Forest of Stone Steles Museum in Xian

Why Visit Forest of Stone Steles Museum?

  1. The museum, which is housed in a former Confucian Temple, has housed a growing collection of Steles since 1087. By 1944 it was the principal museum for Shaanxi province.
  2. It is a good place to get close to Chinese history and culture.
  3. The present Stele Museum is one of the largest of its kind in East Asia. 

Brief Introduction of Forest of Stone Steles Museum

The Forest of Stone Steles Museum is located at 15 Sanxue (Three School) Street, near the south gate of the City Wall. Also called Beilin Museum, it is a themed museum focusing on displays of stone steles, epigraphs and stone sculptures from past dynasties. Its location is on Sanxue Street, inside the Wenchang Gate of the Xi’an City Wall. Its construction is based on Xi’an Confucius Temple dating from 1087 during the North Song Dynasty (960 – 1127). The museum was built to preserve the Kaicheng Classics (a group of stone tablets) and the Filial Piety Classics. The collection has grown and now includes 11,000 relics, including three thousand stone steles or epigraphs that are housed in seven separate exhibition rooms. Among these many precious relics, there are 19 groups deemed to be national treasures that the visitor should not fail to see.

Over the following few centuries, the collection of the Forest of Stone Steles Museum was gradually replenished with other stone tablets of a particular cultural and historical value. Today the Museum of Stone Steles, on its territory of 31,000 square meters, numbers 7,000 artifacts. Its galleries display only a part of the collection – a little more than a thousand steles created beginning from the VIII century of Chinese history. In addition to “The Twelve Canons,” the most valuable museum tablets include the reliefs that decorated the walls of the Emperor Taizong Mausoleum and Nestorian Stele of 781, with a carved message about the successful missionary mission of the Assyrian Church of the East in China of the Tang era. On top of this stele you will see a Christian cross, twined around by a Chinese dragon.

History of Forest of Stone Steles Museum

This museum, the pride of the Xian residents, was founded in 1078 during the reign of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Its first exhibits included 114 commemorative steles, which, during the reign of Emperor Wenzong of the Tang Dynasty, immortalized “The Twelve Canons” of the Confucian teachings. Among them there are excerpts from the Analects of Confucius, Book of Songs, Book of Changes, and his other philosophical works. These works were the Chinese classics of that time to be read by everyone, who committed to spirit and mind training. Since book printing business had not been yet invented by that time, the sayings of the canons were applied to stone slabs – the stele, to convey the age-old wisdom to the next generations.

It should be noted that steles were widely used in ancient China. They were erected by emperors and temples. The most important of them were erected on the backs of stone turtles, called “Guifu” or “Bisi”. But let us go back to the museum and its unique collection.

Best Time to Go to Stele Forest Museum

All year round. The peak season of traveling to Xi’an is in the spring and autumn. In summer the temperature is high with strong ultraviolet ray. It is easy to cause heat stroke under the blazing sun for quite a long time in outdoor, and sometimes it will rain, so tourists should watch the weather forecast in advance before visiting. What’s more, tourists need to put on sunscreen and try to avoid ultraviolet rays during the day time travel; Winter temperature is low, the wind is piercingly cold, only suitable for indoor attractions visiting.

Main Exhibits in Forest of Stele Museum of Xi’an

1. Exhibition Hall No.1

Stone inscription of Kaicheng Shijing (开成石经), including Zhouyi (周易), Shangshu (尚书), Shijing (诗经, The Book of Songs), Liji (礼记, The Book of Rites), Zuozhuan (左传, Zuo’s Commentary), Lunyu (论语, The Analects of Confucius), Xiaojing (孝经, Book of Filial Piety), Erya (尔雅), Mengzi (孟子) and other four Chinese classics, is kept here. These were set books for scholars in feudal society in Chinese history. To keep preserve them permanently and to avoid mistakes when the classics were transcribed, they were carved on stone tablets as a model and placed at the Imperial College for proofreading. This is the unique unbroken stone inscription of ancient Chinese classics that have been found so far.

