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Forest of Stone Steles Museum

The Forest of Stone Steles in Xi'an is an art treasure-house with the oldest and richest collection of steles in China. It is a classical courtyard styled structure situated at the site of formal Confucian Temple in Sanxue Street, xian, near the south gate of Xi'an City Wall. The museum covers an area of more than 30,000 square meters. It is not only one of the centers of ancient Chinese stone-engraving classics, but also the focus of the works of art of celebrated calligraphers of past dynasties. The numerous standing steles resemble a forest, hence the name ' Forest of Steles''. With a history of almost 900 years, it is an art gem renowned at home and abroad.


The Forest of Steles was initially established in AD 1087 when some precious stone steles were moved here for safe keeping, including the 'Classic on Filial Piety' written by Emperor Xuanzong in AD 745 and 'the Kaicheng Stone Steles' arved in AD 837.

It is an enlargement to the Confucian Classics stone inscriptions in the Tang Dynasty. the 'Classic on Filial Piety' ( stele engraved with the Canon of Filial Piety) and the 'Kaicheng Stone Steles' ( steles engraved with the Confucian Classics) of the Tang Dynasty were originally kept in the Imperial Academy in Wu Ben District of Chang'an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty. ( in the vicinity of the present Wen Yi Street, southern Xi'an). In 904 AD the engraved Confucian Classics were moved inside the Wen Xuan Temple ( in the vicinity of the present She Hui Street of Xi'an).Due to poor environment, in the second year of Yuan You of the Song Dynasty, ( 1087 AD) on the suggestion of Lu Dazhong, all the Confucian Classics and other valued Tang steles were moved to the present site of the Forest of Steles under the auspices of Li Chi. Thus the foundation of the Forest of Steles was initially laid.

With the successive collections of Steles in the Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, it was gradually renovated and expanded, making one feel among a forest of steles. But it was not until 1992 that , it was officially named as the Forest of Stone Steles Museum. Based on the design of Liang sicheng, China's well-known architect, the Forest of Steles was extensively renovated in 1937, and was completed in Feb. 1938, looking in the main the way it does today. With an area of 31,000 square meters, the Forest of Stone Steles used to be the principal museum for Shaanxi Province since 1944.

In March 1961, the State Council decreed that the Forest of Steles was among the first group of national cultural relics to be given special protection. Now it is an important part of the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. In 1982, the 7th Exhibition Hall of the Forest of Steles was established. Collections of Steles have been increased from 667 in the Qing Dynasty to over 2,000 steles, of which over 1,000 are open to the public. Seven exhibition halls, a pavilion covered with steles and six corridors for keeping epitaphs form a complete architectural complex of a unique style, making the Forest of Steles, a treasure trove of the art of calligraphy look all the more magnificent.

Exhibition Halls

With 900 years of history, this treasure house holds a large collection of the earliest stone steles of different periods, from the Han Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty.The exhibition areas includes two sections: Forest of Steles and Stone Sculpture. Forest of Steles house over 3,000 pieces of steles from the War Kingdoms to Qing Dyasty time. The simple figure of the stone sculpture shows vigorous strength.

The contents of the Forest Steles can be divided into four groups: works of literature and philosophy, historical records, calligraphy and pictorial stones.

All together, there are 3,000 steles and the museum is divided into seven exhibitions halls.Hall one mainly displays 'the Kaicheng Stone Classics', which contains twelve lections caved on 114 steles. The lections include 'the Book of Changes', ' the Book of History' , 'the Book of Songs', 'the Analects of Confucius' and some others of this kind. These are the must-read books for the intellectuals of the feudal society. At that time the printing was under development. In order to well preserve these lections, the rulers ordered to engrave them on the stone steles.

Hall two mainly display The stone tablets written by the calligraphers during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It has the collection of the masterpieces of the famous calligraphers, such as Ou Yangxun, Yan Zhenqing, Wang Xizhi and Liu Gongquan. Nestorian Tablet is the most useful material for experts to study the cultural exchanges between the Tang Dynasty and the other states.

Hall three houses the calligraphy-collection. Collections here are also of high value for exploring Chinese calligraphy history.Chinese calligraphy has a long history, and in general has evolved from the complex to the simple. It has five basic script forms, namely: seal script, clerical script, regular script, running script and cursive script. Through more than 5,000 years of creative work various forms have constituted the abundant treasure and unique traditions of Chinese calligraphy. For example, the Cao Quan Stele, written in Han clerical script in the 2nd year of Zhongping ( 185 AD) in the Eastern Han Dynasty, is famous for its elegant, ingenious and clear inscription, as well as its completeness.The Tang Dynasty witnessed the prosperous period of our art of calligraphy. Ouyang Xun, Yu Shinan,Zhu Suiliang, Yan Zhenqing and Liu Gongquan developed their own distinctive styles of regular script, while Ouyang Tong, Xu Hao, Shi Weize, Huai Su, Zhang Xu and Li Yangbing were celebrated calligraphers of different script forms. The most distinguished Tang stele is 'the Preface to the Holy Buddhist Scriptures' in the handwriting of Wang Xizhi, a famous Jin calligrapher. The valuable poems and works of calligraphy of such famous post-Tang calligraphers as Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Mi Fei, Zhao Mengfu, Dong Qichang and Zhu Yongming are also collected in the Forest of Steles. Through these tablets, you could learn much about the evolvement of the Chinese characters.

Hall four displays painting Stones engraved with historical records. The portraits of Confucius and Bodhidarma and the allegorical pictures and texts were written here.

In ancient times, the rulers of different dynasties preferred to build temples and solidify the city wall. Some records of this form of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties engraved on the steles are preserved in Hall five. Hall six exhibits the poetic inscriptions. Hall seven shows some of inscriptions left by Emperors, noted ministers and well-reputed calligraphers of various dynasties.

The Stone Sculpture Gallery was built in 1963, including mausoleum stone sculpture and religious stone sculpture from Western Han Dynasty (206BC-24AD) to Tang Dynasty. The famous exhibits are the six bas-reliefs, four of them original, form the Zhaoling, the Mausoleum of Emperor Tang Taizong.A reproduction of the horse from the tomb of ' Swift Cavalry General' Huo Qubing also stands here.At the end of the gallery are some Buddhist statues, of which the most famous is a very beautiful torso of a bodhisattva, showing strong Indian influence from the Tang period. It is prized as a great treasure in the art of world stone sculptures.