Friday, April 17: Today is the beginning of a four-day public holiday weekend in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, so this afternoon at 3:50 p.m., after my classes end at noon, I am flying to Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province. I’ll return on Tuesday morning, April 21.
The four-day holiday is the Zhuang Song Festival, also known as San Yue San, which means ‘Third Month’s Third (Day)’, as it is celebrated on the third day of the third lunar month in the traditional Chinese calendar.
For once, I’m traveling on a local holiday and I’m traveling outside of the holiday’s locality. Thus, for once, I hope to escape the crowds I usually encounter when I travel on national holidays.
The Song Festival is not only the most ceremonious festival for the Zhuang people, but also an important traditional festival among many other ethnic groups, including Han, Yao, Dong, Shui, Maonan, Miao, and Dong people. Traditional customs and folk activities include ‘song meetings’, bamboo pole dancing, steaming five-color glutinous rice, making colored eggs, bumping eggs, and throwing embroidered balls, according to China Highlights: The Zhuang Song Festival (San Yue San).
According to China Highlights: Singing folk songs is the most important activity of the San Yue San Festival. Zhuang people are very fond of singing. Zhuang people gather outside in the fields to hold ‘song meetings’. Their songs are about life, work, love, happiness, sadness, and historical events. The Song Festival is also a good opportunity for young people to engage romantically. Young men and women usually sing in antiphonal style (alternately singing to one another). If a man and a woman fall in love with each other, they will give a gift to each other. The woman will usually give an embroidered ball to the man she accepts.
Sadly, you’ll only hear about the holiday secondhand from me, as I’m leaving Guangxi and heading to another province west of Shanghai. The 2 hour 15 minute flight to Xi’an is direct from Nanning and is, thankfully, without incident.
When I arrive rather late in Xian, I finally check in at the Fortune Suites, and I arrange with the front desk at the hotel to see the Terra Cotta Warriors with an English-speaking tour guide on Sunday. I get comfortable in my room to plan my Saturday. I know that some rain is forecast over the weekend, so I make a plan and then a back-up plan. My plan is to visit the Xi’an city walls, the drum and bell towers, and the Muslim Quarter tomorrow; however, if it rains, I’ll go to some of the museums and indoor places.
Saturday, April 18: I have a nice buffet breakfast in the hotel, and then walk out intending to go to the huge south gate of the city walls, called Yongning which isn’t far from my hotel. The wall is about 14km around and I’ve heard you can ride a bicycle around the top. I don’t know why, since I know rain is forecast, I never bother to even look out the window, so I’m surprised when I walk out the door to find it cold and raining steadily. Immediately, I return to my room for my umbrella and revise my plans.
I still head south toward the gate, but instead of climbing up and attempting to ride a bicycle in the rain, I turn east inside the gate and walk along Shuyuanmen, a cobbled street lined with art stores and antique shops in the heart of Beilin.
It’s pretty dark and dreary, and very difficult to take pictures and hold my umbrella at the same time.
It looks like the street is guarded by the wise Confucius.
I find a lot of vendors selling calligraphy brushes on the street.
At the end of the street, I think maybe the tall building with the green roof is the Beilin Museum, but it’s not.
These busts must be some famous historical characters, but I don’t know who they are. I figure the museum must be somewhere close by.
Finally, I find the Xi’an Beilin Museum, a museum for steles and stone sculptures that’s housed in a converted Confucian Temple. Its collection of steles has been growing since 1087. A stele is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument, very often for funerary or commemorative purposes. It very often has texts and may have decoration. This ornamentation may be inscribed, carved in relief, or painted onto the slab (Wikipedia: Stele).
Due to the large number of steles, the museum was officially renamed as the Forest of Stone Steles in 1992. All together, there are 3,000 steles in the museum, which is divided into seven exhibitions halls, which mainly display works of calligraphy, painting and historical records (Wikipedia: Stele Forest).
The grounds of the museum are quite pretty despite the rain. I love all the pretty pavilions, the flowering and leafy trees, the raindrops on the foliage, and the way the colors pop against the gray skies.
