Beijing's famous graves

Nobility scroll.jpg
The emperor scroll representing Arjiger's nobility

Eric Mu has been writing a series about the stories behind Beijing's place names for See China and Danwei. See also Beijing’s place names: Zhongguancun, The story of princess’ tomb: Part 1 and The story of the princess’ tomb: Part 2.

This piece is about places named after graves.

Many places in Beijing contain the character 坟 (fen, second tone) in their names. The character means a grave or tomb.

The city of Beijing used to be much smaller than it is now, and there was no centralized cemetery back before 1949, so people buried the deceased anywhere they could afford. Chinese people like to bury their dead in places with good "fengshui".

As the ancient capital, Beijing had much more dignitaries than any other cities, and the status of the deceased naturally lent considerable significance to their graves. As the city expanded dramatically, many former graveyards became valuable real estate, but the graves are sometimes preserved in place names.

Aside from the Gongzhufen that is introduced in another article, other famous "graves" in Beijing include Ba Wang Fen (八王坟 ), Suo Jia Fen (索家坟 ), and Iron Lion Fen (铁狮子坟 ).

Ba Wang Fen literally means the tomb of eight kings. It was in fact the burial place of Arjige (阿济格 1605 – 1651), the 12th son of Nurhaci (努尔哈赤 (1559 - 1626), a Manchurian prince who took over large parts of northeastern China, laying the groundwork for the Manchu conquest that became the Qing Dynasty.

Arjiger was granted the title of "Ying Qinwang", "qinwang" being the top rank of Chinese nobility that were usually bestowed to emperors' brothers. Ying Qinwang ranked the eighth among all the qinwangs and was usually called "the eighth king" (八王). The eighth king was known both for his mettle and muscle. He participated in many military campaigns in the Manchurian's conquest of China proper and won most of his battles. However, Arjiger sought to usurp the throne of the young Shunzhi Emperor, his nephew, after the regent Duorgun died. After his scheme was exposed, he was imprisoned for conspiring against the emperor and later ordered to commit suicide.

Another place in Beijing that has the character "fen" in its name is Suo Jia Fen, which is believed to be the burial place of Soni (索尼) and his son Suoetu (索额图). According to history, Soni was a leading official during the reigns of the first three emperors of the Qing Dynasty. Before the fourth Qing emperor's Kangxi's father, Emperor Shunzhi died, Sonin was appointed as one of the four regents to support the young Kangxi Emperor.

During the first years of Kangxi's reign, a power struggle ensued among the regents. Eventually, one of the regents, Oboi was deposed and imprisoned by the new emperor for having amassed too much power and posing threat to the throne. Soni's third son, Suoetu was the emperor's guard and a member of the inner circle that masterminded an ambush leading to Oboi's arrest.

However, after the emperor Kangxi died, his sons fought each other for succession. The elder son that Suoetu vouched for lost in the struggle. As a result, Suoetu was locked up and died in prison. It is said that the children of Suoetu were sent into exile to Manchuria, where their people originated. They dug up the bones of their father and grandfather from their graves, and took them to Manchuria to rebury them.

As for the Iron Lion Grave, no one is quite sure who was buried there. The name probably took its origin from two large lion statues made of cast iron which suggested the social status of the grave's owner.

Representations of lions were popular decorations for tombs in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), but iron-made ones are extremely rare. During the Great Leap Forward movement, the two iron lions were thrown into furnaces and melted to achieve Chairman Mao's grand goal of "surpassing the United Kingdom in steel production". Nothing but the name of the place is left.

There are currently 1 Comments for Beijing's famous graves.

Comments on Beijing's famous graves

Thanks for an informative post, Eric. I enjoyed it.

In one of the quirks of history, Nurhaci was unable to enjoy his final resting place. His remains were involved in a failed deal at Shanghai's glamorous "Club Obi-wan" during the 1930s.

Nurhaci's remains have never been recovered, but I think we'd all agree that they belong in a museum.

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