Im­per­ish­able Civil­i­sa­tion at the Stone Carv­ing Art Museum

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Sun Hong­shan Edited by Scott Bray Photo by Jiang Li­tian

The Bei­jing Stone Carv­ing Museum houses over 2,600 price­less relics ex­ca­vated in the cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing stat­ues, tomb­stones, carv­ings, tablets and ste­les bear­ing the cal­lig­ra­phy of many em­i­nent fig­ures.

Bei­jing is home to as many stone tablets, carv­ings, tomb­stones, ste­les and stat­ues as there are peaks in the Yan Moun­tains. Like the Great Wall’s mountain range, these stone master­pieces have stood the test of time, carv­ing out a record of the mil­len­nia of his­tory of Bei­jing. The Bei­jing Stone Carv­ing Museum fea­tures rare stat­ues of the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty (AD 386– 534), tomb­stones from the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618– 907), stone carv­ings from the Jin ( 1115– 1234) and Yuan ( 1206– 1368) dy­nas­ties and stone tablets and ste­les bear­ing cal­lig­ra­phy of em­i­nent Qing Dy­nasty ( 1644– 1911) fig­ures— over 2,600 price­less relics ex­ca­vated in the Bei­jing area that speak of the cap­i­tal’s his­tory as well as the de­vel­op­men­tal his­tory of Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy, ar­chi­tec­ture and re­li­gion.

The Re­vival of Zhen­jue Tem­ple

The Bei­jing Stone Carv­ing Art Museum, lo­cated on the for­mer site of the Mingera Zhen­jue Tem­ple, is a spe­cialised museum for the col­lec­tion, study, dis­play and pro­tec­tion of stone- carved relics in the vicin­ity of Bei­jing. Cov­er­ing nearly 20,000 square me­tres, the museum con­tains a great num­ber of stone carv­ings, dis­play­ing a sub­stan­tial num­ber of cul­tural de­posits. The pros­per­ity of the Han (206 BC–AD 220) and Tang dy­nas­ties; the na­tional meld­ing and cul­tural ex­changes of the Liao (AD 916–1125), Jin and Yuan dy­nas­ties; and the im­pe­rial grandeur of Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties are housed in these halls. The Zhen­jue Tem­ple it­self has been listed among the first batch of units for na­tional cul­tural relic pro­tec­tion since 1961.

Built in the Ming Dy­nasty, the Zhen­jue Tem­ple is also col­lo­qui­ally known as the “Five Pagoda Tem­ple” for its “di­a­mond throne” pagoda. The con­struc­tion of this pagoda, built from brick, white mar­ble and blue and white stones, was com­pleted in 1473.

To cel­e­brate his mother’s 70th birth­day, Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1736–1795) had the Zhen­jue Tem­ple ren­o­vated in 1751 and 1761.

In the late Qing Dy­nasty, a dis­as­trous fire burned down the tem­ple, leav­ing only the di­a­mond throne pagoda and two an­cient ginkgo trees that stood in front of it. After the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China was founded in 1949, the gov­ern­ment be­gan mak­ing ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions. In 1987, the Bei­jing Stone Carv­ing Art Museum was es­tab­lished based on the di­a­mond

throne pagoda’s ex­quis­ite stone carv­ings, mak­ing the an­cient royal tem­ple shine bril­liantly again.

Di­a­mond Throne Pagoda: a Pre­cious Trea­sure

The Di­a­mond Throne Pagoda is the most pre­cious trea­sure of the museum. Built in the style of the Great Bodh Gaya Tower of an­cient In­dia, it is un­like more stan­dard Chi­nese Bud­dhist pago­das. The main struc­ture con­sists of a pedestal and five small pago­das. Ar­chi­tec­turally re­ferred to as a “di­a­mond throne pagoda,” only about 10 such pago­das still stand in China. Of those, the Zhen­jue Tem­ple’s is the most an­cient and most ex­quis­ite, truly the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive work in the Mid­dle King­dom. The base of the foun­da­tion is a Sumeru throne, built on a rec­tan­gu­lar base. From the Sumeru throne to the top of the foun­da­tion there are five lay­ers. Each layer is carved with niches on all sides. A Bud­dha is seated in­side each niche and there are 1,561 in to­tal. The five small pago­das are built on top of the foun­da­tion, the largest in the cen­tre, with the oth­ers stand­ing on each of the four corners.

