A Eunuch’s Tale

Nicholas Quirke was working through hIs must do list on 7 July 2021 and realised that he still have not visited The Tomb of Tian Yi. Which lay on the remote outskirts of Beijing in the foothills of the Cuiwei Mountain, in the Moshikou region in the west. It required a day trip and as he had no lessons that day he took the opportunity to make the effort. It transpired that there was a temple nearby and it was also close to the Shougan Industrial park where there was an exhibition of sculptures relating to the CCP Birthday. This gave him plenty of things to do and also provided him with a much needed sense of adventure, setting off on his own into the unknown if only for a day. His destination was the end of line 6 to the west and when he was cited the station he felt a certain familiarity as the looming mass of derelict tech could be seen but he was north of that view and heading in the opposite direction. He was annoyed with himself for once again having forgotten to bring his fan which in the sun and continually soaring temperatures of Xiǎoshǔ, (minor heat”) the 11th solar term that begins when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 105° and he felt every moment of the celestial rays and warmth. He initially started to walk to the site but finally found a bike and cycled the remaining Km. the area where the tomb was located was all low level ancient hutong style and the street sellers and locals gave it a colour that really appealed to him. He had wanted to see this site as the story of Tian Yi had really appealed to him. Tian Yi was a eunuch of the imperial court for 63 years. He was born in Shaanxi Province, castrated at age 9 and immediately entered the imperial court. He served three Ming emperors and as favourite eunuch of the Wan Li Emperor became the director of ceremonies, the fourth ranking position in the political structure of the time. When he died in 1605 three days of mourning[and the construction of a tomb with many features of an imperial mausoleum to commemorate his lasting service to the country was ordered. Four other eunuchs chose to be buried alongside him out of respect and admiration for his work. The tomb has a traditional layout in which a spirit way serves as a central axis and a division between a front portion used by visitors to pay their respects and a closed off back portion. The tomb is rich in stone carvings. The masonry artworks include three gates (front gate, Lingxing gate, and the graveyard gate), sculptures that line the spirit way, steles, ceremonial vessels, and stone altars for sacrifices. The names of 259 eunuchs who participated in his funeral are also inscribed at the tomb. Notably, the stone statues of the guards before the tomb both wear the uniforms of officials of the first rank, a sign of exceptional favour from the Emperor. A stairway built next to the tomb allowed him the opportunity to walk ten feet underground and experience the inside of the Ming dynasty mausoleum and enjoy a break from the humid heat above ground. There was also a small exhibition hall at the entrance which, included the embalmed corpse of a eunuch, the best preserved cadaver in the country and also provides scattered details of the eunuchs’ lives. He was greeted enthusiastically by a group of men moving some of the ancient stone carvings around before walking the short 1 km uphill to the next stop on his agenda. The Fahai Temple, with another compelling history was constructed during the reign of Zhengtong Emperor of Ming Dynasty, and it is the home to one of the best preserved Ming Dynasty’s buddhist frescoes in China. Built to honour the emperor the wealthy landowner used seven imperials court artists to decorate the walls of the main hall where they remained safe for centuries. During the revolution the temple became a military base and despite the protests of the temple protector boards were nailed into the walls when they were torn down damaged the beautiful images. It then became a school where the overseer knowing how precious the frescoes were kept writing to the government to have the site protected. Eventually a local disaster site was visited by a high ranking official who while he was there wanted to wanted to see the temple. The janitor showed him the frescoes and he was immediately overwhelmed by the preciousness of what he saw and as a result it was declared as a national cultural relic protection unit in 1988. It meant climbing steep steps and to see the frescoes which, were now kept in complete darkness to protect their integrity he had to join a small tour group. Armed with a cold light torch he was allowed into the hallowed hall. Despite not being able to understand a word of the 25 minute tour the treasures in the frescoes were revealed and they were breathtaking. He made his way back down the mountain and went to a small museum cafe in the village where he sat on the upper floor of an ancient building looking out into the Ming courtyard. After a very refreshing cool real peach oolong tea he cycled to the industrial park to see the the statues. It took much longer than he expected as the north gate appeared to be shut. He cycled round the perimeter entered the more southern gate and searched for the sculptures only to discover Peng had made a mistake, there was no exhibition. He went to the station and went home where the required Xiaoshu treat of lotus root with glutinous rice and Osmanthus juice awaited him and where the evening was spent watching ‘The God Comittee’ an engrossing drama on the moral dilemma of who gets a new heart.  Playing god in a hospital administration office felt almost epic though he was left oddly unmoved. It was great though to see Kelsey Grammer in serious form. He had done a lot of cycling and walking which ensured that he physically was ready for sleep when it came.

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