The Tomb of the
King of Sulu
| Around China

A visit to the tomb of a visiting foreign king who never made it home, but who left a fascinating story behind him.

Dezhou is a small city of five and a half million people located in the north of Shandong Province in China, just four hours from Beijing by road or less than two hours by high-speed rail, this is a place worthy of a short visit for sure. Common to the second and third tier cities of China are very affordable 5-star hotels, so a bit of cheaper luxury than is available in the capital can be had in such a place (we stayed in the fancy sounding Regal Kangbo Hotel; ideal if arriving by car, but a little remote from the very centre if you’re moving around without wheels then somewhere more central may be best. There isn’t a vast amount to do in this city, but there is one site of particular interest to history buffs for sure, and well worth making the journey in our opinion; the Tomb of the King of Sulu, Paduka Pahala.

The Sultanate of Sulu was a Sunni Islamic state that existed from the early 15th Century in part of the Sulu Archipelago, on land and islands that are now part of The Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. This fascinating country has an interesting history that can be read about on the ever-handy Wikipedia here but the key part for our story is that in 1417 the Kings of the three kingdoms of Sulu made a journey to Beijing to pay tribute to their overlord, the Yongle Emperor of China, Zhu Di (of the Ming Dynasty), one of the greatest of China’s rulers (initiated the Forbidden City, repaired the Grand Canal, etc – this was when the Ming Dynasty was at its peak). The Sulu delegation spent nearly a month as guests of the Ming court, handed over their generous gifts, received some generous gifts in response (as such things were in those days) and then departed to head home sailing via the Grand Canal from Beijing to Hangzhou and from there across the open seas back to their domain.

On arrival in Dezhou however Paduka Pahala took ill and died, from some kind of disease. His sons, concubine, and some other family members stayed behind in Dezhou as the other kinds and their retinue returned home and the King was buried with full honours from the Chinese Emperor with a domed tomb, statues built in his honour, the full works basically. A great honour to a foreign ruler. The sultan’s sons were to remains in Dezhou the rest of their lives, as they were Muslims they were classified as being part of the Hui Nationality (of whom many live in this part of China still) and were given the Chinese names Wen and An. To this day many people living around the tomb carry these surnames and a small exhibition at the tomb shows some of the successes of the descendants of the King, now fully -fledged Chinese people, with some drops of Filipino royal blood remaining in their systems.

The Tomb itself is very tasteful, with an interesting exhibit of what the royal tribute mission was like on display, well-translated English versions are there too. There is a small park next to the tomb complex with the graves of the original Wen and An as well as some markers for other people, a small operational mosque is here too plus a road leading to the complex lined with the original statues placed there at the behest of the Chinese Emperor. All in all this makes for an interesting Muslim tomb in the imperial Chinese style. Entry is free, you just need to show an ID card or passport to be given a ticket.

If you find yourself wandering in northern Shandong then Dezhou is well worth a stop and don’t miss the tomb of the King of Sulu – the only tomb of a foreign monarch in China (apart from the ones who came and conquered of course) and a place with a really interesting history for sure!

Check our recent blog post on the Chinese border cty of Ji'an, across the Yalu River from Manpo in the DPRK, and the Koguryo-era tombs located there.

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