The name of ‘Engraved Stone about the Opening of Baoxiedao (Pathway)‘ 開通褒斜道刻石 is also called ‘Chu Jun Baoxiedao keshi’ 鄐君開通褒斜道刻石. (Dao 道 means road or pathway. ) It is an inscription on a cliff near Shimen (石門) in Mianxian (勉縣), southwest of Shannxi Province (陜西縣). Mianxian is about 15 km north west of Hanzhong (漢中市). The inscription was created during the reign of Han Emperor Mingdi (漢明帝)(58-76 CE). According to the inscription, it was made at the order of Chu Jun (鄐君, Mr Chu), the prefect (太守) of the region to commemorate the Completion of Baoxiedao, a pathway that ran through a 258 li (里) long, deep gorge. (One li 里 in Han Dynasty was believed to be about 0.42 km. ) The length of the pathway might be about 110 km. The pathway was mainly made up of plank roads (棧道) erected along the steep cliffs of the valleys. It was the only trail to Sichuan Province (四川) in the southwest.
The Baoxiedao actually had a much longer history. It could be dated back to around 314 BCE in the Warring States period (戰國時代). The Baoxiedao was extended and upgraded throughout history. According to the inscription, in 63 CE, the sixth year of Yong Ping (永平六年) of Han Emperor Mingdi, 2690 labourers (who were probably slaves) were sent to work on the project. From other resources, the project took 3 years to complete and finished in 66 CE. The cliff engraving does not mention the exact location of the starting point and the finishing point of the pathway. The project was probably a construction and upgrading of parts of the Baoxiedao, not the construction of the entire pathway.
Ode to Shimen (Shí Mén Sòng)(石門頌) created 82 years later in 148 AD mentioned about the repairing and re-opening of the once blocked major pathway of Baoxiedao (褒斜道). A tunnel was dug at Shimen (石門)(in present time near Hanzhong 漢中市). Before the reopening of the major pathway, travellers had to take other narrower and dangerous pathways through the deep valleys.
Baoxie Pathway (褒斜道) crossed the Qinling Mountains (秦岭), mountains in southern Shaanxi Province, between Wei River (渭河) and Han River (漢江). The northern opening is at Xiegu (斜谷) and southern opening is at Baogu (褒谷).
Xiegu (斜谷) in present time is called Xieyu Pass in Meixian County (郿縣斜峪關口) near Baoji (寶雞市).
Baogu (褒谷) is near Hanzhong (漢中市). Baoxie pathway runs along the steep cliffs of the mountains. The whole journey is about 250 km.
In 1967 the whole cliff inscription was cut off from the cliff and taken down before a dam was built. The location was then flooded. In 1971, the stone was taken to Hanzhong Museum (漢中博物館).
The text of the cliff engraving is as follows:
My copy of the full text of the stele is as follows.
Ink rubbings of Baoxiedao
The earliest ink rubbings were made around Qianlong period (乾隆年間, 1736 – 1795) after the rediscovery of the cliff inscriptions. At that time the inscriptions were quite seriously eroded. Some ink rubbing that survive are authentic rubbings and some are recut copies (翻刻本). Please see below the rubbings of four of the characters 褒, 級, 楊 and 郵 for comparison.
The ones on the left come from the ink rubbing kept by Duoyunxuan 朵雲軒 whereas the ones on the right come from Baidu Baike (百度百科). Scholars think that the left ones are authentic version, whereas the right ones are recut version (翻刻本).
The following copy was written by He Shaoji (何紹基)(1799 -1873).
He was a famous scholar, poet, calligrapher and painter in the Qing dynasty. He wrote the Baoxiedao very elegantly. The number of characters per page varies from 1 to 8. This makes the writing more lively and magnificent.
Baoxiedao keshi has been studied by many calligraphers especially in Japan. Many Japanese calligraphers can write these scripts very well. The story behind the construction of Baoxiedao is also fascinating. Besides Baoxiedao, there were a few more ancient pathways which also had great significance in history. Please see the map below.
I would like to thank Mr Gerry Li (李卓熹先生) for giving me a book of fine ink rubbing of Baoxiedao keshi. Without the book I could not have written this page.
中國碑帖名品(6) 開通褒斜道刻石 上海書畫出版 ISBN 978-7-5479-0411-4
黃公渚 (1966) 兩漢金石文選評注 香港太平書局
俞丰 (2009) 經典碑帖釋文譯注, 上海書畫出版社 , ISBN 978-7-80725-846-9
Ouyang Z S, W C Fong, Y F Wang (2008) Chinese Calligraphy, Yale University, ISBN 978-0-300-12107-0