This monstrous monument to ego on the outskirts of the modern city is one of China’s many delightful curiosities as indeed is the man who is entombed within.
Ask most Westerners who the last Emperor of China was and they will probably say, "How would I know? Stop asking stupid questions!" Ask someone slightly more informed and they will probably answer, "Err, that kid from the long boring film?" and they would be wrong. Which just goes to show you never to trust Italian film directors. The last man to rule over the great Chinese empire was not in fact the forlorn child Puyi (1906-67) but the far more divisive figure of Yuan Shikai (1859-1916).
The young Yuan, having twice failed the Imperial Exam, entered politics through the military. Rising up the ranks he achieved power helping to foil the 1898 coup against Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) but lost it following his benefactor’s death. He retained the loyalty of the military and, courted by both the Qing Court of Puyi and the revolutionaries under Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), returned to the court in 1911 as Prime Minister. The revolutionaries continued progress eventually led Yuan to arrange the abdication of Puyi. In return Yuan became first President of the Republic of China in 1912. Yat-sen became disillusioned by his autocratic rule and fled to Japan calling for a second revolution. Yuan under increasing pressure tightened the reigns and on January 1st, 1916 invested himself with the apparently redundant title of Emperor of the Empire of China. Public outcry followed and Yuan was forced to abandon the title three months later before dying of natural causes that summer.
The Tomb of Yuan Shikai (daily 8am to 6pm, ¥30) covers 139 acres and reputedly cost ¥730,000 to build. Following a traditional Ming/Qing plan the tomb is entered via a long bare spirit way that ends at the great Memorial Arch, that blends Chinese and Western elements. Beyond lies the Pavilion of Stele, the twin Wing Houses and the Hall of Sacrifice that now house a dusty collection of Shang Dynasty (BCE1700-1100) artifacts. Behind this lie the great gates and the tomb itself, which was designed to resemble Grant’s Tomb in New York.
With no displays on the man himself and of clearly lower quality than the tombs of preceding emperors there is little reason to make the trip out to this monument other than for kitsch curiosity value.