Bianzhong (pronounced ) is an ancient Chinese
musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. A person who play ...
consisting of a set of
bronze Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of other metals (such as aluminum, manganese, nickel or zinc) and sometimes non-metals or metalloids such as arsenic, phosphorus or ...

bells, played melodically. China is the earliest country to manufacture and use musical chimes. They are also called Chime Bells. These sets of chime bells were used as polyphonic musical instruments and some of these bells have been dated at between 2,000 to 3,600 years old. They were hung in a wooden frame and struck with a mallet. Using a wooden hammer and a rod to beat the bronze bell can make different pitch. Along with the stone chimes called '' bianqing'', they were an important instrument in China's ritual and court music going back to ancient times. Several sets of ''bianzhong'' were imported to the
Korea Korea is a region in East Asia. Since 1945, it has been divided between two countries at or near the 38th parallel north, 38th parallel, North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and South Korea (the Republic of Korea). Korea co ...

n court during the
Song Dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song Emperor Taizu of Song (21 March 927 – 14 November 976), personal name Zhao Kuan ...
. Pronounced in Korean as pyeonjong, the instrument became an important part in Korea's ritual and court music and is still in use. In Vietnam, the instrument, which was used in ceremonies in the court at
Huế Huế () is the capital of Thừa Thiên Huế Province in central Vietnam that was the capital of Đàng Trong from 1738 to 1775 and of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. The city served as the administrative capital for the Nguyen dynasty, ...
, is called biên chung. The instrument's name is pronounced henshō in Japanese.


While the oldest clapperless bells in China date to as early as 2100 BCE, the organization of ''zhong'' bells into ''bianzhong'' (literally “arranged ''zhong''”) developed in the
Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscript ...
(1046–256 BCE). ''Bianzhong'' from this era had varied numbers of individual ''zhong'' (between 13 and 64), each of which could produce two distinct pitches and were suspended obliquely or vertically. In ancient China, the chime was a special instrument for upper class people and it was a symbol of power and wealth. In one set from this time period, the biggest bell was 153.4 centimeters (60.4 in) in height and weighed 203.6 kilograms (449 lb), while the smallest bell was 20.4 centimeters (8.0 in) in height and weighed 2.4 kilograms (5.3 lb). The instrument’s construction shifted dramatically in the
QinQin may refer to: Dynasties and states * Qin (state) (秦), a major state during the Zhou Dynasty of ancient China * Qin dynasty (秦), founded by the Qin state in 221 BC and ended in 206 BC * Daqin (大秦), ancient Chinese name for the Roman Empi ...

and Tang dynasties (221 BC – 907 BC). ''Bianzhong'' decreased in size during this period, being limited to sets of 14, 16, and 24 bells. Due to differences in bell construction, each ''zhong'' produced only one pitch. These ''bianzhong'' were tuned either to a seven-note scale or in twelve semitones. Musicians standardized ''bianzhong'' construction and ritual performance by the end of the
Song dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song Emperor Taizu of Song (21 March 927 – 14 November 976), personal name Zhao Kuan ...
(960–1279 CE). Typical instruments from this period consisted of 16 bells suspended vertically in a two-tiered frame. Through the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last Dynasties in Chinese history, dynasty in the History of China#Imperial China, imperial history of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912, w ...
(1644–1911 CE) into the modern day, this construction of ''bianzhong'' remained standard. In the modern day,
Confucian , Shanxi Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. Variously described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a ...
ritual celebrations in Korea still utilizes ''bianzhong''. The instrument's role is to lead the orchestra (doubling the melody of the winds and strings), while larger bells punctuate hymn phrases. Since the rediscovery of Zhou-dynasty ''bianzhong'' by archaeologists in 1978, there has been a revitalization of the performance and construction of that form of the instrument. Modern historical-performance ensembles (such as the Hubei Song and Dance Ensemble) have been performing on reconstructions of Zhou-dynasty ''bianzhong'' nationally and internationally since the 1980s.


