Classic of Filial Piety

745 AD
Beilin Museum ("Forest of Steles"), Xi'an

The pailou (ceremonial entrance) of Beilin shelters a stone tablet (first photo) that presents a text of the Confucian Classic of Filial Piety ( translation), with commentary, written personally by the Tang emperor Xuanzong. The stele is dated by inscription to 745 AD. Its title (closeup, second photo), is written, as befits its importance, in ancient seal script. The text (closeup, third photo) is inscribed in the later, and more readable, Han clerical script; Xuanzong's commentary is interpolated in the smaller characters.

How was this done? Xuanzong first wrote out his text in ink on paper. Skilled artisans then transferred the characters to stone by scratching through the paper, treating it like a stencil, and finished by carving the stenciled characters in sunk relief.