Forest of Steles Museum

The museum of the Forest of Steles, 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.

The museum covers an area of about 30,000 square meters. It exhibits can be divided into two categories: stone tablets and stone sculptures.

The Forest of Steles Museum was originally set up in 1087. It is an art treasure-house with the longest history and richest collection of steles of ancient China. Over 3,000 steles from the Han Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty are preserved. Now they are on display in seven display rooms, six epitaph corridors and one tablet pavilion. The numerous steles look like a dense forest, hence its name the "Forest of Steles".

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 steles in the Forest of Steles.

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 Song, The Rites of the Zhou Dynasty, The Book of Ceremonies, The Book of Rites, Zuo Qiuming'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 Chinese Semantics. The classics, with a total number of 650,252 characters were engraved double-sided on 114 stone tablets. The classics and Mencius are called the Thirteen Classics.

The second display room mainly houses the steles 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 Zhenqing, the Tablet to the Mysterious Pagoda by Liu Gongquan. Other famous tablets include A Forward to the Sacred Teaching of Xuan Zang and the Nestorian Tablet.

The third display room houses the steles 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 steles show the evolution of the Chinese writing system. Among them the 1,000-characters Steles in cursive script written by the celebrated calligrapher Monk Huai Su in the Tang Dynasty is one of the most famous tablets preserved in the museum.

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 steles 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.

The sixth display room mainly houses the steles of poetry and versed 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.

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 collections of the woks of the Chinese calligraphers before the Song Dynasty.

The Gallery of Stone Sculptures was built in 1963. It houses more than 70 stone sculptures that were originally collected from different parts of Shaanxi Province, which is particularly renowned at home and abroad for its large number of superb stone sculptures particularly those from the Sui and Tang dynasties. These pieces of art are classified into two groups: mausoleum carvings and religious carvings. They are arranged in a chronological order.

On display in this gallery is on 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 635AD. 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 carving of Buddhist statues attained maturity. 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 is a statue of Li Er, the founder of philosophical Taoism.

The Forest of Steles 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 Steles once they are in Xi'an.


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