Beijing Stone Carving Art Museum

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Established in 1980 and opposite the new National Library,Beijing Stone Carving Art Museum covers an area of 15,000 square metres. It is an open-air museum which possesses more than 1,200 artifacts, 620 of which are on display. The museum has seven exhibition sections. They are synthetic stone carvings, stone tablets marking merits and virtues, epitaphs, books of stone rubbings, steles of temples and monasteries, tablets of guild halls and artistic stone engravings. The synthetic section displays 32 artifacts which demonstrate the characteristics of stone carving in Beijing, both in shape and content. The merit-virtue tablets show the severe social estate system in Chinese feudal society. Inscriptions on the tablets mark the merits and virtues of some famous ministers and officials of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1.911). They are also valuable for research of historical figures.

The museum is located at the site of the Five-Pagoda Temple. The temple and pagodas were built between 1403 and 1413 when an eminent Indian monk named Pancha-Charma came to China and presented to the third Ming Emperor Yongle five gold Buddhas and de-signs for the pagodas. Emperor Yongle ordered the construction of the Diamond Seat Pagoda Vihara in honour of the Indian monk. It was completed in 1423.

Among the pagodas of the same style still standing in China, this is the oldest and the most exquisite. The architectural style with five pagodas on a platform (the Diamond Seat) was modelled on the Buddha Gaya in Bihar, India, where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

Standing 15 metres high, all the five pagodas were built with bricks inside and covered with slabs of blue-and-white granite outside. Smooth engraving made the stone carvings exceptional work of arts of the Ming Dynasty. The Indian-style pagodas, the carvings and the unique traditional Chinese architecture are combined to make the building a brilliant example of the successful amalgamation of foreign culture into Chinese architecture and engraving.

The temple has sustained some damage over the centuries. Parts of the pagodas were bombarded by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers in 1900 and the damage is still evident.

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