Situated on Sanxue Street, near the south gate of Xian City Wall, the Stele Forest Museum retains the largest number of stone inscriptions in China, with nearly 3,000 pieces left after the Han Dynasty. People began to store steles in this spot in 1087 during the Song Dynasty and it was formally named Stele Forest in the early Qing Dynasty.
In 1944, the Stele Forest Museum was established on the site around the Confucius Temple in Xi’an. On the museum’s premises of 31,900 square meters, there are the Confucius Temple, the Stele Forest and the Stone-Carving Art Rooms. The 11 display halls of 4,900 square meters display more than 11,000 pieces of cultural relics, among which are 134 national-class pieces in 19 categories.
Room One mainly displays ‘the Kaicheng Stone Classics’, which contains twelve lections caved on both sides of 114 steles, with a total of 650,252 Chinese characters. The lections include ‘the Book of Changes’, ‘ the Book of History’, ‘the Book of Songs’, ‘the Analects of Confucius’ and some others, which 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. It is like a large library and is called the “largest and heaviest book” in the world.
The stone tablets written by the calligraphers during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) are exhibited in the Room Two. It has the collection of the masterpieces of the famous calligraphers as Ouyang Xun, Yan Zhenqing, Wang Xizhi and Liu Gongquan. The Nestorian Tablet, recording the interaction between the emperor and a traveling Nestorian priest, is the most useful material for experts to study the cultural exchanges between the Tang Dynasty and the other states.
Room Three houses the calligraphy-collection, which is of great importance. As a traditional art, calligraphy occupies the same position of importance as the painting in the history of Chinese art. In China, the scripts are classified into five categories: seal script, official script, regular script, running-hand and cursive-hand. Through these tablets, you could learn much about the evolvement of the Chinese characters.
Painting Stones in Room Four were engraved with historical records. You could see the portraits of Confucius and Bodhidarma on some and the allegorical pictures and texts written to appear like pictures on others. 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 Room Five. Of course, if you enjoy the poetic inscriptions, you would certainly want to go to Room Six. Emperors, noted ministers and well-reputed calligraphers of various dynasties have left many inscriptions, some of which are shown in Room Seven.
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. It is prized as a great treasure in the art of world stone sculptures.
ADD: Site of the Confucius Temple, No. 15 Sanxue Street, Xian, Shaanxi Province.
Admission: 75yuan (Mar.1 to Nov.30); 50yuan (Dec.1 to the end of Feb.)
Mar. 1 – Apr. 30: 08:00 – 18:15 (tickets available before 17:30);
May 1 – the National Day: 08:00 – 18:45 (tickets available before 18:00);
After the National Day – Nov. 30: 08:00 – 18:15 (tickets available before 17:30);
Dec. 1 – the end of Feb.: 08:00 – 18:00 (tickets available before 17:15);
Transport: You can get there by public bus No. 2, 3, 6, 603 or 618.