Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Saturday, December 29, 2001
Excavation of Qianling Mausoleum in Dispute
Chinese archaeologists can not agree on when to open the 1,200-year-old Qianling mausoleum, the tomb of Wu Zetian, the famous empress of ancient China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Some people insist that excavation of Qianling be started as soon as possible. Others are urging to hold off a bit, saying a plan has to be in place to protect the tomb's treasures before any digging begins.
Nobody knows exactly what's inside the 1,200-year-old Qianling mausoleum, the tomb of Wu Zetian, the famous empress of ancient China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), because Chinese archaeologists can't agree on when to open it.
Some people insist that excavation of Qianling be started as soon as possible, as China now has the qualified people and technical know-how to do the work. Others are urging to hold off a bit, saying a plan has to be in place to protect the tomb's treasures before any digging begins.
Located 80 kilometers northwest of the ancient city of Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Qianling is the joint tomb of Wu Zetian, who remained in power for 50 years, and her husband, Emperor Li Zhi of the Tang Dynasty. It is also the only tomb in China which contains the bodies of two emperors.
Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, was buried into the tomb 22 years after her husband.
Authorities said they have found evidence of eight attempted robberies of the tomb, which all ended in failure and have lent even more mystery to Qianling, the only Tang tomb which has not been looted.
Almost all visitors to the tomb wonder where the underground palace is, where the emperors were laid to rest, as well as the conditions of numerous treasures buried inside the tomb, built more than 1,200 years ago.
Proposals Stand for Excavation
Qianling has been visited by 20 million people at home and abroad since it was listed as a state-level relics site in 1961.
Discussions on the excavation of Qianling date back some 40 years ago, and applications to open up the tomb have never been approved by the central government.
For the past two years, the excavation of Qianling has become a topic of dispute after the Chinese government launched the strategic program to develop its vast west region so as to boost local economic development.
Those who strongly advocate the excavation of Qianling said the time is ripe to open the tomb since China now has a very experienced team of archaeologists, who are armed with high and new technologies and advanced equipment.
The proponents said the best way to protect relics is to actively carry out excavations.
"The excavation of Qianling is of great significance," said Cheng Andong, Shaanxi governor, who has always pushed for the opening of the ancient tomb.
Cheng said that excavation can help save and better protect Qianling, which may contain many important relics of the prosperous period during the Tang Dynasty. And these relics are important in studying the Tang Dynasty, Cheng noted.
As early as 1995, Shaanxi applied to open Qianling at an annual session of the National People's Congress, and later the province also made preparations to start the excavation.
Shaanxi is a rich source of historical relics. To date, a great number of important sites, including the mausoleum of China's first emperor Qinshihuang, have been unearthed there.
Famous archaeologist Shi Xingbang, former director of the Shaanxi Archaeological Research Institute, agreed Qianling should be explored. He pointed out certain fragile relics will just rot underground as the years go by.
In 1987, Shi participated in the excavation of Famen Temple in Fufeng County, 118 kilometers away from the provincial capital Xi'an. He found that all paper relics were rotten and most of the silk relics were deteriorating.
Views Against Excavation
However, many archaeologists are against the excavation, saying China's heritage should be approached with care and caution.
"We are not quite clear about the situation inside the tomb, and we have many technical problems that need to be settled to protect silk, wooden and paper relics," said Su Bai, a professor with the archaeology department of Beijing University.
Su said silk relics unearthed from the Famen Temple are still kept inside refrigerators, which shows that "we haven't mastered the techniques to protect these relics."
Importance of Protection in Archaeological Work
The Chinese government has stood by the principle of no active excavation of imperial tombs, and stressed the importance of protection and rescue in doing archaeological work.
Chinese archaeologists excavated three major subordinate tombs of Qianling in the 1960s and 1970s. However, no reports about these excavations have ever been submitted.
Ecological Protection in West Regions Development
Some people said that in the course of developing the west region, a lot of work needs to be done in infrastructure construction and ecological protection. They said that archaeological workers should pay more attention to the protection of local relics in the course of development.
Protection of Relics
Wang Danhua, an expert of relics protection, said that the relics have become acclimated to the environment inside Qianling as they have been there for more than 1,200 years. So there is no need to open the tomb immediately, Wang added.
Some experts said that it is necessary to work out plans and effective measures to protect relics of Qianling before the tomb is opened up.
In particular, they pointed out, technical problems should be first settled to avoid damage to the tomb's precious contents.