Qianling is the joint tomb of Gao Zong (Li Zhi, 628--638A. D. ), the third emperor of the Tang Dynasty and his Empress Con- sort, Wu Zetian (624--705 A. D. ). Wu Zetian was the only Em- press in Chinese history. The tomb lies on Liangshan Hill, 6km north of Qianxian County, and about 80km from Xi'an. Li Zhi, the ninth son of Li Shimin (Tai Zong, the second em- peror of the Tang), ruled for 34 years. According to tradition, the emperor should establish his eldest son as crown prince who would succeed him to the throne. However, Li Zhi was made crown prince instead. Because he was the son of Empress Zhangsun who was strongly supported by her brother Prime Minister Zhangsun Wuji, the emperor appointed Li Zhi. After Emeror Tai Zong's death, Li Zhi ascended the throne and was entitled Gao Zong. But he was a person lacking political ability. He could hardly made any final decisions on court affairs without the Prime Minister's assis- tance. He was stupid and cowardly, so power gradually fell into Wu Zetian's hands. Wu Zetian's name was Zhao. Her ancestral home was in pre- sent-day Wenshui County, in Shanxi Province. She was born in what is now Guangyuan County in $ichuan Province. Her father, Wu Shihuo, was a wood-merchant, but later he followed Li Yuan, founder of the Tang Dynasty, and fought in the revolt against the Sui Dynasty. He was appointed minister of works in the Tang Court. In her early youth, Wu Zetian went with her parents who travelled a lot, which helped her widen her knowledge a gerat deal. She lost her father at the age of 12. As a result, she suffered a great deal of discrimination from society, and was also bullied by her two brothers at home. However, it was these frustrations she met with during her life that helped her to build her indomitable character.
When she was 14, Tang Tai. Zong heard of her exceptional a-bility and beauty. She was chosen and admitted into the imperial palace and was conferred the title of Cairen (the fifth-grade concu-bine of the emperor).
Nurtured at the side of Tang Tat Zong, and having lived in the imperial palace for a long period of time, she accumulated a wealth of political experience. Eagerly she read, learning everything she could to enhance her abilities. After Tat Zong's death, Wu Zetian and the other palace maids were forced to become nuns in Ganye Temple. She was only 26.
Wu Zetian had had contact long before with Li Zhi, now the crown prince. The relationship between them had started while she was taking care of Tat Zong who was confined to bed at that time. She stayed in Ganye Temple only for three years. In 654 A. D. , she returned to the imperial palace and was granted the title of Zhao Yi, (the second-grade concubine) and was established as Empress the following year. As soon as she became Empress, she had a hand in the management of state affairs. From 660 A. D. , Gao Zong was in poor health. Almost all the important affairs of state were considered and decided by Wu Zetian. So the courtiers called both Gao Zong and Wu Zetian "Your Majesty"(or His or Her Majesty). But it was Wu Zetian who was actually in supreme power. In order to ensure that Li's dynasty would last long time, Gao Zong wanted to abdicate, and hand over the crown to I.i Hong (I.i Zhi and Wu Zetian's eldest son). But Wu Zetian killed Li Hong with poisonous drink and established Li Xian, her second son, as the crown prince. Soon he was dethroned and became a common person. Then Li Xian, the third son, was made crown prince. In 683 A.D. Emperor Gao Zong died of illness. Li Xian ascended the throne, and was entitled Zhong Zong. But Wu Zetian was still pre-sent at court to deal with the affairs of state, in a capacity of em-press dowager. The following year Wu Zetian dethroned Zhong Zong and made him the King of Lu Ling. Li Dan, the fourth son was established as Emperor Rui Zong. However, she still did not allow him to interfere in the affairs of state, and she still had the fi-nal saying in everything. In 690 A. D. , she simply deposed Rui Zong, proclaiming herself Sacred Empress. She changed the title of the dynasty from Tang into Zhou. Through thirty years of strug-gling, she finally ascended the throne and became the only empress in Chinese history.


Wu Zetian was a woman of humble birth, from a wood merchant's family. But she dared to defy public opinion in the feu-dal society and proclaimed herself empress of China. Without a doubt, this was a serious challenge to the feudal ethics of "the supe-riority of man over woman"and "the idea that lack of talent is a virtue in women". Because of this, she was greatly criticised by the society. But, if we look at this from a historical point of view, we should say she displayed outstanding personal ability during the 50 years of her reign. At that time, the society was stable, the nation-al defence strengthened and the economy developed further. All of this, as well as the inheritance from the past, played an important role towards ushering in the coming peak of all feudal societies—the Kaiyuan Period of Tang Xuan Zong. She encouraged the govern-ment officials at all levels to recommend persons of ability, them-selves included, to fill government posts. Those who were recom-mended or offered their services would be charged with important tasks quickly, if they had real abilities and learning. Therefore, the prime ministers, who were apponinted while she was in power, were all known as able and virtuous prime ministers in Chinese his-tory. Wu Zetian was also willing to listen to objections and remon-strations. She orderd Tong Gui (just like today's suggestion box) to be placed around the imperial court and collected suggestions from the court and the common people in all parts of the country. Qianling Tomb was built in 684 A.D.. It took 23 years to complete Qianling Tomb. It is located on Liangshan Hill, 1047. 5 metres above sea level. Of the three peaks of Liangshan Hill, the north peak, where Qianling is located, is the highest. The two peaks in the south, face each other, east to west. On each of the two peaks stands a watch tower made of earth. Folks call the two peaks "Nipple Hills". According to historical records there used to be two city walls that formed an inner and outer city there. There were four gates and many other splendid buildings, such as the ded-icatory hall, and several gate towers.
