Haiwang YUAN

The Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, located in Nanjing, painted by Fu Pao-Shih (1904–1965), head of the Kiangsu Academy. The mausoleum was under construction for three years before its completion in 1929.

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, and four years later his mausoleum was completed in Nanjing City. The mausoleum has become a sacred place for Chinese separated by the Taiwan Strait. Magnificently designed, from the steps to the tomb itself, meanings are embedded in the architecture honoring the founding father and his comrades who fell in the fight against Qing rule.

Sun Yat-sen, forerunner of the revolution against the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) and founder of the Republic of China, died of liver cancer in Beijing on 12 March 1925. Before his death he expressed the desire that his body be buried on Mount Zijin (Purple Mountain), also known as Mount Zhong (Bell Mountain), in Nanjing, capital of the Republic of China. His body was temporarily kept in the Biyun Temple (Temple of Azure Clouds) on the Xiangshan Mountain (Mount Fragrance) in Beijing until his official burial in Nanjing.

Building of the Mausoleum

On 5 May 1925, an advertisement was made to invite architects from home and abroad to design a mausoleum for Sun. Lü Yanzhi (1894–1929), a graduate of Cornell University and a renowned architect of modern China, was selected. Construction of the mausoleum began in June 1926 and was completed in the spring of 1929. The train that carried Sun’s body left Beijing on 26 May and arrived in Nanjing two days later. The body was then moved along a boulevard built specifically for that purpose, named Zhongshan Lu (Sun Yat-sen Road,) to the mausoleum site. A public memorial service was held for three days before Sun was laid to rest on 1 June 1929 in what is officially known as the Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

Architecture of the Mausoleum

The mausoleum was built inside a cemetery park that occupies an area of about 7,413 hectares (18,317 acres) and extends north from the entrance toward the foot of Mount Zijin, against which the mausoleum structure rests, Seen from an aerial perspective the park evokes the shape of an alarm bell, representative of Sun’s call to action in behalf of the Chinese people. Along the axis of the symmetrically designed site is a string of buildings approached from an open paved space in the shape of a half-moon, the curved bottom of the bell. From there, in order, are a gateway, a gatehouse, a stele pavilion, a mourning hall, and lastly the mausoleum.

From the half-moon open space a three-lane, 392-step path of more than 480 meters (1,575 feet) leads upward toward the tomb, and is flanked by rows of trees. The concrete middle lane is 12 meters (39 feet) wide, and each of the asphalt side lanes is 4.2 meters (13.7 feet) wide. At the start of the tomb path towers a granite paifang (a memorial gateway in the Japanese torii style) with three arches. Written on the transom of the middle arch is Dr. Sun’s motto: bo’ai (universal love). Next is the gatehouse, which is 16.5 meters (about 54 feet) high and 27 meters (about 88 feet) wide and has three archways. A path leads to a three-arch tomb gate, serving as the entrance of the mausoleum. Above the middle arch is a slab inscribed with Dr. Sun’s maxim: Tianxia wei gong (All under the sun is for the welfare of the public). Not far behind the gatehouse stands the granite pavilion housing a stele that is 9 meters (about 29 feet) tall and 4 meters (about 13 feet) wide. An inscription on the stele reads: “The Nationalist Party of China has buried Mr. President Sun Yat-sen here on the first day of the sixth month in the eighteenth year of the Republic of China.” The Nationalists did not eulogize Sun at length, as tradition dictated, arguing that no words could praise him enough.

After the stele pavilion the tomb path, with 290 steps left, becomes steeper, punctuated with eight platforms. On the fifth platform sit two large copper ding (tripod caldrons), donated by the then Shanghai municipal government. Two holes are visible in one of them, created by the shrapnel of the Japanese army sacking Nanjing in 1937. A pair of stone lions rests on the seventh platform.

