The Bianzhong Bells: The Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World

bianzhong_performancePhoto: Vmenkov

From time to time, great archaeological discoveries are made that tell us about our ancient ancestors. In 1978, a huge set of bronze bells was discovered during an excavation in China. This rare set of instruments was found in decent condition in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng and is fully functional even after so many years. The tomb is said to date from 430 BCE and is situated at Suizhou, Hubei Province.

BianzhongPhoto: Calton

These more than 2000-year-old bronze bells look like truncated cones. Known as Bianzhong, the complete set constitute an ancient Chinese musical instrument. The 65 bells with 130 different strike tones are considered one of the world’s most important archaeological discoveries and have been called the Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World.

The secret behind designing such a large set of bells and the bronze casting method used to make them was a mystery until they were rediscovered in 1978. The tomb also contained other traditional Chinese musical instruments such as Pai Xiao (pan flutes), chime stones, a Jian drum, a Chi (a bamboo wind instrument), and a Sheng (the reed pipe).

Hung in a wooden frame and played melodically, by striking them with a mallet, the bells produce magnificent music which is very rare in the world’s cultural history. The bells have an amazing two-tone quality; each bell gives two different tones depending on where it is struck.

The smallest one weighed 2.4 kg while the biggest was 203.6 kg. Altogether, the instrument weighed over 4 tons. No other set of musical instruments on such a scale that can sound a complete a 12-tone scale has ever been found in China.

Bianzhong 2Photo: Zzjgbc

Bianzhong is astonishing for its superb craftsmanship. It not only shows ancient China’s great achievements but also reflects the high degree of intelligence possessed by those people of the past. The exquisite musical instrument is now preserved in Hubei Provincial Museum.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4