The Chongqing Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology (重庆市文物考古所) recently announced the discovery of a tomb in Banan District (巴南区) thought to be the final resting place of a senior Ming Dynasty official and his wife. The archaeologists working at the site have speculated that the tomb is that of Li Wenjin (李文进), who held the position of Vice Censor-in-Chief during the reign of the Jiajing (嘉靖) emperor.
Bai Jiujiang (白九江), Deputy Director of the Chongqing Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, explained that they were able to trace the location of the Ming Dynasty tomb thanks to reports they received about the discovery of stone horse and sheep statues at Shimawan (石马湾) in the village of Zitongba (梓桐坝村) in Maliuzui (麻柳嘴), Banan District. Excavations were carried at the Shimawan site and these revealed a Ming Dynasty tomb on a slope along the right bank of the Changjiang (长江), or Yangtze, River. The structure and layout of the tomb complex were designed with the local landscape in mind: the tomb itself is built into the hillside, low-lying paddy fields can be seen around the entrance of the tomb, and the complex is flanked by hills on both sides. The complex itself faces west and covers a total area of some 600 square metres. Near the entrance of the tomb, one can see the ruins of a three-tiered ceremonial altar. A number of stone statues were found on the first tier: two horses, one sheep and one tiger. The toppled statue of a human figure and a sheep statue were found along the perimeter of the tomb complex. From the surviving remnants of the human figure’s head, the archaeologists were able to deduce that this was the statue of a civil servant.
The deputy director went on to explain that the records in the “History of Ming” (明史) suggest that such a tomb likely belonged to a first or second rank official. On the ceiling of the burial chamber, one can see the inscriptions “Governor Censor” (都督御史) and 淑人李母陈氏 (no translation available**), which suggests that the family name of the tomb’s male occupant was Li (李) and that he was married to a woman from the Chen (陈) clan. The use of the term 淑人 in the inscription dedicated to the occupant’s wife would normally suggest that the occupant was actually a third rank official but Ming historical texts show that high-ranking officials were often granted extra honours and privileges upon death. According to the “Annals of Ba County” (巴县志) and Chongqing municipal records, only one person held the office of Governor Censor in Ba County during the Ming Dynasty: Li Wenjin. Interestingly, the register of jinshi (进士) degree-holding officials shows that the official Li Wenjin was a native of Ba County, Chongqing, Sichuan Province, and was married to a woman from the Chen clan. Therefore, it is very likely that the tomb was indeed the final resting place of Vice Censor-in-Chief Li Wenjin and his wife.
Bai pointed out that the Shimawan tomb is one of Chongqing’s most intact and well-preserved elite tombs found to date, so the research conducted at the site will shed some light on the site selection and composition of Ming Dynasty officials’ tombs and on the funerary customs of Ming China.
** If you know how this should be translated, please let me know.
Author’s Note: The original article can be found here. Some sections have been omitted, while others have been paraphrased and/or rewritten. Please note that I am not a professional translator or archaeologist so there may be errors in my translation. Constructive criticism and feedback is welcome.