The Jingyun Bell was cast in the second year of Jingyun of Emperor Ruizong in Tang (711 A.D.), hence its name. It weighs six tons. The rim of it is in the shape of a hexagonal arc with a beast “button” on its top. The body of the bell is divided into three sections. The middle squares in the lower sections are engraved with inscriptions; the other sections are adorned with images of the dragon, phoenix, lion, ox, etc. Eighteen lines of inscription written by Emperor Ruizong discuss the mystery of Taoism and offer praise for the bell.
A Stone Horse in Da Xia is a product of the era in 407 A.D., when the aristocrat of the Huns Helianbobo styled himself the Heaven King, the Great Khan, with the title of reigning dynasty as Xia, making its capital in Tongwan City (now Jingbian County of Shaanxi Province). The horse’s fore hoof is engraved with characters “the six year of Zhenxing in Grand Xia” (422 A.D.) and “the Grand General.” It is a highly valued rare historical relic.
A couple of the steles are housed in open-air pavilions, but I’m not sure what they signify.
According to Lonely Planet China, “the first hall contains the twelve Confucian classics — texts outlining the Confucian philosophy — carved onto 114 stone tablets, a massive project ordered by the Tang Emperor Wenzong in 837 as a way of ensuring the texts were never lost or corrupted by copyists’ errors.”
I don’t take any photos in this hall. Actually, the steles don’t make very interesting photographic subjects, although the history of them is fascinating.
The Second Room consists of famous stone tablets of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). For their contents, the “Daqin Nestorian Stone Tablet” and “the monk Bu Kong Stone Tablet” are important for research into cultural exchanges between Tang Dynasty China and foreign countries. Many of these tablets are models of Chinese calligraphy art.
In the third room are exhibited the valuable stone tablets of various dynasties bearing many styles of writing: seal style, regular script, running hand, and cursive script.
In the fourth room are displayed the stone tablets of calligraphy writing by famous calligraphers from the Song to the Qing dynasties. Some stone tablets of the Ming and the Qing dynasties, which contain valuable historical data, are also exhibited here. Various engraved pictorial stones from the Song to the Qing dynasties are gathered here as well. Many are famous artistic works.
“A Full View of Taibai Mountain,” namely Taiyi Mountain, in Meixian Country of Shaanxi Province, is the chief peak of the Qinling Mountains, 3767 meters above sea level. The top of the mountain is covered with snow all year round, hence the name of Taibai, “White all the Year.” It is one of the eight famous beauty spots in the Guanzhong area of Shaanxi. On the back of the stone table is engraved a prayer for rain.
Rubbings are often made in the fourth room, where most of the carved drawings are housed. Thin paper is pasted over a stele and a powdered ink applied with a flat stone wrapped in cloth.
Exhibited in the fifth room are stone tablets of the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, especially the Qing dynasty. They are mainly concerned with temple renovation, records of merit, allocation of fields to peasants, and reconstruction of canals and city walls. Other stone tablets are also of certain value for their calligraphic art.
Most of the inscriptions on the stone tablets in the sixth room are poems, written by people of the Qing dynasty, while the rest are poems and articles written by people of the Yuan and Ming dynasties.
Outside the six halls, we can observe an artist preparing rubbings.
Outside the museum are many small steles and Chinese paintings adorning the outer walls.
Inside the museum are a myriad of sculptures, including a stone lamp from the Tang dynasty (618-907). It consists of a lamp room, curled-up dragon stone pillars, and a base, and it is usually placed right in front of palaces or temples, signifying the endless power and talents of Buddha. The stone lamp had nine stories originally but now has only seven stories left with holistic roof, exquisite lamp room, and four curled-up dragons engraved in stone pillars. This stone lamp is one of the most well-preserved from the Tang Dynasty in China.
When I finally emerge from all the halls and exhibitions, I am still foolishly hoping it has stopped raining, but it hasn’t. However, the rain seems to have become a light drizzle, which gives me some encouragement.
I make my way out of the museum, planning to catch a bus or taxi to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.
However, first I cross through one of the lesser south gates of the city walls, where I can look back and see the walls and the surrounding moat.
I end up taking a rather bumpy ride in a three-wheeled motor taxi to my next destination. 🙂