Beilin Museum ("Forest of Steles")


Although Xi'an is best known as the capital (Xianyang) of Qin Shihuangdi, the First Emperor, it was also a capital (Chang'an) under the Han, Tang, and several other dynasties (see Capitals of China for a complete list). The Beilin Museum, housed in a former Confucian temple, displays many steles from the Chang'an and later periods, including a 9th-century set of the Confucian Classics. Scholars, who had to memorize all 550,000 characters of these texts, could be confident that the Chang'an version was uncorrupted, since it was literally written in stone.

In addition to thousands of steles, the museum houses a fine collection of funerary and religious statues and reliefs, excavated in Shaanxi province and dating mostly from the Han through the Tang dynasties.