In Glendinning’s book, the history of Alexander the Great repairing the tomb of Cyrus the Great reminded me of similar things in Chinese history, which leads me to consider the meaning of preservation.
As we all know, when a dynasty is overthrown, its empire’s tombs are frequently plundered for all kinds of priceless treasure. However, founders of the Qing dynasty, on the contrary, hold a decent funeral for the Chongzhen Emperor, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty who committed suicide during the peasant rebels before the Qing defeat the rebel and seized Beijing. Through the whole Qing dynasty, the Ming tombs were carefully preserved. An official institute was created for the maintenance and protection of the Ming tombs. Descendants of the Ming dynasty imperial family were offered the hereditary title of Marquis and received a salary from the Qing government to continue the rituals of Ming dynasty. Besides, Qing praised Confucianism and adopted most of the institutions from the Ming dynasty.
In contrast, about 500 hundred years before Qing, Jin and Yuan, two dynasties founded by nomadic people, successively pillaged empire’s tombs of the Song dynasty to humiliate Han Chinese and plunder treasure. In addition, Yuan’s army even tore down almost all the walls of Chinese cities and burned the scripture of Chinese.
I used to view these histories as political strategy. Qing deliberately positioned themselves as the political heir of Ming by taking care of the Ming tombs. Jin and Yuan’s outrage was aimed for eliminating rebellion. Although out of almost the same intention, their results are entirely different. Qing’s policy helped them reduce resistance of transition and earn the support from people who were still loyal to the former dynasty. As a minority people, they kept a stable reign for nearly 300 years, more than most dynasties built by Han Chinese who formed the majority of Chinese population. However, both Jin and Yuan struggled for the staggering govern through their ephemeral regime.
From the view of preservation, it is the esteem of history and culture that not only brought significant benefits to the rulers of Qing, but also made great contribution to the preservation of culture. The Ming tombs are the most complete Royal mausoleum complex in China and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose architecture and other antiquities such as stele and mural, provide an specific and informative reference for the research of ancient China.
Vandals had a notorious reputation for “sacking and looting” Rome, Alexander the Great win the applause for the protection of his enemy’s tomb. Examples all around the world show us the significant meaning of preservation and make us reflect on what we have done for preservation and whether it is enough.
Watercolor overview of the Ming Tombs (wiki)