The bianzhong was part of a larger category of ancient Chinese bells referred to as a zhong. This is defined by a leaf-shaped cross-section, concave mouth (or rim) and an overall shape expands slightly from top to bottom. All sets of bianzhong were suspended together in a wooden frame, but how they were suspended can differ. The most common type of suspension in the zhong family is when the bell has an elongated handle with a small ring at its base and is then hung at a diagonal angle. Some bianzhong have been found to be suspended vertically by a loop, but this is found less frequently. Each bianzhong has the same thickness, which means that the pitch is determined by size. The general range of bianzhong height is ; however, archaeologists have discovered some that are as small as and as large as . Individual bianzhong usually have many decorative features; these could include raised rectangular ribs, repetitive claw-like (or horn-like) designs, and protrusions in clusters (typically four clusters).


Among the most important sets of ''bianzhong'' discovered are a , found in a near-perfect state of preservation during the excavation of the tomb of Marquis Yi, who died ca. 430 BCE. Yi was the ruler of Zeng (state), Zeng, one of the minor states under control of the major Chu (state), State of Chu. This region is now part of the present-day Hubei province. The instrument is currently on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, China. It under protection by the government as an esteemed cultural relic, and has been performed on three times since its excavation in 1978, the most recent being for the Hong Kong Reunification ceremony in 1997. Although tuned bells have been created and used for musical performance in many cultures, ''zhong'' are unique among all other types of cast bells in several respects. They have a lens (geometry), lens-shaped (rather than circular) section, the bell mouth has a distinctive "cutaway" profile, and the outer surfaces of the large bells feature 36 studs or bosses, symmetrically placed around the body in four groups of nine. This special shape gives ''zhong'' bells the remarkable ability to produc
two different musical tones
depending on where they are struck. Striking the center of the bell produces the primary tone, while the left or right corners produce a secondary pitch either a major third, major or minor third higher, equivalent to a distance of four or five notes on a piano. The bells of Marquis Yi cover a range of five octaves, and are fully chromatic in the central three octaves. The set—still in playable condition after almost 2,500 years—is able to produce both diatonic and pentatonic scales. The ''bianzhong'' chimes of Marquis Yi are mounted on intersecting racks set at 90 degrees to each other, consisting of two pairs of massive wooden beams, with three smaller beams (carrying the highest bells) mounted on top of the upper beams. The beams are separated and supported at their ends and intersections by six bronze human figurines with upraised arms and wearing swords; the upper three figures are slightly smaller than the lower, which are cast on their own elaborately decorated bronze pedestals. The ends and intersection of each pair of beams are fitted with decorated bronze caps and front part of the brackets supporting the largest bells are cast in the shape of animals. The longer pair of main beams are provided with extra support in the middle in the form of two slender bronze columns. In 1992, Ma Chengyuan, director of the Shanghai Museum, purchased the 3,000-year-old Jin Hou Su ''bianzhong'' (晉侯穌鐘) from the Hong Kong antique market. The bells had been looted from the tombs of the rulers of the Jin (Chinese state), State of Jin and smuggled out of China. The bells are now listed by the Chinese government as one of the first 64 List of Chinese cultural relics forbidden to be exhibited abroad, national treasures forbidden to be exhibited abroad. These bells usually have inscriptions on them from which scholars use as references for studying ancient Chinese writings (also known as Bronzeware script). Another related ancient Chinese musical instrument is the '' bianqing'', which was made of stone rather than metal.

See also

*Bianqing *Traditional Chinese musical instruments *Traditional Korean musical instruments


Further reading

*Lee, Yuan-Yuan and Shen, Sinyan. (1999). ''Chinese Musical Instruments (Chinese Music Monograph Series)''. Chinese Music Society of North America Press. *Shen, Sinyan (1987), Acoustics of Ancient Chinese Bells, ''Scientific American'', 256, 94. *von Falkenhausen, Lothar. (1993). ''Suspended music: chime-bells in the culture of Bronze Age China''. University of California Press.

External links

Ancient Chinese Bells
from The Musical Instruments E-book (Archive copy) {{Bells Bells (instrument) Chinese bronzeware Chinese inventions Chinese musical instruments Korean musical instruments