Zeng Houyi Bells
Zeng Houyi Bells are the largest-scale ancient percussion instruments found so far in the world.
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The set of bells, chimes and other instruments excavated from the tomb of Zeng Houyi -- a Warring States (475-221BC) Marquis in Suixian County (Suizhou City in Hubei Province) -- are the largest-scale ancient percussion instruments found so far in the world. Unearthed in 1978, the musical instruments were discovered in the central chamber, which was the largest, and the eastern chamber, which was the second biggest.
Among the musical instruments is a bell used for tuning other instruments, a ten-stringed plucked instrument, five Se (a zither-like instrument) with 25 strings each, two Yu (or Sheng) and one hanging drum. Other instruments included three Xiao (a reed instrument consisting of a bundle of 13 flutes, each of varied thickness), two Chi (a flute with a closed tube blown transversely with an air hole on top, and the five finger holes open "forward, towards the player. The method of playing the Chi, by opening and closing holes, suggests a close relationship to the ocarina), seven 35-stringed Se and a small drum. The most distinguished among them were the Zeng Houyi bells -- gems of ancient Chinese art.
With a total weight of five tons, the Zeng Houyi bells are a three-tiered set of 65 refined bronze Bells of various sizes, including a large Jian drum (90 cm in diameter and suspended from a framework so that the drum head faced the striker), one set of Bells and a set of chimes. Forming three sides of a rectangle, the length of longer side is 748 cm and the height, 265 cm. When the length of shorter side is 335 cm, the height is 273 cm. The smallest Bells are suspended on the highest level and the largest on the bottom. The Bells cover roughly five octaves; the three middle octaves produce 12 semitones each, which is only inferior to the modern piano. The piece displays a tremendous craftsmanship and functions surprisingly well. Indeed, the craftsmanship could not be easily surpassed, even today.
There is an inscription on each bell that records events, musical theories and the sounds particular Bells produce. From historical records and other materials, it is concluded that there were probably five performers playing the bells -- two standing in front of the set playing the larger Bells with long poles, and three behind them playing the smaller Bells with smaller sticks.
According to its inscription, the bell right in the center of the lowest level, not suspended at an oblique angle, was a gift from King Hui of the Chu State to the Marquis of the Zeng State. The inscription also states that the bell was cast in the 56th year (433BC) of the reign of King Hui, the year of the burial of the Marquis. The Zeng State was a vassal State of the Chu under the same cultural sphere.
The discovery of the Zeng Houyi Bells does not only display the advanced bronze ware technology more than 2,000 years ago, but also shows the amazing achievements in the area of music at that time.
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- Zeng Houyi Bells
are the largest-scale ancient percussion instruments found so far in the world.