It has been proven through exploration that the total area of the inner city was about 240 square metres. On each side of the in-ner city, there was a gate, the Phoenix Gate in the south, the Tor-toise Gate in the north, the Blue Dragon Gate in the east and the White Tiger Gate in the west. On both sides of the spirit way in front of the tomb, 124 exquisite and lively stone statues are lined up from north to south. They include a pair of octagonal prismatic cloud pillars, a pair of winged horses, a pair of phoenixes, five pairs of stone horses, and ten pairs of guarding generals with helmets on their heads and swords in their hands. There is a pair of stone lions in front of each city gate. There are three pairs of stone horses in front of the north gate. In addition, outside the south gate there are two tall tablets: a Monument to the Holy Deeds of Emperor Gao Zong and a Wordless Monument to Wu Zetian. There are also 61 stone statues, representing the heads of the Chinese minority na-tionalities and envoys from friendly countries who came to Emperor Gao Zong's funeral. From the beginning of the construction of Qianling Tomb, the number and variety of stone carvings, and the way they were to be arranged were formulated, and followed till the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. This arrangement with minor dif-ferences was largely identical in successive dynasties. A Monument to Emperor Gao Zong located on the western side of the Phoenix Gate, consists of seven joints, and it is also called the Seven-Joint Tablet. It is said that the seven joints symbolize the Seven Elements, that is, the Sun, the Moon, Metal, Wood, Wa-ter, Earth and Fire. The ancient Chinese believed that the world was composed of these Seven Elements. It measures 6. 3 metres high, 1.86 metres wide and weighs 61.6 tons. The pedestal for the tablet is carved with various figures of beasts. The inscription on the tablet was contains over 8, 000 words, singing the praises of Gao Zong's political achievements and military exploits. When the tablet was carved, the strokes of characters were coated with gold fillings, and even today the remains of gold fillings on some charac-ters can still be discerned.
The Wordless Tablet on the eastern side of the Phoenix Gate is 6. 3 metres high, and weights 98. 9 tons. The sides of the tablet were carved with figures of dragon. On the top part of the tablet were carved eight oysters intersecting each other. Why did Wu Ze-tian set up a wordless tablet for herself? Some say that she wanted people of later generations to give her a just and fair appraisal. 0th-ers say she thought that her merits and virtues were so immeasur-able that they were beyond words. Still some others think that it was probably set up by Tang Zhong Zong, who was dissatisfied with her arbitrary decisions and peremptory actions on the one hand and unwilling to flatter her against his conscience on the other. But as a son of hers, it was inappropriate for him to reproach her. So he set up the Wordless Tablet to let people of later generations appraise her. Anyhow, placing a tablet, with no word, before an emperor's mausoleum, has never been found before in our country. In the Song and the Jin dynasties, 13 paragraphs have been in-scribed by visitors. Now the Wordless Tablet has become a tablet with words. Owing to the passage of time and the ravages of wind and rain, most of the inscription on the tablet is already undecipher-able. Only the Travelog by I.ang Jun, carved in Niuzhen script, in the Jin Dynasty (1135 A. D. ) with Chinese translation beside it, has been preserved comparatively intact. Niuzhen script, the lan-guage of a minority nationality has disappeared. Therefore, this tablet has great value for the study of Niuzhen script, the history, and the culture of minority nationalities of our country. The towers on the eastern and western sides of the inner city are flanked with 61 stone statues. In order to commemorate the heads of the Chinese minorities and the envoys from foreign coun-tries that attended Gao Zong's funeral, Wu Zetian ordered these stone statues be carved. Dressed in close-sleeved clothes, wide belts round their waists and boots on their feet, they obviously showed no characteristic of the costume of the Han nationality of the Tang Dynasty. They were saying prayers with their hands cupped before their chests. Most of their heads were damaged long ago. Now only two statues have heads. They have high noses and deep-set eyes and they probably were envoys from the Western Regions of Central and Western Asia. Originally on the back of each stone statue were carved its nationality, official position and name. Being exposed to the weather over the years, most of the characters are already unde-cipherable, only those on the backs of the two stone statues coming from Iran and Afghanistan, can still be discerned.
Qianling Tomb is not only magnificent in its outward appear-ance, but also rich in buried treasure. According to the Records of the Holy Deeds of Emperor Gao Zong, Emperor Gao Zong asked, in his last words, to have the calligraphies and paintings that he liked during his lifetime, buried with him in his tomb. Besides, as Emperor Gao Zong and Wu Zetian were living at the peak of the Tang Dynasty, the tomb must have had just about everything you would have expected to find there.
Most emperor's tombs of the Tang Dynasty were robbed by Wen Tao, the general governor of Yaozhou, during the Five Dy-nasties. Historical records say it was a dark day when Wen Tao was digging into Qianling Tomb. The stone of the tomb was so strong that he could't break it open. After liberation it was proven through archaeological survey that the tomb passage, from the entrance to the tomb gate, was built of rectangular stone blocks piled up layer upon layer, 39 layers in all. Each layer of the stone blocks was fas-tened together with iron bolts. All the crevices between the layers were filled with molten lead. It was not easy to open under the working conditions at time. It has been verified that there were no holes around the tomb, and the stone blocks and rammed earth a-long the tomb passage remain the same as when Wu Zetian and Gao Zong were buried. Therefore, it is believed that Qianling Tomb was not robbed. Qianling Tomb is large in scape. It has a circum-ference of 40 kilometers; and 17 satellite tombs of princes, high ministers are also there.