The Ancient Bell Museum in Dazhong Temple is in northern Haidian District, Beijing. Built in 1733 during the Ming Dynasty, the Dazhong (giant bell) Temple) was originally named Juesheng Temple and was where emperors presided over rituals praying for rain. The local people preferred to call it the Dazhong Temple because it housed a giant Buddhist bell cast in the Yongle Period (around 1420) of the Ming Dynasty. The Ancient Bell Temple Museum is the only one of its kind in China.
The museum has on display 700 or more bells, made of bronze, iron and jade. The oldest dates back to the Western Zhou Period (C.1100-771 BC), and the most recent to the late Qing Dynasty and Republican China. The museum bell exhibits are from China and overseas.
The gem of its collection is the Yongle Bell, a state-level cultural relic that hangs in the Giant Bell Tower. At 5.6 meters in height, and weighing 46.6 tons, making it one of the largest in the world, this huge bell is lauded as King of Bells. It is engraved with over 100 Buddhist sutras and incantations that total more than 230,000 characters, and has a mellow and euphonious tone that carries over a dozen kilometers. Having been created with consummate craftsmanship, its structure is also technically perfect.
Today this ancient bell is still rung on significant days, such as New Year, Spring Festival and other major celebrations. Its melodious and powerful tones convey good wishes to people far and near.
The Qianlong Court Bell, another museum treasure, is designated a grade one state-level relic. As its name suggests, the bell was made for the imperial court. It has no inscriptions, but is engraved with 22 dragons in diverse styles.
The Crane Pattern Bell is also a grade one state-level antique. Measuring 1.7 meters in height and weighing 1.3 tons, it is a bronze Taoist artifact. Embellished with engravings of cranes wreathed in auspicious cloud, it incarnates the Taoist principles of carefreeness, peace and grace.
The Tanzhe Temple Bell originally hung in the Tanzhe Temple, one of Beijing's oldest Buddhist establishments. Founded in the Chenghua Period of the Ming Dynasty, the bell is 0.47 meters high, 24.8 kilograms in weight and has a 0.31-meter caliber. It is adorned with engravings of two dragons playing with a pearl, and sutras in seal script, and is testament to the former grandeur of the Tanzhe Temple.
The Shanyuan Nunnery Bell was commissioned by the fifteenth son of Qing Emperor Kangxi in 1719. Its surface is decorated with intricate patterns of entwined twigs, interlaced hydra designs and a 104-character inscription. This bell manifests the supreme casting arts of ancient China.
The Ancient Bell Museum stresses collaboration and exchange with its counterparts across the world. In 2002 the museum and the Institute of European Bell Art co-sponsored the highly successful "Sound of the Dragon" Ancient Chinese Bell Exhibition in Paris. The museum has also conducted research into ancient bells with the aid of expertise in the field from France, Belgium, Italy, the USA, the ROK and Japan. In a bid to boost cultural exchanges between China and the ROK, it is planning a one hundred ancient Chinese bells exhibition in the Republic of Korea in 2003.
Address: 31 West 3rd Ring Road, Haidian District, Beijing
Open: 8:30am - 16:30pm
Admission: 10 yuan for adults, 4 yuan for students
Tel: 8610-62641384; 8610-62541972; 8610-82611736
(China.org.cn May 1, 2005)