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Lady Mei’s brick tomb found in Nanjing, China.

Stone Tablets found in Gold-Filled Chinese Tomb tell Remarkable Rags to Riches Tale


Two stone epitaphs found within a 500-year-old gold-filled tomb discovered in Nanjing, China, tell a remarkable story about the tomb owner, a woman named Lady Mei.  According to the tablets, Lady Mei rose from being an “unwashed and unkempt” concubine, to the mother of a Duke who advised on matters of political and military strategy. The spectacular treasures found within her tomb attest to the wealth and power she had acquired in her later years.

The tomb was first discovered in 2008, but the findings of archaeologists from Nanjing Municipal Museum and the Jiangning District Museum of Nanjing City, have only just been translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

Live Science reports that the tomb, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), was discovered at a construction site. Inside the brick tomb, archaeologists found a coffin containing the skeletal remains of Lady Mei, two stone tablets with inscriptions, and  a hoard of treasures, including gold bracelets, gold boxes inlaid with precious gemstones, and gold hairpins. 

Golden treasures inlaid with sapphires, rubies, and turquoise (Credit: Chinese Cultural Relics)

Golden treasures inlaid with sapphires, rubies, and turquoise (Credit: Chinese Cultural Relics)

From Rags to Riches

The epitaphs found inside the tomb tell a remarkable tale. According to the inscriptions, Lady Mei was born in 1430 and began her early life as a low-status concubine. As an adolescent or young adult, she became one of three wives to Mu Bin, a Duke of Qian, who ruled Yunnan province in southwest China.

Lady Mei soon bore a son, Mu Zong, and only 10 months later, her husband died.  Lady Mei was tasked with grooming her son to become the next duke and, according to the epitaphs, she did this with “strong discipline and diligence”. She educated him and taught him loyalty and sense of duty.

A Ming Dynasty concubine

A Ming Dynasty concubine (Wikimedia Commons)

It was not long before Lady Mei came to meet the emperor, who charged her son with controlling Yunnan, and Lady Mei was awarded the title of “Dowager Duchess”.

Lady Mei came to wield great power, as she took on the role of adviser to her son. 

"The Dowager Duchess would always talk to the third-generation duke about her loyalty to the emperor, and kind concerns for the people under the rule of the departed former duke, and strategies for bringing peace to the barbarian tribes and pacifying faraway lands," the epitaphs said.

Lady Mei died of an illness at the age of 45 and was taken to Nanjing for burial. Her epitaphs compliment her for her role in moulding her son into a great and powerful leader. The stone tablets conclude with a moving question:

Why did heaven bestow all the virtues upon her, while being so ungenerous as not to give her more years to live? Although the will of heaven is remote and profound, it needs to be spread among millions of people.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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