Forest of Stone Steles Museum

Xi'an Forest of Stone Steles Museum, or Xi'an Beilin Museum, a courtyard-styled structure, is situated on the site of the Confucian Temple on Sanxue Street, Xi'an. It served as the Imperial Ancestral Temple in the Tang Dynasty, and later became the Confucian Temple in the Song Dynasty. In 1950, it was extended into the museum that greets us today.

The museum covers an area of about 30, 000 square meters. Its exhibits can be divided into two categories: stone tablets and stone sculptures. In addition, special exhibitions are often held in the museum.

Forest of Stone Tablets Xian

The Forest of Stone Tablets

The Forest of Stone Tablets was originally set up in 1087. It is an art treasure-house with the longest history and richest collection stone tablets of ancient China. Over 3, 000 stone tablets from the Han Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty are preserved. The numerous stone tablets look like a dense forest, hence its name the "Forest of Stone Tablets."

The Forest of Stone Tablets is not only a treasure house of ancient Chinese calligraphy, but also a rich collection of historical documents and stone carvings of various styles. The tablets bear evidence to some of the cultural achievements ever scored in ancient China and the cultural exchanges between China and other countries. Therefore it has gained world-wide popularity. No tourist will take the risk of missing the Forest of Stone Tablets once they are in Xi'an.

This place initially served to store the stone classics of the Tang Dynasty, including the Classic on Filial Piety in the handwriting of Emperor Xuan Zong in 745 and the Kaicheng Stone Classics engraved in 837. They were originally erected inside the Imperial Academy (in the area of Wenyi Road, south of the urban district) in the Tang Dynasty. In 1087 all the stone classics and important stone tablets of the Tang Dynasty were relocated to the present place. This is the prototype of the Forest of Stone Tablets.

It was not until the early Qing Dynasty that the "Forest of Stone Tablets" was officially named. The 3, 000 stone tablets are now on display in seven display rooms, six epitaph corridors and one tablet pavilion. The State Council declared the Forest of Stone Tablets a top-priority national historical monument in March 1961.

The Exhibition Hall of Xian Stele Forest Museum

In front of the first display room is the Tablet Pavilion specially built for the Classic on Filial Piety. The Classic on Filial Piety was a confucian classic compiled by Zeng Shen, a disciple of Confucius, after attending lectures given by his teacher, it is the largest stone tablet in the Forest of Stone Tablets. It was engraved after the hand-written copy of Emperor Xuan Zong (Li Longgi) in 745 AD. The tablet is set on a three-layer base, with vivid carvings of trailing plants and lions. The upper part is decorated with clouds and auspicious animals in bas-relief. The tablet is made up of four pieces of stone, and a base under it, therefore it is literally called the Stone-based Classic on Filial Piety.

The first display room houses the Kaicheng Stone Classics, including 12 Chinese classics, namely The Book of Changes, The Book of History, The Book of Songs, The Rites of the Zhou Dynasty, The Book of Ceremonies, The Book of Rites, Zuo Qiuming's Commentary on Spring and Autumn Annals, Gong Yang's Commentary on Spring and Autumn Annals, Gu Liang’s Commentary on Spring and Autumn Annals, The Analects of Confucius, The Classic on Filial Piety and Erya. The classics, with a total number of 650, 252 characters, were engraved double-sided on 114 stone tablets. The display room also houses another classic entitled Mencius, with 30,000 characters, which was engraved on 17 stone tablets in the Qing Dynasty. This classic and 12 others are called the Thirteen Classics.

The second display room mainly houses the stone tablets of calligraphy written by famous calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty. Up to today, these tablets have served as models for learners of calligraphy to follow. Several examples are the Tablet to Huangpu Dan by Ouyang Xun, the Tablet to Master Dao Yin by Ouyang Tong, the son of Ouyang Xun, the Tablet to Duobao Pagoda and the Tablet to the Yan' s Ancestral Temple by Yan Zhenging, the Tablet to the Mysterious Pagoda by Liu Gongquan, A Forward to the Sacred Teaching of Xuan Zang (also known as the Priceless Tablet) by Huai Ren, the monk of Hongfu Temple in Chang'an who collected the characters written by Wang Xizhi for this tablet, and the world famous The Nestorian Tablet which offers an introduction to the doctrines, rites and influence of Nestorianism, and the activities of its Chinese believers during the 150 years in the Tang Dynasty.

