The Forest of Steles Museum (Beilin) in Xi’an is located on Sanxue road near the city walls south gate. Originally a temple honouring Confucius, the museum was first founded in 1090 during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1279) when two of the museums most important sets of steles from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) were move here for protection – the “Classic of Filial Piety” written by Emperor Xuanzong in 745 AD and “the Kaicheng Stone Steles” carved in 837 AD.
Covering 31,000 square meters, it houses over 3000 steles from throughout Chinas ancient history, from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The building became the principle museum for Shaanxi Province in 1944 and was renamed to its present status in 1992 because of the large number of stone steles it has collected.
Carvings, paintings and historical records are displayed in seven exhibition halls. Hall one houses the Kaicheng Stone Classics which are twelve lections carved on 114 steles including the Analects of Confucius, the Book of Changes, the Book of History and the Book of Songs. In hall two, there are calligraphy steles written by the famous calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty.
A collection of the five types of calligraphy is in hall three – seal script, official script, regular script, running hand and cursive hand. These are important in studying the progression of Chinese culture. Stone sculptures are on show in hall four including portraits of Confucius and Bodhisattva and Buddhist scriptures.
Historical records of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties are engraved on steles in hall five while halls six and seven hold inscribed poems and words from different people throughout history.