Tyrant delivers one last blow to East China

Art April 21, 2013 00:00

By Cang Wei, Song Wenwei

Discovery of Emperor Yang's modest tomb proves tourist attraction nearby is a fake, say archaeologists


Archaeologists believe they have discovered the tomb of one of China’s most infamous emperors at a construction site in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. 
Archaeologists from all over the country rushed to Yangzhou and confirmed that the tomb, found last Sunday in Hanjiang district, belonged to Yang Guang (Yang of Sui), who is considered one of the worst tyrants in Chinese history.
Most Chinese historians say Yang’s tyranny brought the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) to an end. But he also completed several great construction projects during his reign, including the Grand Canal.
He commanded the reconstruction of the Great Wall, a project which took the lives of nearly six million workers. He also ordered several military expeditions that brought Sui to its greatest territorial extent, one of which, the conquest of Champa in what is now central and southern Vietnam, resulted in the death of thousands of Sui soldiers from malaria. These expeditions, along with a series of disastrous campaigns against Goguryeo (one of the three kingdoms of Korea), left the empire bankrupt and a populace in revolt. With northern China in turmoil, Emperor Yang spent his last days in Jiangdu (in modern Yangzhou), where he was eventually strangled in a coup led by his general Yuwen Huaji.
According to Shu Jiaping, director of Yangzhou’s archaeological bureau, a tablet found at the site inscribed “Tomb epitaph of the late Emperor Yang of Sui” proves that it is Yang’s, despite the modest burial site. 
“Yang died suddenly while fleeing revolts against his rule, so his tomb isn’t even as luxurious as those of ordinary rich people in the Sui Dynasty,” Shu says of the grave, which is only 5 metres by 5.88 metres in size.
“Grave robbers had visited the tomb,” Shu said. “Also, the roof of the tomb is not in good condition because residential buildings were built above it.”
Although the tomb has been looted, four valuable items that could only have belonged to an ancient royal family were found, including lion-shaped doorknockers made of gold and iron, and a jade belt decorated with gold.
However, according to the local archaeological bureau, no human remains or coffins have been found yet.
The discovery of the tomb surprised people living nearby.
“We heard that construction workers had found bricks they thought were from ordinary ancient tombs,” said Zhou Jian, a local. “But it never occurred to me that I was the neighbour of an ancient emperor, even if he was a notorious one.”
Archaeologists also discovered another tomb nearby, which they say might belong to Yang’s queen.
The discovery proves that the mausoleum 6km away previously thought to be Yang’s burial site since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is a fake, says Shu.
The “fake mausoleum” occupies an area of 30,000 square metres and has magnificent memorial arches, tomb doors and walls.