The tomb of an ancient female Chinese official, regarded as the most influential female "prime minister" in Tang Dynasty (618-907), was discovered in northwest China's Shaanxi Province earlier this week. The tomb, which is 36.5 meters in circumference and 10.1 meters in depth, was badly damaged and only a few burial accessories were excavated, according to Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.
From an engraving inside the tomb, archaeologists confirmed the grave belonged to Shangguan Wan'er (664-710), an influential politician and poet during the regime of Empress Wu Zetian (624-705), China's first female ruler. "Archaeologists believe it was not damaged by common grave robbers but by officials in ancient China," said Yu Gengzhe, a history professor at Shaanxi Normal University.` "The tiles on the floor had all been ripped up.
Perhaps grave robbers came for the treasures and did not have enough time," Yu said. Her epitaph has nearly 1,000 words, records the simple message of Shangguan's life, year of death and tomb location, without referring to her literary and political acts. Experts said the findings in the tomb have "major significance" for ancient Chinese literature studies and will provide valuable research data for history and cultural studies of the Tang Dynasty.
Shangguan's grandfather and father were prominent officials in the Tang Dynasty but both were put to death because of her grandfather's opposition to Wu Zetian's rule. Shangguan Wan'er and her mother were spared but became slaves in the inner imperial palace. Later she showed literary talent and won the Empress Wu Zetian's appreciation, and served as her secretary. She was killed in a palace coup in 710. But her legend attracted many Chinese people and remains the theme of many films and TV series now.
The archaeological site of the tomb is closed now, as cleaning and preservation work is still under way. "But media and visitors across China come to the site every day," a staff on the site said. "I heard of her story from books and TV series, but never imagined that her tomb is near my home.
I am very surprised," said a villager surnamed Li who lives near Xianyang Airport, where the tomb was discovered. The discovery of her tomb has sparked nationwide debate on the Internet this week, as Chinese Internet users have tweeted more than 470,000 posts about the event on China's microblogging site, Weibo.com. Beautiful or ugly? Nice or evil? Chinese people are searching for information, even on her romantic story.
They are wondering what kind of person she really was, including one post by microblog user "Miemieheng": "The inner and outer coffins have not been found, but I heard that there was a small bone piece in the tomb. Does it belong to Shangguan Wan'er?" "Archaeologists will find out the answer after they conducted scientific research. Perhaps it belongs to Shangguan or an animal," Yu said.