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Western Xia Imperial Tombs are the royal mausoleums of the emperors in the Western Xia Dynasty (1038-1227). Located at the eastern slope of the Helan Mountains, western suburb about 35km away from Yinchuan City in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Tombs are the best-preserved historic cultural heritage representing the Tangut civilization at the largest scale and in the highest rank.
Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, the Tombs are connected with the Helan Mountains in the west and with the Yinchuan Plain and the Yellow River in the east. They are situated in a spacious land higher in the west than the east. Occupying an area of some 50 square kilometers, the Western Xia Imperial Tombs include 9 imperial mausoleums, 254 subordinate tombs, 1 site of large architectural complex and more than 10 brick-and-tile kiln sites. The imperial mausoleums are lined up along the eastern slope of the Helan Mountains from north to south. The whole grand burial complex extends like a long and narrow south-north ribbon.
Set in the vast Gobi desert in front of the rolling Helan Mountains, the Tombs narrates the unique historical atmosphere and ethnic features of the Western Xia Dynasty by the magnificent layout, tiered tomb walls, high towers and various mausoleum buildings. Many unearthed funerary objects and the remaining cultural relics such as inscriptions, stone statues and building components take on vivid shapes, unique ornamentations, and living nomadic features.
The Tangut civilization, an ethnic minority civilization, prospering in an agricultural-husbandry area in Northwest China, shows its excellent adaptability and outstanding cultural diversity. The general layout of the Tombs imitates the imperial mausoleum construction of the Northern Song Dynasty. In terms of site selection, layout, burial ways, building techniques and arts, the builders not only learned the experience from the ritual system and cultural achievements of the Northern Song Dynasty but also combined their own ethnic customs such as mountain worship, belief in necromancy and aesthetic orientations, reflecting the strong characteristics of the Tangut civilization’s inclusiveness and cultural fusion. As the site of the large tomb group for the Western Xia emperors, the Tombs bear special witness to the long vanishedTangut civilization.
Criterion (iii): Tangut civilization was created by the Tangut people, an ethnic minority group, and prospered in an agricultural-husbandry area in Northwest China between the 11th and 13th centuries. Occupying a special position in the Chinese history, the West Xia civilization made great contributions to China’s diverse culture. As the imperial mausoleums of the Western Xia Dynasty, the Tombs have well preserved the Tangut civilization at the largest scale and in the highest rank, which also could serve as a special witness to the existence of the long vanished Tangut civilization with excellent adaptability and outstanding cultural diversity.
The Western Xia Imperial Tombs remain as ruins since the fall of Western Xia Dynasty in 1227. People can clearly see the location and layout of the burial complex. A variety of cultural relics have been well-preserved, including the tomb walls, tomb platforms, foundations and building components. The burial ways, construction techniques and arts of the Tombs truly reflect the unique values of Tangut civilization in widely learning from others and advocating cultural fusion. Therefore, the Tombs manifest a high degree of authenticity.
The Western Xia Imperial Tombs have all attributes that contributing to the heritage values such as the setting, location, layout, the imperial mausoleums, the subordinate tombs and large building complex sites, as well as all related cultural relics. They bear testimony to the unique heritage values of the Tangut civilization. Various mausoleum sites in large numbers reflect the immense scale and high rank, various composition and exquisite craftsmanship of the Western Xia Imperial Tombs, representing the well-developed and distinctive Tangut civilization. Effective conservation and management measures have been taken to protect the Western Xia Imperial Tombs. Negative impacts have been controlled. The nominated property has high degree of integrity.
1. Comparison with other Western Xia sites in China
The Western Xia Empire existed for nearly two centuries before the conquest by the Mongols. Most of the empire’s cultural heritages have vanished. Among the few surviving Western Xia historical remains there are some 10 burial sites, more than 10 city sites including the Black City, Buddhist temples, pagodas, cave temples, detached royal palaces and gardens. In terms of the state of conservation and historical value and other comprehensive comparisons, the Western Xia Imperial Tombs are the best preserved site with the largest scale and highest rank in all sites of the Tangut civilization. Besides, they are also the only relics bearing full testimony to the Tangut civilization.
2. Comparison with mausoleum systems of Liao, Jin, Uighur and Tubo (Ancient Tibetan dynasty).
From the early 9th century to the 14th century, many northern-Chinese tribes rose in the endless disputes and accelerated the process of the feudalism under the influence of the Han culture. They ruled over all or part of China. The Khitan people founded “Liao” (916-1125) and built the imperial mausoleum–the Liao Tombs. The Tangut people founded “Western Xia” (1038-1227) and built the Western Xia Imperial Tombs. The Jurchen people founded “Jin” (1115-1234) and built the Jin Tombs. The Qochu (Qara-hoja in Uygur) and Tubo people also left the tombs of their kings. These ethnic minorities in northern China are closely related to the Han culture due to the geographical proximity, military conflict and cultural penetration. Their mausoleum systems not only drew upon experience from the Han culture but also maintained their own traditional ethnic cultures. By comparison, the Western Xia Imperial Tombs and other counterparts in the same period, all took reference from the mausoleum systems since the Tang and Song dynasties and meanwhile showcased their own ethnic features and cultural connotations. The Western Xia Imperial Tombs prove to be a unique mixture blended by the Song mausoleum system, traditional Tangut culture and Buddhist culture. They are unique in inheritance, funeral customs, layout and architectural design. Compared with the tombs of Liao, Jin, Uighur and other nomads, the Western Xia Imperial Tombs bear witness to the civilization of different nations and take a special position in China’s ancient mausoleum system due to the huge size and the preserved state.
3. Comparison with Song Tombs in Gong County
According to New Chronicle of Ningxia in Emperor Jiajing’s Reign of the Ming Dynasty, “Lying east of the Helan Mountains are the imperial tombs of Western Xia modeled after the Song tombs”. The Western Xia Imperial Tombs and Song Tombs in Gong County are ancient imperial mausoleums built roughly at the same period. The Tangut people of the Western Xia Empire had close ties with the Song People in economic, political, cultural and other sectors. The Western Xia emperors identified and adopted the Song culture, which could explain many similarities between Western Xia Imperial Tombs and Song Tombs in Gong County. Yet the Western Xia Imperial Tombs show a remarkable distinction from the Song Tombs in Gong County due to the unique lifestyle, religious belief and funeral customs in the Western Xia Regime. The main differences lie in the heritage values and timelines, especially in mausoleum system and funeral customs. The Song Tombs in Gong County demonstrate typical funeral customs and cultural inheritance from the Han Chinese, while the Western Xia Imperial Tombs show the unique lifestyle, religious thoughts and values orientation of the Tangut people under the influence of the Han culture and, attesting the cultural exchanges among nations in northwest China.
4. Comparison with nomadic nations’ properties in Inland Eurasia
In the arid and semi-arid zones of the Inland Eurasia there are continuous deserts and grasslands. Nomadic nations roamed free on the vast steppe and created their unique grassland civilization. However, they left few heritages and those inscribed on the World Heritage List are even much less, only including the Site of Xanadu, Yuan Dynasty’s Upper Capital in China, the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape in Republic of Mongolia, Rock Carvings in Tanum in Sweden. The Western Xia Imperial Tombs as one of the few large cultural heritages of nomadic nations in Eurasia has unique values. They have witnessed the Tangut civilization created by one of the nomadic nations in Inland Eurasia and can fill the gap in cultural heritages of nomadic nations.