Text by Zhao Li Photographs by Li Jiang
In Beijing’s Beihai Park, at the western foot of Qionghua Isle, stands a tower known as Yuegu, which means “study of ancient Chinese culture.” Erected in 1753 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the two-story semicircular building houses 25 rooms. Stored there are stone rubbing masterpieces by some of the most distinguished calligraphers of ancient China, including Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi, and Wang Xun.
The collection features rubbings on 495 stones, each measuring 95 centimeters long, 30 centimeters wide, and 10 centimeters thick. Deeply impressed by the work of master calligraphers, Emperor Qianlong wrote dozens of poems to express his admiration.
In 1839, during the reign of Emperor Daoguang, the Qing government launched a project to re-carve the masterpieces and decorate the rims of the carvings.
In 1964, Beihai Park’s administration moved all of the carvings to the second floor to better protect and showcase the stones, which were separated by 14 walls each filled with carvings, totaling 275 pieces.
In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), employees of the park closed the exhibition and detached the horizontal board over the tower gate to deter destruction of the relics.
In 1975, then Premier Zhou Enlai visited Beihai Park and borrowed five volumes of books documenting the rubbings. He strongly suggested taking measures to better preserve the books and asked that the horizontal board be replaced. Though seriously ill, Premier Zhou asked his wife to inform Wang Yequi, then director of the State Cultural Relics Bureau, to assess the situation to ensure protection of relics stored in the tower. Soon afterwards, the Bureau dispatched a group of specialists to inspect the building and carvings. From that point, extensive protective measures have been enacted to ensure preservation.