There is no civilization that has relied as much as the Chinese on carving inscriptions into stone as a way of preserving the memory of its history and culture. Records of important events were inscribed on bone and bronze as early as the second millennium B. C., and brick, tile, ceramics, wood, and jade were also engraved to preserve writings and pictorial representations; but the medium most used for long inscriptions was stone. The most extensive of several projects to preserve authoritative texts was the carving of the Buddhist canon on 7,137 stone tablets or steles - over four million characters - in an undertaking that continued from 605 to 1096. At sacred sites, cliffs and rock faces were also used for large religious inscriptions.
The scope of the content of inscriptions is encyclopedic, ranging from canonical texts sanctioned by the emperor to personal epitaphs and eulogies. Inscriptions, characteristically those on large upright stone slabs or steles, often provide historical information unavailable elsewhere, paying tribute to important local personages by setting down their careers and deeds, or recording local events, military campaigns and victories, the establishment or reconstruction of temples, charitable subscriptions to religious institutions, hospitals, and orphanages, and meetings of guilds.
Another important use of stone engravings is to preserve examples of the style of great calligraphers. The technique of making rubbings provides a means of producing copies that can serve as models of calligraphy, called fa-t'ieh ().
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Last update April 14, 1998.