The third display room houses the stone tablets that range from the Han Dynasty to the Song Dynasty. They bear a wide variety of Chinese script forms, including seal script, official script, regular script, running script and cursive script. These stone tablets show the evolution of the Chinese writing system. Among them the 1, 000-character Stone Tablet in cursive script written by the celebrated calligrapher Monk Huai Su in the Tang Dynasty is one of the most famous tablets preserved in museum. It comprises 1, 000 different characters. The stone tablet is said to have been carved as a primer for children in ancient times. His bold and unconstrained style of writing was followed by other calligraphers in later periods.

The fourth display room houses works of poetry in authentic handwriting of the well-known calligraphers from the Song through the Qing dynasties, tablets of historical significance in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and some line engravings from the Song through the Qing dynasties.

The Fifth Display Room houses the stone tablets which record such historical facts as temple repair, merit registration canal digging and wall mending during the dynasties of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing. They provide valuable data of reference for the study of the society and the local history. There are also some tablets inscribed with the big characters written a single stroke by Ma Dezhao in the Qing Dynasty. They include "虎" ( tiger) , "寿" ( longevity), and "福" (happiness). The characters assume a vigorous style and offer much enjoyment to the viewers.

The sixth display room mainly houses the stone tablets of poetry and verses that date back to the dynasties of Yuan, Ming and Qing. Typical examples are A Visit to Mount Tianguan by Zhao Mengfu of the Yuan Dynasty, Farewell to Zhang Sheng in Moling Inn by Dong Qichang of the Ming Dynasty, and A Visit to Mount Huashan by Lin Zexu. They are all treasures of the country. 

The seventh display room was built in 1982, and houses The Secret Court Copybook of Chunhua in the Song Dynasty. The secret copybook is made up of ten volumes that are a collection of the works of the Chinese calligraphers before the Song Dynasty. The original book was destroyed not long after it was engraved. However, many private and public copies of the woodcarving appeared from Song to Qing dynasties. The present copy, an imitation of The Secret Court Copybook of Chunhua, was engraved double-sided on 145 stone tablets in 1646.

Stele Forest Xian

The Gallery of Stone Sculptures 

This gallery was built in 1963. It houses more than 70 stone sculptures that were originally collected from different parts of Shaanxi Province. These pieces of art are classified into two groups: mausoleum carvings and religious carvings. They are arranged in a chronological order.

Stone sculpture is the gem of the nation's excellent cultural heritage. Shaanxi is one of the places where many of the nation's early stone sculptures and historical relics have been found. The province is particularly renowned at home and abroad for its large number of superb stone sculptures particularly those from the Sui and Tang dynasties, which occupy a conspicuous position in the nation's sculptural history.

Relievos are pictures chipped on stone surface. They originated from the Western Han Dynasty and became popular in the Eastern Han Dynasty. With the passage of more than 2,000 years, they still show their eternal artistic glamour in a unique style. During the Western Han Dynasty, extravagant burial was very popular. The concept of "living again after death" dominated the mind of noble men. They engraved on the tomb walls whatever they used, loved and respected during their lifetime, so that they could still enjoy them in the nether world. The Han-Dynasty relievos were thus created in such circumstances. Besides some historical legends, the subject matter of the relievos originated from the real life, such as plowing, hunting, music and dance and the style of noble lives. These relievos, vivid and true to life, are the microcosm of the social life of the Han Dynasty. Therefore, they are not only works of art, but historical records as well. They provide valuable data for the study of the Eastern Han Dynasty. About 500 stone relievos that data back to Eastern Han Dynasty were unearthed in Northern Shaanxi, and 133 out of them are preserved at the Museum of the Forest of Stone Tablets.

The Ancient Steles in Xian Stele Forest Museum

On display in this gallery are an outer coffin for Li Shou, a cousin of Emperor Gao Zu, the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, It is made up of 28 black stones, a 10-ton stone rhino carved in 635 AD, and initially placed in front of Emperor Gao Zu's tomb, and the six stone chargers which were regarded as rare treasures of art from the Tang Dynasty. They are sculpted in memory of the six chargers served the Tang Dynasty Emperor Li Shimin in constant wars.

The Tang Dynasty witnessed a high level of development of the Chinese art. The carving of Buddhist statues attained maturity. Many unprecedented advances were made in the art of Buddhist statues in terms of style, figuration and workmanship. The Buddhist sculptures on display in this gallery are all fine works of art in terms of style, figuration and workmanship.

The only Taoist sculpture on display in the gallery is a statue of Li Er, the founder of philosophical Taoism. It is believed to be carved by yuan Jia'er, a famous sculptor from the western Regions. This work of art is one of the masterpieces among the Tang-Dynasty sculptures.

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