2011-03-27

Confucius' twenty-five turtles

If you are an Emperor of China, and need to demonstrate the strength of your commitment to the Confucian principles, how would you go about it? You can of course renovate or rebuild the Temple of Confucius, or that of his favorite disciple, Yan Hui (they do seem to catch fire pretty often). You can bestow a new honorary title on the great sage or his disciple. But whatever you do, you have to conclude by writing it up in stone, and putting the tablet on top of a stone tortoise (bixi). After all, did not Confucius say, "Place the tortoise in front of all the other offerings, because of its knowledge of the future"? ("龜為前列,先知也"; Li Ji, Li Qi 32) This gallery features the twenty-five imperial turtles, with tablets in Chinese, Mongol, and Manchu, that still stand in Qufu's Temples of Confucius and Yan Hui. Contributed by 16 emperors, these stone reptiles span nine centuries and five dynasties, and represent all styles of the bixi art, from the naturalistic tortoises of the early Song to the dragon-headed bixi of the mid-Qing. See also 'Phags-pa inscriptions in Qufu

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