” (officials responsible for daily living of royal members) respectively, indicating that the Ease Wing is where the food and kitchen utensils are stored while the West houses daily wares for living.

A set of bathware was unearthed in the fifth room of the West Wing, which traces the rich bath culture of Yangzhou to the Han dynasty 2,000 year ago.

The pictures show respectively the bronze pot and basin for bath, indicating that people of Yangzhou living in the Han dynasty already had good hygiene habits and adequate sanitary facilities.

Among those excavated culture relics there are a large number of Chinese characters written with lacquer, ink, blade, etc., containing various meanings including directions, qualities of objects, official ranks of ancient Yangzhou such as “wood board for building boats in Yangzhou”(Guangling chuanguan caiban), “high-ranking official surnamed Wu” (Wu Daguan), “food official”(Shi Guan), “Central Court”(Zhongfu), which serve as precious physical evidence for the study on the official system, trade of food and commodities, weights and measures as well as the calligraphy art of the Han dynasty.

The inscription of “a 0.4-zhang-long and 2-chi-wide wood board for building boats in Guangling” reveals four historical facts: first, Yangzhou was indeed once named Guangling in ancient times, just as stated in historical recordings; second, “boat official” (chuan guan), which is not recorded in the official-rank system of Han dynasty, should have been a local official rank of Guangling specially set to manage the boat-building industry which was quite prosperous in Guangling due to the city’s abundance of rivers and lakes; third, “chi” and “cun” were used in the Han dynasty as measures; and fourth, wood boards used to build boats were confiscated for the building of this tomb, indicating the heavyweight identity of the tomb occupant.

The Queen’s Living Palace
The queen’s tomb, originally located 50 meters to the east of the king’s tomb, was unearthed and moved to Yangzhou at the same time with the latter. Also applying a “Huang Chang Ti Cou” structure, the queen’s tomb lied in a different pit but within the same mausoleum with the king’s tomb. Among the more than 300 pieces of cultural relics excavated from the queen’s tomb, the wooden stele with the inscription of “the 62th year” and the seal of “privately owned by members of Guangling’s family”, etc., served as reliable materials for the identification of the tomb occupant.

As a wood structure in a vertical cave surrounded by rocks with two slanted routes outside, the queen’s tomb is composed of covering earth, tomb pit, southern and northern routes, Formal Storage Room (Zhengcang Guo) and Outer Storage Room (Waicang Guo), etc. In the outer room situated to the south of the main room, 12 sculptures of horse carriages with the horse heads pointing at the south as if they were trying to pull forward the carriages, indicating that this section served as the storeroom of carriages.

Among these unearthed carriages, there are single-shaft four-horse, double-shaft four-horse, sing-shaft and double-shaft carriages. Based on the ink inscriptions on the wooden steles discovered beside these carriages, this large might be the miniature of the fleet of carriages that attended the funeral of the tomb occupant. The crafters adopted the perspective technique, namely, larger size of horses and carriages in the front rows and smaller in the back rows, to express the magnificence of the horse-carriage fleet.

Wood logs of the queen’s tomb

Every piece of log has its own sequence number. The log in the picture bears a carved inscription of “Nan Men”, meaning “South Gate”.

Among the ten similar tombs that have been unearthed nationwide so far, the tombs of King Guangling Liu Xu and his queen are the “Huang Chang Ti Cou” wood-structure tomb that is the largest, most complicated and well-preserved built with the most well-selected materials and most ingenious techniques. The burial system, structure of the two tombs and the cultural relics unearthed are of high value both archeology-wise and connoisseurship-wise, thus being seen as an excellent item of cultural heritage as well as the witness of the famous city of long history and rich culture. Yangzhou-residents’ life of physical and mental abundance in the Han-dynasty is well unveiled by the hundreds of Han tombs as well as cultural relics unearthed in the city, among which Mount Shenju No. 1 and No. 2 Tombs are representatives.

Credits: Story

Museum of the Tomb of Han Guangling King

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