Xi'an Stele Forest Museum, China

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Stele Forest Museum

The Stele Forest Museum, lying in the Sanxue Street in Xi'an City, is at the foot of the city wall against the Kuixing Tower.

This courtyard-style building in the museum was once the Confucian Temple. In 1950, the structure extended into the museum as we see today. A dense crowd of tablets in the museum looks like a thick forest, therefore, named The Stele Forest.

As a cultural relic treasure house, the museum contains the largest, richest and earliest collection of ancient stone tablets of China. These pieces of art are works from the Han Dynasty through to the Ch'ing Dynasty (206BC~1911AD), including over 1000 pieces of memorial tablets forming The Stele Forest, which according to textual research, it was originally set up in 1087AD.

The museum consists of seven exhibition rooms. The exhibition rooms were arranging symmetrically in a row from south to north, following the Lingxingmen Archway.

Displayed in the middle of the pavilion, is the largest tablet in the forest "The Classics of Filial Piety". The first exhibition room mainly displays the text of the Confucian classics engraved in stones in the reign of Emperor Wenzong (837AD) known as "Kaicheng Stone Classics".

The classics, containing altogether 65,000 characters, consists of twelve scriptures including "Zhouyi", "the Book of Songs", "the Book of Rites", "the Book of Filial Piety", etc. All engraved in 114 pieces of stone on both sides. In the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911AD) another classic "Menaces", with 30,000 characters, was engraved in 17 pieces of stone.

Thus, the works altogether called "Thirteen Classics". The intellectuals of feudal society in China were required to read all these classics. At the time when carved-plate printing was not commonly use, the "stone books" were conductive to avoiding the errors made in copying the classics by handwriting and could be preserve forever.

The second exhibition room mainly keeps the tablets of calligraphy inscribed of many famous calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty (618 ~ 907A.D.), such as Ou Yangxun, Chu Suiliang, Liu Gongquan and so on. These tablets have been serving as the model for calligraphy learners.

The third room contains tablets from the Han to the Song Dynasties (206BC~1279AD) inscribed with a rich variety of calligraphy, including seal characters, official script, regular script, running hand and cursive hand. These tablets could describe the evolution of Chinese writing system.

Xi'an forest of steles is not only a treasure house of ancient Chinese calligraphy, but also a rich collection of China's historical documents and records and stone carving patterns. These tablets record partly the great achievements of Chinese culture and can reveal to us today, the cultural exchange between China and other countries in the old days.