Cliff inscriptions are a kind of stone carving art from ancient China. The ancient Chinese inscribed their names and stories directly on rocky cliffs to educate the masses or record their achievements and expound ideas. With a wide geographical distribution and rich historical connotations, Chinese cliff inscriptions often combine the beauty of landscapes and cultural heritage. Integrating the ingenuity and wisdom of the working people in different periods and embodying the spiritual outlook and aesthetic interests of the Chinese nation, cliff inscriptions are a cultural treasure that shines between heaven and earth.
Yongzhou in Hunan Province is located at the junction of the Xiao and Xiang rivers. It is an important node for water transportation from the Jingchu to Lingnan areas, as well as an important node of the Xianggui cultural corridor. Since ancient times, Yongzhou has enjoyed a flourishing writing scene. Many relegated officials, poets, and literary and artistic masters have lived here, such as Yuan Jie, Huai Su, Liu Zongyuan, Zhou Dunyi and He Shaoji. There are a large number of cliffs and peculiar white rocks suitable for engraving within the territory of Yongzhou, which makes it one of the few places where cliff inscriptions are concentrated in China. The sages communicated poems with others and laid bare their hearts and minds through cliff inscriptions, which were admired and imitated by later generations of literati. After a thousand years of accumulation, from its birth in the Tang Dynasty, dissemination in the Song Dynasty, imitation in the Ming Dynasty and research in the Qing Dynasty, a unique cultural phenomenon was formed where poems and essays of dynasties past were engraved on the same cliffs. Touching and magnificent, these cliff inscriptions exhibit clear historical stages and continuity.
“Odes Carved on Cliffs: An Exhibition of Rubbings of Cliff Inscriptions from Yongzhou, Hunan Province,” hosted by the National Museum of China (NMC), aims to promote the creative transformation and innovative development of this excellent aspect of China’s traditional culture as well as evidence of the evolution of Chinese civilization. In doing so, the NMC strives to inject new vitality into traditional Chinese culture with the spirit of the times. This exhibition is divided into two sections, with nearly 60 rubbings of cliff inscriptions from Yongzhou on display dating from the Tang Dynasty to modern times. Among them, the most famous is the “Ode to the Great Tang Dynasty” produced by Yuan Jie and written by Yan Zhenqing.
This exhibition strives to display the precious cultural and artistic value of the Yongzhou cliff inscriptions through the immortal cultural tension of the carvings and illustrate the spiritual pursuit of national rejuvenation, social stability, and cultural prosperity. In addition, it also profoundly expresses the Chinese nation’s aspiration for a strong, prosperous country and a thriving society. We sincerely hope that the exhibition will attract more people to visit the cliff inscriptions, as well as Yongzhou, and to experience the rich connotations and touching charm of the Chinese story.