The Ming Tombs are often overshadowed on the Beijing tourist trail by the nearby Great Wall, one of the world’s greatest wonders. In the past, en route to the Great Wall, I’ve quickly visited the publicly open parts of the 13 tombs of Ming Dynasty emperors buried in an arc-shaped valley at the foot of the Jundu Mountains, about 40 km north of the Forbidden City.
The second Ming emperor, the Yongle Emperor Zhu Di, decided to build royal tombs in his northern capital of Beijing in 1420 rather than the southern capital, Nanjing, chosen by his predecessor because of its distance from the Mongolian frontier. The tombs themselves have been ransacked and emptied of valuables, starting in 1644 when the rebel army of Li Zicheng’s ransacked and burned many of the tombs as he advanced toward Beijing, where the last Ming emperor committed suicide shortly thereafter. But the glorious structures remain.
Today, there are three public museum sites among the 13 tomb locations. It’s a massive, sprawling complex that stretches over 40 square kilometers. I feel sorry for the tourists who never get to visit the tombs because of the even-more-famous sights to see in Greater Beijing.
Off the beaten path of tourist Beijing, the tombs have their own fascinating history that touches the contradictions of modern (and ancient) China. After the Yongle Emperor built the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1420, he decreed that a burial site be found to house the remains of future Ming emperors. Four years later, his was the first of 13 mausoleums built in a verdant valley beneath the Jundu Mountains, not far from the Great Wall.
The place has been ransacked repeatedly in the six centuries that have followed, most notably during the revolution that preceded the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the Cultural Revolution that followed the rise of Mao Zedong. Its tombs have been raided for political and pecuniary purposes. But its Sacred Way, sometimes known as the Spirit Way or the Avenue of the Animals, remains as a reminder of the permanence of Chinese history, despite its periodic revision.
A final contradiction: A photo of Mao admiring one of the spirit elephants is posted on the Sacred Way, but Red Guards a few years later seized the remains of Emperor Wanli from the Dingling tomb, posthumously “denounced” him and burned his remains, along with his Empress.
After two years of carefully scripted public silence, Robert Mueller spoke on May 30. In eight minutes of words, as carefully scripted as his previous silence, Mueller delivered a message radically different in tone and substance than the Trumpian tweets about a “Russia hoax” and the president’s insistence that there was “no collusion.” Two months after Mueller delivered a 448-page report to Attorney General William Barr, he closed up shop and left his job as Special Counsel. Here is a Q&A based on my interview on China Radio International.
Q: What’s your takeaway from Robert Mueller’s eight-minute statement?
A: Robert Mueller made clear that he believed Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, misstated the findings of the report when Barr claimed that Trump had been cleared of wrongdoing. Mueller was precise and diplomatic in his wording. But the words were very damaging to Barr’s credibility among open-minded Americans, although in a deeply divided country, I’m not sure how many people are open to changing their minds about anything relating to Trump. The two points Mueller made abundantly clear: There was, and is, ongoing Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process, and he cannot and will not clear Donald Trump of attempting to obstruct justice.
Q: In Mueller’s speech, he detailed 10 instances where Trump had possibly attempted to impede the investigation, but said the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” Is he indicating an impeachment process?
A: Not exactly. He said the Justice Department policy is clear and that he abided by that policy. The question of whether a sitting president may be charged criminally during his or her presidency may be decided by a court at some point. Mueller did strongly suggest that it is up to Congress at this present time to formally accuse a sitting president, because the Trump Justice Department will not.
Q: Three more democrats are calling for impeachment, and one Republican has been calling for Trump’s impeachment, do you think the momentum will grow after Mueller’s speech?
A: The momentum is building slowly. The reason is that Republicans remain scared to death of Trump and his supporters. Some are afraid of being defeated in primaries. Some want to use their power in Washington to pursue their policy goals. And other simply agree with Trump’s ends and his tactics. Democratic congressional leaders want to focus the party’s efforts on defeating Trump at the ballot box in 2020 rather than impeaching him, which they could do, but there is no chance of convicting him in a Republican Senate. The same thing happened with Bill Clinton in 1999.
Q: What do you make of the division within the Democratic Party on this issue?
A: The party is divided between pragmatists, who want the House of Representatives to focus on policy issues and want Democrats to focus on electoral success, and idealists and ideologues who believe that Trump is a liar, a crook, a scoundrel, a mad king, a Russian dupe, an unfit charlatan, or some combination of those things.
Q: Mueller said he did “not believe it is appropriate” for him to testify before Congress, as House Democrats have asked. How do you look at this, and how is the Congress going to react to this that he doesn’t want to testify?
A: Mueller is a rare public figure in America who wants his words to speak for him. He wants to investigation and the report to be his legacy. He does not want to get into a personal political war with Donald Trump. Those battles have ended with damaged reputations for anyone who has gotten into a personal conflict with Trump for the past 35 years. Mueller, at his press availability, made it very, very clear that we should focus on the carefully crafted, very strong language in the report. Trump said the report cleared him. It obviously does not. Mueller wants every American to read every word of the report. He doesn’t want them to be forced to choose between political “sound bites.”
Q: Mueller has announced the formal closure of the special counsel office and his resignation from the justice department. If we look back at this investigation that went on for more than two years and costed over 25 million US dollars of tax payer’s money. Do you think it was worth it?
A: Absolutely. It was a fact-finding mission and a criminal investigation. It succeeded on both levels. The people of the world know much more about the Russian government’s aggressive and persistent efforts to elect Donald Trump and sow chaos in the American political system. Dozens of people have been convicted of criminal charges, including some of Donald Trump’s closest advisers. The Mueller investigation has spawned several ongoing criminal probes. But most of all, Mueller wrote a dispassionate, detailed report of the facts as he knew them, despite, as he strongly suggested, an aggressive attempt to obstruct his investigation.