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Rubbing of a ‘mountain’ inscription in praise of China’s First Emperor

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Height 154.00 cm
Width 153.00 cm

Funded by the Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund

2007.3002.1

    Rubbing of a ‘mountain’ inscription in praise of China’s First Emperor

    From China
    Around AD 993

    From an original preserved in the Forest of Stele Museum, Xi’an, China

    This contemporary rubbing of a tenth-century stone stele is said to be a copy of an inscription taken from Mount Yi in Shandong, China. The inscription eulogises the virtuous power of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) and was ordered by Qin Shihuangdi, the First Emperor, in around 219-210 BC.

    The First Emperor saw himself as more than the ruler of China – the whole universe was his empire. He demonstrated this by visiting China’s sacred mountains, as mythical emperors of the past are said to have done. There he sacrificed to the gods and communicated with powerful spirits. He also had the mountains inscribed with descriptions of his great achievements and character, beginning a tradition of mountain inscription that still continues today.

    Historians have sometimes dismissed the inscriptions as boastful propaganda, but in fact the text is a valuable source of information about Qin literature and ritual.

    The original inscribed stone is lost, but in AD 993 another carving of the inscription was made, and this is a rubbing taken from it. The rubbings from both sides of the stone are joined together on a single sheet of paper. The line running across it shows where the stone was broken. The beautiful calligraphy of this carving is in the small seal script style favoured by the First Emperor. The smaller script down the left side is a later commentary on the text.

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