2. Exhibition Hall No.2

Steles carved with calligraphies, most of which were written in Tang Dynasty (618-907), are displayed at this hall, referring to introduction to the Nestorianism’s spread into China during Tang, cultural exchanges between Tang and the world, and many precious masterpieces by Wang Xizhi and Yan Zhenjing, two of the most renowned calligraphers in ancient China.

3. Exhibition Hall No.3

Exhibition Hall 3 is the place where calligraphies in various fonts gather. Most of them were made between Han Dynasty (206BC-211AD) and Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Stone portraits of Confucius and Avalokitesvara displayed at the Exhibition Hall No.4,Forest of Stele Museum of Xi’an,Shaanxi Province.

4. Exhibition Hall No.4

The exhibits in the hall includes the poems of Su Shi (or Su Dongpo), Huang Ting Jian, Zhao Mengfu, Mi Fu, Zhu Yunming and some other well-known scholars as well as some treasured historical data and paintings.

5. Exhibition Hall No.5

Regional historical records of Song, Yuan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties can be found on the steles exhibited at Exhibition Hall 5. Many of the steles narrate some daily affairs of those ages such as constructing temples, recording a merit, repairing a canal.

6. Exhibition Hall No.6

Apart from few poems and essays of Yuan and Ming dynasties, the rest exhibits here are produced in Qing Dynasty, including the famous Emperor Kangxi and .

The handwriting of Wang Xizhi,an excellent Chinese calligrapher who lived in the 4th century.

7. Exhibition Hall No.7

145 steles made in Qing Dynasty at this hall show the calligraphies of emperors, ministers and calligraphers of different dynasties.

Stone Sculpture Art Galleries

On the either side of these seven exhibition rooms there are two sculpture galleries. The one to the east is newly constructed, and focuses on the booming development of Buddhism in Chang’an (now known as Xi’an). About 150 stone Buddhist statues from North Wei Dynasty (386 – 557) to Song Dynasty are on display there. These Buddhist exhibits are in two categories, Buddhist statues and Buddhist images carved on the stone tablets.

The older hall, showing about 70 exquisite exhibits dating from the Han and Tang Dynasties, is on the west. It is divided into two parts, namely stone sculptures from tombs and those about religion. Among the sculptures from tombs, the epigraph from Li Shou (a general as well as the brother of first emperor of Tang Dynasty) is the most famous, because it is the only one that exists in China. Also, the Six Steeds from the Zhaoling Mausoleum is outstanding. 

How to get to Forest of Stone Steles Museum

Travel with ChinaDragonTours (top recommended)

If you want to get out of the traffic and hassle of navigation, you can book a private tour package that includes visiting, dining and transfer from us. Our local guide and driver will escort you to the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in Xi’an in the fastest and most convenient way and take care of all the details. You just have to focus on the visiting.

Independent Traveler

Take bus no.14, 23, 40, 208, 216, 221, 222, 258, 309, 402, 512, 800 or 910 and get off at Wen Chang Men (Wen Chang Gate) Station. Walk north for 5 minutes to the Stele Forest.

Useful Travel Tips

  1. The best time for visiting the Bell Tower in Xi’an is between April and May. During this time, the temperature is moderate and you are unlikely to be rained on.
  2. Whilst exploring the city, make sure to take a legal taxi which charges you based on a meter. There are lots of fakes and these will charge you a lot more for your services. Always ask the taxi driver to start a meter.
  3. Entrance Fee
    March to November: CNY 65   December to the next February: CNY 50;
    * Children between 1.2 – 1.4 meters (3.9 – 4.6 feet) enjoy half price tickets.
    * Children under 1.2 meters are free of charge.
    * A combo ticket for this museum and Xi’an City Wall costs CNY 100.
  4. Opening Hours
    Mar. – Apr.: 08:00 – 18:15   May – Oct. 7: 08:00 – 18:45
    Oct. 8 – Nov.: 08:00 – 18:15   Dec. – Feb.: 08:00 – 18:00
    * Tickets selling stops 45 minutes earlier.

Nearby Attractions

Edited by Bella Ren/任新月