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Pingling, tomb of Emperor Zhao of Western Han Dynasty

(chinadaily.com.cn) 2018-09-19 Print Mail Share

Located in Qinhan New City, Xixian New Area, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Pingling is the tomb of Liu Fuling, Emperor Zhao of the Han dynasty, and his empress.

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 Pingling. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

Emperor Zhao (94 BC – 74 BC) was the emperor of the Western Han dynasty from 87 to 74 BC. He ascended to the throne at the age of only eight years old. Actually, he was only an emperor in name with a triad of high-placed government officials holding the power: Huo Guang, Jin Midi and Shangguan Jie.

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A map of the Western Han kingdom under the reign of Emperor Zhao. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

Early in Emperor Zhao's reign, Huo, Jin, and Shangguan served as co-regents, with the key decisions being made by Huo. After Jin died, Shangguan, unhappy with his lesser role in the co-regency, tried to gain more power over Huo. With Emperor Zhao's older siblings Princess Eyi and Prince Dan. they formed an anti-Huo conspiracy in 80 BC. But with Emperor Zhao's trust in Huo, the conspiracy failed. Later that year, the conspirators planned to kill Huo and then depose Emperor Zhao and make Prince Dan emperor. The conspiracy was revealed by a servant of Princess Eyi, and the conspirators were arrested and executed.

After the incident, Huo held most of the power of the empire, gaining a reputation for autocracy and heavy-handedness. However, the relationship between Huo and Emperor Zhao remained a positive one. 

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Huo Guang serves as regent. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

Actually, Emperor Zhao was wise. When Shangguan plotted a rebellion, he cooperated with Huo to ensure his throne. When Huo held the power, he appropriately handled the relationship with Huo to bring an era of peace to the Han dynasty. During his reign, the state's strength gradually recovered from the constant warfare of an earlier generation.

Regretfully, Emperor Zhao died after reigning for 13 years, at such the young age of 20 years old. His achievements are reflected in Pingling.

As Emperor Zhao died suddenly at such a young age, his tomb was constructed in a hurry. However, it was still a magnificent work. Covering a large area, Pingling consisted of two tombs: one for Emperor Zhao and the other for Empress Shangguan. The one located in the east covering a larger area was Emperor Zhao's tomb, surrounded by walls with a length of about 410 meters in all four directions.

In Emperor Zhao's tomb, there were 60 lifelike, intricate red wooden horses standing 0.5 meters high that showcased excellent craftsmanship. Bones of camels were also found there and those camels may the earliest ones found in central China. As camels originated in Arabia, Central Asia and North China, the bones may demonstrate that the Western Han kingdom once conducted exchanges with the outside world.

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A wooden horse in Emperor Zhao's tomb. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

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The Silk Road. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

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Pingling. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

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A map of Pingling. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

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Pingling. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

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Pingling. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]

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Pingling. [Photo/xixianxinqu.gov.cn]