The bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng

View of the Bianzhong of Marquis Yi of Zeng from above Photo: Wikipedia

The tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng is an important archaeological site in Suizhou City, Hubei Province, China, dating from a time after 433 BC. In Chinese history, this came either at the end of the Spring and Autumn period or the start of the Warring States period. During this 1,000-year long period the tombs of nobles contained large numbers of ritual bronzes. The tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng also contains many musical instruments and is famous for its bianzhong or great set of bells.

The bianzhong or ritual bells found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng Photo: Wikipedia

The tomb was accidentally discovered by the People’s Liberation Army in 1977 while removing a hill to build a factory. It was constructed of large wooden timbers and covered 220 square meters. The tomb was divided into four separate chambers, resembling the layout of a palace at that time. The northern chamber contained military artefacts, the eastern chamber contained the tomb of Marquis Yi. He was buried in a wooden lacquer coffin inside a larger lacquer coffin. The chamber also contained eight other coffins holding the remains of eight women. The western chamber contained thirteen coffins holding the remains of thirteen other women. The central chamber, which is the largest, contained a large ensemble of ritual musical instruments, including a set of 64 bianzhong (bronze bells).

The Tomb of Marquis Yi of Cheng Photo:

The bells were mounted on an elaborate framework and would have required five people to play, striking the bells with wooden mallets to produce music. The almond-shaped cross-section of the bells allows each one to produce two tones, depending on where it is struck. The bells cover a range of five octaves.

View of the Bianzhong of Marquis Yi of Zeng from above Photo: Wikipedia

Another bell in the collection is a memorial to Marquis Yi from King Hui of Chu, recording King Hui’s rushed trip from the west to create the bell and attend the Marquis’s funeral. The inscription on the bell dates the event to 433 BC. Other musical instruments found in the tomb include stone chimes, string instruments, flutes and pan flutes.

According to the Hubei cultural website, over ten thousand funerary objects were unearthed from the tomb, including 6239 bronze ritual pieces. The total included ladles and shovels, with many matching sets and highly elaborate decoration. Other pieces include cauldrons and sacrificial vessels, some with matching covers, and the largest piece is a unique wine vessel, 33 cm high and almost as wide. Other items included weapons such as arrowheads, dagger-axes, spear tips and chariot wheel spokes.

Bronze ritual vessels from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng Photo:

The earliest examples of Chinese ink writings on bamboo (Zhujian) were discovered in this tomb, showing the calligraphic styles of the Chu or Zeng state. They recorded the people who attended

the Marquis’s funeral, such as the officials and royalty of the Chu and Zeng states and also described their transportation, such as number of horses carrying the chariots. These bamboo slips provide important information on the development of Chinese brush calligraphy.

Sources Wikipedia ; Hubei cultural website

Text Alun Harvey


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