Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On A More Delicate Topic

Let me start by saying that I think Steve asked me to write this blog because I don't have quite the same personal attachment to this subject as he does.

Recently, we decided to check out a few of the less visited, perhaps more eclectic sites of Beijing. One that had recurred in our conversations and therefore made its way to the top spot was that of the eunuch tombs. While still not quite sure why a young man would volunteer for this position in service to the emperor, the memorial to one of the most famous eunuchs and a few of his disciples was fascinating on its own merits. A graveyard of sorts, with a couple of burial mounds, steles, and two goats commissioned with keeping the grounds well kept, was located on the outskirts of southwest Beijing in the middle of a thriving, working class neighborhood.

On opposite sides of the cemetery were two sets of stairways leading down around ten feet to what was noted by the Frommer's Guide as mausoleums. Unclear to us was if this was actually where the eunuchs were buried or if the burials mounds were their final places of rest.

Given the hundred-plus degree day, we decided to venture underground for a while to cool off and check things out. Despite a creepiness factor of around ten, as we were the only visitors to that site at that time, we spent some time inspecting the walls which had openings that looked like coffins might have been placed inside, the doors which were made of stone and Steve enjoyed closing to put a scare in me, as well as a rectangular box on the floor, of which the purpose was unclear to us. We remained there until we were cooled down enough to emerge. Then we visited perhaps a stranger complex, somewhat like a makeshift museum.

Inside a series of rooms dressed in imperial architecture were descriptions, photos, artifacts, and displays about such topics as "the last eunuch" (who died in 1996) and "how one becomes a eunuch" (literally...perhaps the most disturbing display I've ever seen), as well as a real corpse (also a bit disturbing) of a man whose identity we are unsure of. Suffice it to say that his bottom half was covered with a sheet, allowing us to infer possible eunuch status.

So if you're looking for a place to get away from the crowds, experience a bit of the stranger side of Chinese history for around a dollar-fifty per person, you won't be disappointed here.

~Desi

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