Publication resounds with ancient bells

By Wang Kaihao (China Daily)

Updated: 2015-09-01

The bells are 2,500 years old, but their melodies still resound today.

Sixty-five bronze bells of the ancient Zeng State were unearthed in Suizhou, Hubei province, in 1978. They're generally considered by scholars as the highest achievements in the development of musical instruments in China before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). As the Bronze Age faded away, this finale of Chinese ceremonial music's zenith was sparkling.

Last week, a 1,200-page Chime Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng - China's most complete monograph so far on this musical milestone - was co-released by Gold Wall Press and Xiyuan Press in Beijing. Compilation of this four-volume book began in 2003. About 30 experts in different fields joined in this interdisciplinary project, sponsored by the Chinese National Academy of Arts.

 Publication resounds with ancient bells

The 2,500-year-old bronze bells in the Hubei Provincial Museum are regarded as national treasures. He Shan / CFP

Artistic style, the ceremonial system and bronze-foundry technology are among the major topics discussed in the book. Nevertheless, it also refers to many other aspects of these bells from the early Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

"Their high scientific, artistic and historical value makes the influence of the chime bells of Marquis Yi extend to a wide range, including musicology, paleography and scientific research," says Fang Qin, director of the Hubei Provincial Museum, which now houses these national treasures.

Many mysteries surround the Zeng State because it was never mentioned in any historical records during its time. It only began to appear in historical records during the Song Dynasty (960-1127), when bronze ware with its inscriptions were found.

Major archaeological discoveries of the Zeng era have continued in recent years. For example, the Guojiamiao ancient Zeng State tomb in Zaoyang, Hubei province, was listed by China Cultural Relic News among the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2014.

According to Pan Tao, editor-in-chief of Gold Wall Press, findings since 1978 through March this year were included in the book. Many pictures on the chime bells, such as those of the detailed portrayals of inscriptions, have never been released to the public before.

Rigid acoustical experiments were also performed for this book. A whole set of chime bells has five and one-half octaves, which was only achieved by pianos in 18th-century Europe.

"Still, we want to make sure this book is not just a report on an archaeological excavation," says Feng Guangsheng, who was in charge of the publishing project. "It serves (ordinary) readers far more than archaeologists. Nor is it a collection of theses.

"It's a record of a whole generation's memory of the chime bells. We want to put it into a global perspective to include more comparative studies."

Feng and his team have made the step to promote cross-border cooperation on research: At the book-release ceremony, the establishment of the Chime Bells Academy, co-organized by the Chinese Museum Association, the Chinese National Academy of Arts and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was announced.

"We want to use Chime Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng as a foundation to begin studies on similar types of ancient musical instruments around the world," says Feng.

(China Daily 09/01/2015 page20)

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