Pre­served arts re­veal wis­dom

Some cal­lig­ra­phy lovers quit their for­mer jobs and come to look for work at the mu­seum, just to be able to see the stone ste­les ev­ery­day

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | TRAVEL - By LI YANG in Bei­jing andHUOYANin Xi’an Con­tact the writ­ers at liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

In Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, the city that served as the cap­i­tal for thirty dy­nas­ties in Chi­nese his­tory, lo­cals re­gard the For­est of Stele Mu­seum as a source of their city’s spir­i­tual aura.

The mu­seum was built by the cen­tral au­thor­ity in the early Song Dy­nasty (960-1279) in a Con­fu­cian tem­ple. It houses more than 11,000 pieces of cul­tural relics dat­ing from the HanDy­nasty (205 BC-AD 220) to the Qing Dy­nasty (16441911), con­trib­uted by im­pe­rial courts since the Song Dy­nasty.

About 3,000 pieces are stone ste­les, in­scribed with an­cient cal­lig­ra­phy masters’ works, as well as stone sculp­tures, mak­ing the mu­seum China’s largest stone carv­ing work mu­seum and a par­adise for cal­lig­ra­phy lovers.

To­day, all of the stone ste­les are placed in pro­tec­tive glass cov­ers. Yet, local res­i­dents cher­ish the old dayswhen­they could di­rectly touch the stone tablets. “The de­vout looks of a blind man feel­ing about the ste­les is still fresh inmy mem­ory to­day,” said a local trav­eler sur­named Huo. “I vis­ited it in the 1980s. At that time, when the en­try ticket was only 0.2 yuan ($0.03), the chil­dren re­garded it as sum­mer retreat, as there are many old trees in the shady tem­ple, and the stone ste­les also feel cool. We did not re­al­ize many of the stone tablets are na­tional trea­sures.”

The mu­seum cov­ers an area of 31,000 square me­ters and has seven ex­hi­bi­tion halls. The first hall mainly dis­plays the text of 12 Con­fu­cian clas­sics carved on 14 ste­les. The stones were en­graved more than 2,000 years ago, when print­ing was not yet in­vented. The sec­ond hall ex­hibits cal­lig­ra­phy ste­les writ­ten by the prom­i­nent cal­lig­ra­phers of the Tang Dy­nasty (618–907), a golden age for cal­lig­ra­phy.

The third hall also ex­hibits works of cal­lig­ra­phy. Th­ese ste­les were in­scribed with five va­ri­eties of cal­lig­ra­phy, seal char­ac­ters, of­fi­cial script, reg­u­lar script, run­ning hand and cur­sive hand, which demon­strate the de­vel­op­ment of Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy over 2,000 years.

The fourth hall con­tains var­i­ous kinds of stone sculp­tures from theHanDy­nasty to the Tang Dy­nasty. The fifth, sixth and sev­enth halls dis­play stele en­grav­ings from the Song Dy­nasty to the Qing Dy­nasty.

The most fa­mous stone sculp­tures are six em­bossed horses found in Tang Em­peror Li Shimin’s tomb, which rep­re­sent the high­est level of stone carv­ing in Chi­nese his­tory.

A cul­tural relic dealer broke the stone horses and tried to smug­gle them abroad piece by piece in the 1940s. At least two horses were smug­gled to the United States and stored in the mu­seum of the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. The other four horses were in­ter­cepted by Chi­nese cus­toms and are dis­played Zhao Haitian, in the SteleMu­seum.

Some­cal­lig­ra­phy lovers quit their for­mer jobs and come to look for work at the mu­seum. Bai Xuesong is one of them, who stud­ies bi­ol­ogy and comes to work as a tour guide in the mu­seum, see­ing the stone day.

“It is a won­der that the mu­seum is so well pre­served,” said Bai.

A for­mer cu­ra­tor of the mu­seum shut it for three years at the peak of the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” ste­les ev­ery (1966-76), and thought of many ways to pro­tect the relics from be­ing sab­o­taged, ac­cord­ing to his tes­ti­mony.

Bai’s fa­vorite cul­tural relic is the Jingyun Bell, which was cast in the Tang Dy­nasty with an in­scrip­tion by a Tang em­peror. The China Na­tional Ra­dio recorded the ring­ing of the bell and has broad­cast it for decades as a New Year bell ring na­tion­wide, he added.

Screen printer Li Xiaofeng came to work in the mu­seum after vis­it­ing it. He served in the army for three years be­fore com­ing to Xi’an. “I fell in love with the cal­lig­ra­phy art at first sight of the stone ste­les and learned screen print­ing for two years,” Li said. “When I screen print, I feel that I amtalk­ing with the cal­lig­ra­phers. They have their souls and wis­dom planted in the strokes.”

A doc­tor, sur­named Zhang from Luoyang, He­nan prov­ince, uses his mo­bile phone to take photos of the de­tails of some ste­les. “I do not prac­tice cal­lig­ra­phy. But I ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of the an­cient cal­lig­ra­phers. I will show th­ese photos to my friends,” said Zhang.

“The visit to the mu­seum is like a pil­grim­age. It looks more mag­nif­i­cent than ex­pected,” said ZhaoHaitian, a trav­eler from He­bei prov­ince, who has been prac­tic­ing the cal­lig­ra­phy of Ouyang Xun, a Tang Dy­nasty cal­lig­ra­phy mas­ter, for two years. “I ma­jor in Ja­panese at uni­ver­sity and I learn cal­lig­ra­phy frommy Ja­panese-lan­guage teacher. But it is very dif­fi­cult for me to ac­quire the soul of Ou’s style.”

Zhou Yun, a Chi­nese Aus­tralian from Xi’an, vis­its the mu­seum with her Is­raeli Aus­tralian boyfriend. “My fa­ther al­ways in­spires me to prac­tice cal­lig­ra­phy. He gifts me writ­ing tools, and strongly sug­gests that I visit the mu­seum in Xi’an, my home­town,” Zhou said.

The visit to the mu­seum is like a pil­grim­age. It looks more mag­nif­i­cent than ex­pected.”

a trav­eler from He­bei prov­ince, who has been prac­tic­ing the cal­lig­ra­phy of Ouyang Xun, a Tang Dy­nasty cal­lig­ra­phy mas­ter, for two years

HUO YAN / CHI­NADAILY

A pavil­ion at the Stele Mu­seum.

HUO YAN / CHI­NADAILY

Works by Zhao Mengfu, a cal­lig­ra­pher in the Song Dy­nasty.

1

PHOTOS BY HUO YAN / CHINA DAILY

2 1: A worker at the Stele Mu­seum cleans a stone stele for screen print­ing. 2: Bai Xuesong in­tro­duces Jingyun Bell of the Tang Dy­nasty in the Stele Mu­seum.

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