From my base in Shenzhen, over 11 years of travel across
the Middle Kingdom to find what's ancient in a modern land

(more about my travels in China)

The Boy Emperor's Tomb, Shenzhen

Shenzhen (where I live) is a newly-developed city, but if you look closely, you can still find some history.

Case in point: Song Shao Di Mu, the tomb of Song Shao (also called Song Di Bing or Zhao Bing), last emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty, who died in the Pearl River Delta in 1279 and whose body, it is said, washed up on the shores of Shenzhen.

In brief, the Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty were "sweeping up" after defeating the last "real" emperor, Zhao Qi, known as Duzong. That last emperor was the father of three young boys who technically (but not effectively) succeeded him before the Yuan solidified their power. After the father came Zhao Xian, who abdicated in 1276; Zhao Shi, who died in Hong Kong in 1278; and our boy, Zhao Bing, who as we shall see was no luckier.

The Yuan chased the latter two boys all the way to Hong Kong. Nine-year-old Zhao Shi died of illness in Kowloon. His protector Hau Wong, is still revered as a god in Hong Kong.

A legend about this boy (also called Song Di Zheng) gave Kowloon its name. There was a belief that the young Emperor would be safe if he were sheltered in a place with "nine dragons." Kowloon is surrounded by eight mountains; on the theory that the Emperor himself was the Ninth Dragon, they decided to rest there. (Turns out they were wrong.) "Kowloon" is an English transcription of the name they gave the place, which means "Nine Dragons."

And so the younger boy, Zhao Bing, became emperor at age 7, in 1278.

In 1279 the Song army lost its last battle to the Mongols, in the Pearl River Delta. A high official named Lu Xiufu then took the young emperor in his arms and jumped off a cliff into the sea.

Lu Xiufu holds Zhao Bing in his arms

Local legend takes over from here: a little body washed up on the shore, wearing the yellow dragon-embroidered robes of an emperor. At the same moment, a board fell from the interior of the nearby Tian Hou Temple. Devotees who recovered the body prayed at the temple to find out what to do with it. The goddess Tian Hou answered through a medium that the fallen board had been "given" to make a casket, and that the boy was to be entombed nearby. The tomb is now a fifteen-minute walk from the temple.

Offerings are still made in front of the tomb

Note the peculiar shape of the tomb? The semi-circular wall is meant to be shaped like a woman's legs; the placing of ashes in the door simulates a return to the womb.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!I feel sorry for the kid. I find this both interesting and sad since I live in Hong Kong.


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