The carv­ings on the foun­da­tion and its pago­das are breath­tak­ing, mak­ing the whole Di­a­mond Throne Pagoda a colos­sal work of art from top to bot­tom. Carved us­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese crafts, the Di­a­mond Throne Pagoda is steeped in re­li­gious mo­tifs: the Five Great Bud­dhas in seated po­si­tion; San­skrit and Ti­betan in­scrip­tions on the tow­ers; such fig­ures as Bod­hisattva, Heav­enly King and Arhat; and an­i­mals such as lions, pea­cocks, green­finches and the per­sonal mounts of the Five Great Bud­dhas. Each carv­ing seems to have not only a static but also a dy­namic stance, as if im­bued with su­per­nat­u­ral power, full of wit and hu­mour. Among its note­wor­thy fea­tures is a pair of Bud­dha’s feet in re­lief in the mid­dle of the Sumeru throne, its soles point­ing out­wards. In Bud­dhism, Bud­dha’s feet in­di­cate that the foot­prints of kind­ness are left all over the world. A lo­tus flower in full bloom is un­der the feet, sur­rounded by the Eight Trea­sures of Bud­dhism and curly grass pat­terns. It is a unique fea­ture among tem­ples in Bei­jing, as all the other carv­ings of the Bud­dha’s feet are in­taglios.

The shape of the Zhen­jue Tem­ple’s Di­a­mond Throne Pagoda comes from In­dia. Yet in its de­sign, with its short eaves, cor­bel brack­ets and glazedtile roofs, there is an ob­vi­ous, dis­tinct, tra­di­tional, Chi­nese style. The pagoda stands as a mas­ter­piece cre­ated by in­te­grat­ing for­eign cul­ture into Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture.

A Rare Col­lec­tion

The mas­sive, an­cient pagoda is sur­rounded by nearly 80 per­cent of the museum’s col­lec­tion of stone carv­ings. This open-air ex­hi­bi­tion area is split into eight dis­play zones in­clud­ing zones, for the Mau­soleum Stone Carv­ings, Tem­ple Tablet In­scrip­tions, Tablets of the So­ci­ety of Je­sus, and Tablet In­scrip­tions of Tombs and Me­mo­rial Halls. Each dis­play zone has stone carv­ings with their own prom­i­nent artis­tic fea­tures. Among the Mau­soleum Stone Carv­ings, 28 carv­ings and stat­ues used in mau­soleums are dis­played. Each tells a story, such as stone fig­ures and an­i­mals sym­bol­is­ing the sta­tus of the buried, as well as the carved hall and throne act­ing as “palace” fa­cil­i­ties. A no­table ex­hibit is the stone hall carved for the Mau­soleum of Fushou, Prince Xian of the First Rank (a court ti­tle), by or­der of Em­peror Kangxi (reign: 1662– 1723) in 1675. This stone hall ex­hibits ar­chi­tec­ture at its finest, con­sist­ing of more than 30 carv­ings in the like­ness of a wooden build­ings.

Be­hind the di­a­mond pagoda are the ex­tremely rare Shen­dao ( lit­er­ally “Path of the Gods”) col­umns and Shen­dao watch­tow­ers erected on the path lead­ing to the tomb of Qin­jun, You Pre­fec­ture scribe of the Han Dy­nasty. First un­earthed in June, 1964 on the north slope of Laoshan Hill in Shi­jing­shan District, they con­sist of 16 frag­ments bear­ing an in­scrip­tion that reads “the first year of Em­peror Yuanx­ing,” which was the year AD 105.

Leav­ing the open-air ex­hi­bi­tion area there is a pos­te­rior build­ing be­hind the Bei­jing Stone Carv­ing Art Museum, which is mainly used to elab­o­rate on the dis­tri­bu­tion, fea­tures, his­tory and the present sit­u­a­tion of stone carv­ings in the Bei­jing re­gion. In the ex­hi­bi­tion hall “Shipo tian­jing” or “heaven-shak­ing and earth-shat­ter­ing” one can ob­serve the stone carv­ings found on the path lead­ing to the tomb of the scribe Qin­jun, one of the most pre­cious trea­sures of the museum, which is also ac­claimed as the “No. 1 an­cient stone carv­ing in Bei­jing.” The Chi­nese char­ac­ters on the stone col­umns are clear, in the sim­ple- yet- el­e­gant style of Han script. Com­pared with seal char­ac­ters, this Han script is free and easy and has all the fea­tures of of­fi­cial script, yet it is not as con­ven­tion­ally dec­o­ra­tive as mature Han script found in later tablet in­scrip­tions.

Many other pieces of ex­tremely valu­able stonework are also housed here. One is the most an­cient and high­est-ranked stone carv­ing in the Bei­jing re­gion, the Stone Winged Beast of the Tang Dy­nasty. Ex­ca­vated at Li­u­taizhuang Vil­lage, Wangzuo Town­ship, Feng­tai District, in 1982, it has been in­ferred by ex­perts to be a stone animal on the path lead­ing to the trai­tor­ous Gen­eral Shi Sim­ing’s tomb. A Taoist statue with a chrono­log­i­cal record is nearby, the first of its kind ever found in the Bei­jing re­gion, and the Coloured Zhenwu (or Xuandi, a de­ity) Statue of the Yuan Dy­nasty, which was un­earthed at the Guo’erzhao Ho­tel to the south­east of Xizhi­men Fly­over in 1998. Each of stone master­pieces hail from dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods, re­flect­ing the evo­lu­tion of in­dige­nous cul­ture and re­li­gion and are im­por­tant parts of the his­tory of Bei­jing.

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