Thursday, September 06, 2012

Cixi's Tomb

Ruling China at the very end of the Qing Dynasty, when decadence and decline were the names of the game, the Emperess Dowager Cixi is an intriguing figure who is easy to ridicule. After all, she built the Marble Boat at a time when the Chinese navy was facing one humiliation after the next.

From the outside, Cixi's tomb fits the narrative of the over-the-top lifestyle of an imperial ruler, with huge courtyards, bridges, and ancillary buildings all designed to add to the majesty of the tomb up ahead.

Inside, however, things are not as impressive. (Cixi's tomb was also blasted open and looted during the warlord period, which is the only reason tourists can go inside today.) In comparison to Qianlong, Cixi's inner tomb is rather pedestrian (albeit way grander than any of us will ever be granted, or want to be granted for that matter). Absent is the majestic Tibetan carving, replaced by simple stones.

The overall feel we took away from the inside was one of how far the dynasty had fallen during the 19th century, in between the times of Qianlong and Cixi. Add to that the desolate, unkempt state of affairs at the Eastern Qing Tombs of today (a World Heritage Site, by the way), and the entire vibe continues to be one of misplaced glory that is well past its prime.



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