Qianling Mausoleum in Xianyang, Shaanxi

Why is Qianling Mausoleum So Special?

  1. Wu Zetian is China’s only reigning female emperor from 690–705. Qianling Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Gaozong and his Empress Wu Zetian.
  2. The mausoleum is renowned for its many Tang dynasty stone statues located above ground and the mural paintings adorning the subterranean walls of the tombs.

Brief Introduction of Qianling Mausoleum

The Qianling Mausoleum, the tomb of Emperor Gaozong and his Empress Wu Zetian, occupies a prominent site on the summit of Liangshan Hill some 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of the Tang capital, Chang’an (today’s Xi’an). The tomb’s design replicates Xi’an city and is in accordance with the local tradition since it is on the north to south axis. The tomb’s southern approach has been set between the two small hills. The way to the tomb itself has been lined with human figures and stone animals. These figures include ostriches, horses, stone lions and winged horses.

History of Qianling Mausoleum

This includes Emperor Gaozong (r. 649–83), as well as his wife, Wu Zetian, who usurped the Tang throne and became China’s only reigning female emperor from 690–705. The mausoleum is renowned for its many Tang dynasty stone statues located above ground and the mural paintings adorning the subterranean walls of the tombs.

About Emperor Tanggaozong

According to historical data, Emperor Tanggaozong (628-683) is the nine son of Emperor Tangtaizong (599-649) and Queen Zhangsun. At the age of 16, he ascended the throne and became the third emperor of the great Tang Dynasty.

After his middle age, Emperor Tanggaozong had difficulty in eyesight, so his beloved queen Wu Zetian was appointed to dispose the state affairs. Beyond his expectation, the scepter of the country was mastered by the queen gradually. To avoid the loss of the imperial authority, the emperor tried to pass down it to their sons for several times but failed finally. After Tanggaozong’s death in 684, the queen complied with the last wish of her husband who died in Luoyang, ordering to escort him back to the capital Chang’an (known as Xi’an today) and burying him in the Mount Liang.

About Empress Wu Zetian

Wu Zetian (624-705) was born in a rich family in Sichuan Province. Her father used to offer assistance to Emperor Tanggaozu before he founded the Tang Dynasty, therefore her family was known to the Tang imperial family. In 637, Emperor Tangtaizong, the second emperor of Tang, selected 14-year-old Wu Zetian to be one of his concubines. But after a short time of partiality by Tangtaizong, she was left aside and spent a long lonely time of 12 years. When Tangtaizong is seriously ill, she fell in love with one of his sons, who is only 4 years younger than her and became Emperor Tanggaozong later. After Tangtaizong’s death, Wu Zetian and other concubines who had no babies were sent to the Ganye Nunnery to pray for this departed emperor.

Long before, she was summoned back to the imperial palace again by Emperor Tanggaozong. Then during the next 9 years, this tricky woman defeated the queen and other concubines by intrigues and gained the position of queen. After she came to the throne after 6 years of Emperor Tanggaozong’s death, she dethrone her young grandson emperor, claimed herself empress, renamed the state title from “Tang (唐)” to be “Zhou (周)”, and commenced her sovereign life for 16 years (690-705).

Although Wu Zetian had ruled the country as an empress for 16 years, the mausoleum of her husband and her is still considered to be one of emperor and queen according to tradition.

Structure of Qianling Mausoleum

The design of Qianling replicates the city of Chang’an and in accordance with tradition is on a north-south axis. The southern approach is set between two smaller hills and the way to the Emperor’s tomb is lined with stone animals as well as human figures. These include horses and ostriches, winged horses and a pair of stone lions. In all there are 124 stone sculptures and these are reminders of the fact that the Tang was very much involved with trade and diplomatic exchange with the world far beyond China’s borders as there are distinct Western Asian and Greek influences in these sculptures.

Main Attraction of Qianling Mausoleum

It is recorded in history data that the Qianling Mausoleum was originally protected by an inner wall and an outer wall and many other imposing architectural complex. Detection shows that the area of the “inner city” of the mausoleum is about 2,400,000 square meters with four city gates in due four directions. Starting from the first gate of Qianling Mausoleum, visitors will experience a long ladder with 537 steps before they reach the wide and flat Sima Way leading to the tombstone of Emperor Tanggaozong rebuilt in the 18th century (Qing Dynasty). Today many stone statues of ornamental columns, mythical auspicious beasts, ostrichs, horses, lions…still can be seen in the spot.

Qijie Bei

The Tablet of the Seven Elements or Qijie Bei is called so since it represents the fire, earth, water, wood, metal, moon and sun and it has an inscription by Empress Wu Zetian describing her late husband’s achievements. The calligraphy seen here is from Emperor Zhongzong who was deposed by the Empress but had returned later to his throne when he had eventually retired from office.

The Blank Tablet

One of the most unusual features of Qianling Mausoleum is a blank tablet with carved oysters and dragons but no writing or inscriptions. No other tomb site has anything like it. Many believe that the tablet had been made on the Empress’s orders and it would bear the descriptions of her own achievements eventually when a future generation recorded it. However, the tablet continues to remain blank even today and does not bear any inscriptions.

How to get to Qianling Mausoleum

Travel with ChinaDragonTours (top recommended)

If you want to get out of the traffic and hassle of navigation, you can book a private tour package that includes visiting, dining and transfer from us. Our local guide and driver will escort you to the Qianling Mausoleum in Xianyang Ancient City Wall in the fastest and most convenient way and take care of all the details. You just have to focus on the visiting.

Independent Traveler

Visitors can choose one of the following ways to go there:

  1. Take Tourist Bus No.3 at the square of Xi’an Railway Station. It cost 18 Yuan / person / one-way, about 2 hours’ drive. The bus departs at 08:00 and return at 15:00 at ordinary days and there will be more buses at festivals and holidays, but please note that the line usually stops during off seasons (March-November).
  2. Take a coach to Qianxian County at the West Bus Station of Xi’an or the Xianyang Bus Station. Arriving in Qianxian, take a bus to the Qianling Scenic Spot.

Useful Travel Tips

  1. The ticket includes visit to Qianling Museum, Tomb of the Prince Yide, Tomb of Zhanghuai Crown Prince and Qianling Mausoleum.
  2. Entrance fee:
    – Peak season (March-November): Qianling Mausoleum 45 Yuan, Yongtai Mausoleum Scenic Spot (Museum of Qianling Mausoleum) & Yide Mausoleum 25 Yuan, Zhanghuai Mausoleum 15 Yuan. Price of a coupon ticket for the above attraction: 70 Yuan.
    – Off season (December-February): Qianling Mausoleum 25 Yuan, Yongtai Mausoleum Scenic Spot (Museum of Qianling Mausoleum) & Yide Mausoleum 15 Yuan, Zhanghuai Mausoleum 5 Yuan. Price of a coupon ticket for the above attraction: 45 Yuan.
  3. Attractions around Qianling Mausoleum: Jing Mausoleum of Tang Dynasty, Iron Buddha Temple, Temple of Qingliang Pagoda.
  4. visitors can take the Tang-style carriages or ride a horse for sightseeing in the spot.

Nearby Attractions

Edited by Bella Ren/任新月