Old octagon-shaped tomb shows morbid stories of the Mongol-ruled China

Archaeologists in Yangquan, China, have discovered an octagon-shaped tomb with walls covered with wall paintings that dates back some 700 years, when the descendants of Genghis Khan ruled China.

The pyramid-shaped roof of the tomb is decorated with images of the sun, the moon and the stars, archaeologists said. And one of the murals depict the story of the parents trying to bury their young son in life.

Seven of the walls are covered with frescoes, while the eighth is in the possession of the driveway. No skeletal remains found within, although a mural on the wall shows the tomb of the husband and wife residents, a team of archaeologists, wrote in a report that was recently published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. [See Photos of the Octagon-Shaped Tomb and Excavation site]

Some of the murals show scenes of the life in Mongol-ruled China. These include a band of musicians to play songs, the tea is being prepared, and horses and camels for transport of people and goods, according to the paper.

Some of the people in the murals are shown wearing Mongol rather than Chinese, fashion styles, the archaeologists noted. For example, in a mural, a camel, led by a man who “is wearing a soft hat with four edges, that was the traditional hat of northern nomadic tribes from the ancient times,” the archaeologists wrote in the journal article.

“Mongolian rulers issued a dress-code in 1314 for segregation: Han Chinese officials maintained from the round collar shirts and folded hats, and the Mongolian officials wore clothing, such as long coats and soft hats with four edges,” they wrote.

Ancient Chinese stories

Two of the murals depict stories that were popular in the Chinese history. Shows the story of Guo Ju and his wife, who has a young son and care for Ju’s sick mother. The family is a shortage of food and money, and must choose between the care for the mother or the child. They decide to bury their child in life so that they can afford to feed Ju mother and buy her medicine. When they dig a hole, they discover numerous gold coins — a reward from heaven for the care of the mother. They no longer need to sacrifice for their son, and the family lives happily ever after, according to this mural. [Photos: Ancient Tomb of the Couple Found in China]

Another mural shows the story of the Yuan Jue, a child who insisted that his grandfather cared for properly. In the story, Jue’s family is living in a period of famine, and Jue’s father decides to Jue’s grandfather in the wilderness, so that he will die and the other family members have a better chance to survive. Jue protests, on the occasion of his father (who is carting his grandfather), saying that if he goes through with his actions, Jue will cart his father in the wilderness when he is older. The father relents, and the family (grandpa included) makes it through the famine.

While these two stories sound grim, both representing “filial piety,” the importance of respecting your parents and grandparents and care for them when they get older, the researchers noted.

Such stories were popular in the Chinese history, wrote Alan K. L. Chan and Sor-hoon Tan in the introduction to the book “Filial Piety in Chinese Thought and History” (Routledge, 2004). “There is near unanimity among the early Chinese thinkers about the importance of xiao [a word that means “filial piety”] in Chinese philosophy,” wrote Chan, who is a professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and Tan, who is a professor at the National University of Singapore. “Among the various forms of virtuous conduct, xiao [filial piety] in the first place, explains a well-known Chinese proverb.”

Mongolian rule

A Mongolian army led by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, conquered China in 1271. At the time, the Mongols also controlled Mongolia and parts of modern-day Russia, Korea, and Vietnam. The descendants of Genghis Khan ruled China until 1368, when rebel soldiers forced the Mongols to return to Mongolia. During their rule, the Mongols built Shangdu (also known as Xanadu), the Mongolian rulers are used as their capital in the summer.

The period of Mongol rule coincided with the Little ice age, a global climatic event where the weather in Europe and Asia was cooler, Timothy Brook, a history professor at the University of British Columbia, wrote in his book “The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties” (Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2010).

In times that the people suffer at times due to floods and famine in China during the Mongol domination, although sometimes the economy flourished, Brook wrote. According to historical data, there was an increase in “dragon” sightings in the decades before the Mongols left China, Brook noted, with a dragon supposedly destroying of 3200 acre (1,300 hectares) of agricultural land in 1339. Today, dragons are considered as mythical and what people were actually seeing, is not clear. Despite the historical claims of dragon attacks during the time of the Mongol domination, no images of dragons were found in the tomb.

The tomb was discovered in April 2012, and was excavated by a team of archaeologists from Yangquan City Office of Cultural Heritage Administration and the Office of the Cultural heritage and Tourism of the Suburbs of Yangquan City. Their report was published for the first time in the Chinese, in the journal Wenwu in 2016, and was recently translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

Originally published on Live Science.


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