China to Save Endangered Bronze Drums

Cultural relics professionals have worked out a plan to save endangered bronze drums.

The bronze drum has existed in China for more than 2,000 years. It has been used mainly in sacrificial rites, wedding ceremonies and festivals. The drums manufacturing technology was lost in the 19th century for some unknown reason, said Jiang Tingyu, chairman of the China Association for Ancient Bronze Drums.

The Hechi Prefecture in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China is referred to as "the world's hometown of bronze drums", with 1,400 privately owned bronze drums, almost equaling the number of bronze drums collected in museums around the country.

"But around 70 percent of the bronze drums in Hechi have been damaged," said Liang Fulin, who heads a prefectural culture relics management department.

According to a survey conducted in two counties of the prefecture last May, Liang said at a bronze drums and folk songs festival in Yizhou, 56 out of 84 bronze drums were found damaged to various extent.

"If no countermeasures are taken, it is feared that those damaged will be discarded as useless in half a century," said the culture relics official.

Bronze drums, with exquisite decorative patterns, have only one surface. A number of the drums are under first class state protection.

Liang said that it is not advisable for the government to continue banning the use of the drums for the sake of protecting cultural relics, because ethnic groups, such as Zhuang, Yao and Miao, have used bronze drums from generation to generation.

"Without bronze drums, their unique dances, songs and customs will gradually disappear," he said.

"We plan to make new drums to exchange their damaged bronze drums," he said, adding that the damaged drums will be preserved in museums.

Bronze drums also appear in southeast Asian countries and are collected by private owners and museums in the West. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), a number of bronze drums were destroyed in China.

Liang said his department plans to work together with Beijing University of Science and Technology and China Association for Ancient Bronze Drums to develop new models.

"The central task of the job is to make new drums with pitches identical to those of the ancient drums," said Dr. Li Yanxiang, an assistant researcher at the Metallurgical History affiliated with the university.

He added that research in the field has been carried out for 15years. During which, more than 30 bronze drums have been made and given to ethnic groups.

Liang said his department plans to invite musicians to visit ethnic groups, mostly living in the heart of mountains, to measure different pitches of the ancient drums before more drums are made.

The department has submitted a report to the prefectural government applying for funds to carry out the scheme.

In 1998, the prefectural government issued rules banning the profiting from sales of bronze drums.

( 11/5/2000)

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