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Chinese Chimes

Chinese chimes are large-scale musical instrument in China, which originated in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-771BC), and reached heyday during the Warring States period (770BC-221BC). Chinese Chimes are made flat with sharp corners like two tiles pieced together. So the sound wanes faster, making it possible to organize the bells into groups and play them as a rhythm instrument. Zeng Houyi's Bronze Chimes, thousands of years from now, are perhaps the greatest find among all the chimes unearthed so far in terms of the size and significance.

The bells fill a 60-square-meter area and a total weight of five tons. The heaviest one is 203.6 kilogram and is 1.5 meters tall, while the smallest one is 2.4 kilogram and 20.4 centimeters high. Tests have shown that each bell can produce two different high-pitched notes (a major third and a minor third) depending on where they are struck.

The instrument has a range of five octaves and is one of the earliest instruments with 12 semitones. After 2,500 years in the tomb, the instrument can still play ancient music. The beautiful pitch produced can be modulated, giving some idea of the musical complexity available even in the early times. Acoustic tests have found that the mixture of tin and lead in the bronze instrument fits with modern metallurgy. Even today, making such bells is by no means an easy job, especially the big bells.

Chinese Chimes

The 1.5-meter-high bell would require 136 pottery molds to make a bigger mold, which would be filled with melted bronze water at some 1,000 ℃. The smaller the bell the higher the pitch and volume. Therefore, the chime's effect depends greatly on its size and shape. The bell's shape explains how the chimes can generate two different tones. When the front side is struck, the lateral amplitude is zero, and vice versa. In this way, two tones coexist without interfering with each other.


The unearthed instruments not only have accurate tonality, but also are inscribed with elaborate patterns such as humans, beasts, dragons and words marking the tones of each bell, indicating the ancient Chinese had already mastered an advanced bronze making techniques at the time. It is presumed that the complexity of manufacture prevented the chimes from getting popular and the technique disappeared after the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).

Chinese Chimes

Current Situation

As one of the oldest musical instrument in China, Chinese Chimes were a kind of royal musical instrument, played in court to emperors in ancient China, so popularization is not wide among people. Now Chinese chimes are always shown to people as an antique in museum.