Zeng Houyi Bells 曾侯乙编钟

The set of bells, set of chimes and other instruments excavated from the tomb of Zeng Houyi (zēng hóu yǐ 曾侯乙), who was a Warring States (zhàn guó 战国) duke in Suixian County (suí xiàn 随县), now Suizhou City (suí zhōu 随州) in Hubei Province (hú běi shěng 湖北省), are the largest-scale ancient percussion instruments found so far. The musical instruments were discovered in the central chamber, which was the biggest, and the second biggest, the eastern chamber.

Among the musical instruments found was a bell used for tuning other instruments, a ten-stringed plucked instrument, five Se (sè 瑟, a zither-like instrument) with 25 strings each, two Sheng (shēng 笙) and one hanging drum (xuán gǔ 悬鼓). The other instruments found were three Xiao (xiāo 萧, a reed instrument consisting of a bundle of 13 flutes, each of different thickness), seven 35-stringed Se and a small drum. The most distinguished among them were Zeng Houyi Bells (zēng hóu yǐ biān zhōng 曾侯乙编钟) — the gem of ancient Chinese Art.

The Zeng Houyi Bells are three-tiered set which has 65 refined bronze bells, including a large Jian drum (90cm in diameter, the drum was suspended from a framework in such a way that the drum head faced the striker), one set of bells and one set of chimes. They formed the three sides of a rectangle.

The musical range of the Zeng Houyi Bells, which can carry the main melody as well as the harmony, was more than five octaves and of these three distinct groups have 12 complete notes each.

All the musical instruments excavated from the Zeng Houyi tomb show superb craftsmanship and function surprisingly well. Indeed, some could not be surpassed even today.

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