Brief IdentificationEdit

This is a bronze bell discovered in the foundry from the ancient state of Jin in modern day Shanxi Province China. It dates back to the 6th-5th century BCE during the eastern Zhou dynasty. Bells of this nature were all different sizes and shapes but were all used for ritualistic and ceremonial purposes [See Berthel 2009,103]. The bells were thought to communicate with ancestors, as well as to signal retreat in times of battle. Music played a key role in entertainment of royal families and dignitary officials, but was not, however, enjoyed by the common people.

Technical EvaluationEdit

These ancient bronze bells (also known as a bo) were created out of molds of clay. These molds were known as "section molds" in which the craftsmen would create the shape and design of the bell and proceed to pour hot molten metal into it and let it dry. The bells were shaped like ovals because it allowed the sound to die out more quickly, thus not interfering with the pitches of the other bells [See Rawson 1992,1]. By producing different sized bells and using different amounts of molten metal, the craftsmen were able to create different sounds for each bell, thus leading to a wide array of pitches and tones when the bells were played with a hammer.

The shapes, sizes and designs of the bells would vary depending on what the bell was used for. Large and round bells would be used in times of warfare because it is easier to hear than a small bell, and it would be decorated with designs of dragons and weapons. The smaller bells would come in sets and be used to create songs for royalty and rituals and were decorated with floral designs and geometric patterns.

The designs on the bell were created from a master block [See Rawson 1992,1]. Similar to a stamp, the block would have designs imprinted on it and pressed into the molten to create a consistent decoration among all of the bells of that particular size. This block would be used multiple times before it had to be replaced.

Local Historical ContextEdit

The bells were made during the Warring States period which was a time of political instability. Needing a centralized government, prominent philosophers such as Confucius heavily influenced the Eastern Zhou dynasty [See J.F. 2003, 93]. These ideas of returning to traditional values helped lead to the creation of these bronze bells because music in Ancient China was thought to be a way of communicating with ancestors. By ringing the bells, this would simulate the presence of the ancestors around the community. Also, in this time of tension, bells would be produced to signal retreat from battle.

Craftsmen would be ordered to make sets of bells for royalty. The bells, when tuned to certain pitches (usually C major), would provide entertainment to royalty as well as dignitary officials. Accompanied with the music would be entertainers such as dancers. The music would not be played for the common people because most of the community was a collection of farmers and craftsmen. These jobs would give the people very low social statuses, so royalty believed that commoners were not allowed to hear the music.

The bells were introduced to all of society during the period of Hundred Schools of Thought. This was a time of cultural freedom and expression and allowed people to think and say what they wanted to. The bells were popular to Confucius, who believed that playing music helped express your iner thoughts. He also believed that he could find the harmony that he wanted to achieve in society [See J.F 2003, 93].

World-Historical SignificanceEdit

This object played a huge significance in regards to world history. The mass production of these bells shows how big of a role music was in all aspects of life. Not only was it used for entertainment, but it was also used ritually to communicate with ancestors as well as communicate with yourself. Music was believed to help find the inner truth in yourself and achieve a peaceful state of mind. It also makes you feel the harmony that was wanted in society. Not only can the Eastern Zhou dynasty relate to these bells, but all of Ancient China and the rest of the world can. Variations of the bells are represented in many countries throughout the world and they are all used for similar purposes.

The spread of these bells shows the similairites of all of Ancient China. It goes to show that people are all very similar in that they want to achieve happiness and harmony. These bells were so influential in that bells are still used today in many religions including Christianity and Buddhism.


Calliope, Feb 2007, Vol. 17 Issue 6, p8

China Review International; 2009, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p101-104, 4p

J.F. So, Music in the Age of Confucius (Washington, 2000)

J. Rawson, The British Museum Book of Chinese Art (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

BBC, "Chinese Bronze Bell"

British Museum, "Chinese Bronze Bell"