At the end of the tomb path is the Mourning Hall, 30 meters (98.4 feet) long, 25 meters (82 feet) wide, and 29 meters (95 feet) high. Combining Chinese and Western styles, the Mourning Hall has a double-eave saddle roof and three archways decorated with copper latticework on the top. Above the archways is engraved the creed of the Kuomintang (Taiwan’s Nationalist Party)—“Nationalism, Democracy, and People’s Livelihood”—which are the Three Principles of People put forward by Sun Yat-sen. Hanging between the eaves is a board bearing Dr. Sun’s handwriting that reads: Tiandi zhengqi (Uprightness between Heaven and Earth). Outside the hall a pair of 12.6-meter-tall (about 41 feet) huabiao (ornamental columns) guards it on either side. Inside, twelve marble columns hold up the hall. Ceramic tiles cover the floor and ceiling. The ceiling tiles form a mosaic depicting the Kuomintang’s flag, a white sun in a sky-blue field. The upper half of the walls is decorated with artificial marble; the lower half, with black marble. A 4.6-meter-tall (15 feet) statue of Sun Yat-sen sits in the center of the hall. It was carved by the famous French sculptor Paul Arinsky from Italian white marble. Looking forward in his long gown, Sun holds an open book on his lap, signifying his wisdom. Around the foot of the statue, six relief sculptures represent some of his revolutionary activities. The Outline for National Reconstruction, drawn and penned by Sun, is inscribed on the walls on either side of the statue.

Behind the statue on the back wall of the Mourning Hall, a doorway opens to the tomb itself. Inscribed on a board above the two-leafed copper door in the front is, “Their noble spirits live forever,” which Sun had dedicated to those who died in the fight against the Qing army. On the single-leafed copper door behind are etched the characters, “The tomb of Mr. Sun Yat-sen.” The well-lit hemispherical burial chamber, forming the top of the bell seen in bird’s eye view, is 18 meters (59 feet) in diameter and 11 meters (36 feet) high. Its three-layered walls are fortified with granite, armored concrete, and artificial marble. A circular marble pit 4.3 meters (14 feet) in diameter and 1.6 meters (about 5.2 feet) deep is at the center of the chamber. It is surrounded with railings and floored with white ceramic tiles. A sarcophagus with a marble statue of Sun Yat-sen lying on top of it is situated in the pit. The statue was carved by a Czech sculptor known as Gorch. Some 5 meters (16.4 feet) beneath the sarcophagus, Sun’s body rests in an American-made copper coffin, 2.24 meters (about 7.35 feet) long, 0.8 meter (2.6 feet) wide, and 0.65 meter (2.1 feet) tall.

There are many auxiliary memorial buildings in the cemetery, including the Cottage of Eternal Admiration, the Burial Museum, the Buddhist Scripture Pavilion, a bandstand, and several other structures.

Recent Activities at the Mausoleum

Since the completion of the mausoleum, Chinese people have come to visit it every day. On 27 April 2005, Lien Chan, chairman of the Kuomintang, made his party’s first visit to the site since 1949. A week after the Kuomintang won the election and came into power again in Taiwan on 20 May 2008, Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung and his entourage came to the mausoleum to visit Sun. Surprised by the structure’s excellent condition, Wu was profoundly thankful to the Na
njing people for taking good care of it in the past decades.

Further Reading

Lai, Delin. (2005). Searching for a modern Chinese monument: The design of the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing. In The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 64(1): 22–55.

Shi, Ya-lou and Li Sheng-feng. (2004). Tourism environmental suitability analysis of national park: The case of the national park of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum. In Urban Environment & Urban Ecology.17(5): 15–17.

Guo, Hao, Li Tian, Tianli Tong, and Guoning Du. (1986). Zhongshan ling yuan [The scenic spot of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum]. Nanjing, China: Jiangsu ren min chu ban she.

Fan, Fangzhen, and Jinhan Liao. (1995). Zhongshan ling yuan shi hua. Zhongshan ling wen shi cong shu. [China]: Sun Zhongshan ji nian guan.

Source: Yuan, Haiwang. (2009). Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1421–1423. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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