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Xi'an Forest of Stone Tablets 


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 “the forest stele ” With a history of almost 900 years, it is an art gem renowned at home and abroad.

Once the Temple of Confucius, the Forest of Steles at Sanxuejie Street nearby the South Gate in Xi'an was originally built in Northern Song Dynasty (1090 A.D.) when a large Confucian collection of steles cut in A.D. 837 - the oldest existing texts of the Confucian classics - was moved here for safekeeping. It gained the present name in the 18th century and boasted the largest collection of its kind in China.

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

One of the more striking exhibits is the Forest of Steles, the heaviest collection of books in the world with the earliest of these more than 2,000 large engraved stone tablets dates from the Han Dynasty. Most interesting includes an enlargement to the Confucian Classics stone inscriptions in the Tang Dynasty. With the successive collections of Steles in the Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, it was gradually renovated and expanded like a forest of steles. The Popular Stele of Daiqin Nestorianism, which can be recognizable by the small cross at the tip and engraved in 781 AD, marks the opening of a Nestorian church. The Monk Bu Kong Stele in Tang Dynasty (AD 781) is noteworthy for its Buddhist value.

 Once the site of the Temple of Confucius during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127), the Forest of Stone Steles Museum is situated on Sanxue Street, near the south gate of Xian City Wall. It 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' carved in AD 837. With an area of 31,000 square meters, the Forest of Stone Steles used to be the principal museum for Shaanxi Province since 1944. Then because of the large number of stone steles, it was officially named as the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in 1992.

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. All together, there are 3,000 steles and the museum is divided into seven exhibitions halls, which mainly display the works of calligraphy, painting and historical records. All of these record some achievements in the development of the Chinese culture and reflect the historical facts of the cultural exchanges between China and other countries.

One of these classics, “The Classic on Filial Piety,” is the largest stone tablet in the Forest of Stone Tablets. It was engraved after a handwritten copy of an Emperor Xuan Zong (Li Longji) annotation in 745 A.D. The tablet is set on a three-layer base with 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 with a height of almost 6 metres.

Other tablets in the Forest of Stone Tablets have important historical value as well. The “Nestorian Tablet” provides valuable data for the study of theological history and the cultural exchanges between ancient China and other countries. It offers an introduction to the doctrines, rites and influence of Nestorianism, and the political activities of its Chinese believers during the 150 years of the Tang Dynasty. The “Monk Bukong Tablet” was engraved by the famous calligrapher Xu Hao in 781 A.D. (the 2nd Jianzhong Year in the Tang Dynasty). It records the descending history of Guhyasamaja and Monk Bukong’s achievements as the Chancellor for three emperors (Xuan Zong, Su Zong, and Dai Zong) in the Tang Dynasty. The “Master Chan of Tang Tablet” was erected by Zhuang Si (the Master of the Da Wen Guo Temple) and other disciples in 743 A.D. (the 2nd Tan Bao year of the Tang Dynasty). The tablet recorded the achievements of Master Shan Dao and Master Huai Hui, the real founders of the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism. The “Cao Quan Tablet” recorded the Huang Jin uprising in the late Eastern Han Dynasty and their activities in the He Yiang area of Shaanxi. The historical facts recorded in this tablet provide evidence for a possible revision of or addition to the history books because of comments, such as “King He De of Su Le killed his father and stole the throne,” and “He De was captured and executed”, etc.

The Forest of Stone Tablets holds over 900 epitaphs from the Jin to the Qing Dynasties. Epitaphs were brief records inscribed on tombstones of the decreased, including the name, place of origin, position, biographical notes, burial site, etc. The intent of these was to help future generations verify the similarities and differences of historical records, complete gaps in the recorded history, study the exchange among nations, do textual research on the locations of ancient counties, and understand ancient customs, etc.

The Forest of Stone Tablets is most attractive for its rich collection of outstanding Chinese calligraphers’ masterpieces. For instance, the “Cao Quan Tablet,” engraved in 185 A.D. (the 2nd Zhong Ping Year of the Eastern Han Dynasty), shows mellow, fine strokes with the vitality of Yin and Yang and elegance together with a neat, well-spaced scene.

In the Forest of Stone Tablets, the most prominent tablets are from the Tang Dynasty. One of them is The "Huang Fu Dan Tablet," written by Ouyang Xun. It shows the high-and-steep layout, neat structure, and strong and bold pen force, which define his style. The " A Forward to the Sacred Teaching in Tong Zhong County" of Chu Suiliang, enjoys a reputation for its writing style, the vigorous “iron” draws and “silver” hooks. His calligraphy shows a smooth scene and robust momentum. Ouyang Tong is Ouyang Xun’s fourth son. As his father died at his early age, he deliberately imitated his father’s calligraphy, and got his father of writing law but too precipitous. The famous father and son were known as "Ouyang Junior and Senior." Besides the "Quan Nan Sheng Epitaph” in the Kaifeng Museum, Henan Province, the most valuable tablets that has descended through generations might be the “Dao Yin Master Tablet.” It shows bold strength, rigorous structure, and the heritage from the calligrapher’s father with his own uniqueness.

Forest of Stone Tablets also preserved the “Wu Tong Feng Tablets” by Yan Zhen Qing, an outstanding calligrapher in the Tang Dynasty. They are the "Duo Bao Ta Tablet," which he did at the age of 44; the "Guo Jia Temple Tablet" created at the age of 56; the "Zang Huai Ge Tablet" done around his 62nd year; the "Yan Qin Li Tablet" at the age of 71; and the "Yan Jia Temple Tablet” completed at the age of 72. Through them we can appreciate the masterpieces accomplished by this great calligrapher over a 30-year period of his life.

There are eye-catching stone-carving paintings in the Forest of Stone Tablets. For instance, the "Tang Wang Wei Hua Zhu" done in 1091 A.D. (6th Yuan You Year in Song) always wins the audience’s approval by the bamboos’ straightness and elegance, and the figure’s elegant expressions. The “Dharma East Journey" and "Dharma Facing the Wall" were carved by Xi’an Mad Monk in the Ming Dynasty. Through the freehand brushwork for the broad lines in the picture and the fine brushwork for small descriptions, it depicts a pious and lively image of an Indian monk.

Now, please come with me to the exhibition halls.

Room One mainly displays 'the Kaicheng Stone Classics', was engraved in 837 A.D. (the 2nd Kai Cheng Year in Emperor Wen Zhong’s reign of the Tang Dynasty). Twelve classics were scripted on both sides of these 114 tablets, with 650,252 Chinese characters in total. All these classics were “must-reads” for Chinese feudal intellectuals.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.

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 GongquanNestorian Tablet 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 haracters.

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.

Today,this is a professional art museum which collects, studies and displays various Steles and stone sculpture contract people get  interested in Chinese art and calligraphy, there are some interesting objects on display here.If not ,possibly got miss!


Admission Fee: CNY 45 (Mar. to Nov.)
CNY 30 (Dec. to Feb.)
Opening Hours: 08:00 to 18:45 (Summer)
08:00 to 18:00 (Winter)
Recommended Time for a Visit: Three hours
Bus Route: 14,402,239


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