Chinese bronze bell

Eastern Zhou period, China, about 6th – 5th century BC

This is one bell originally from a set of bells, of which a number still survive, made at the Jin State foundry at Houma, in modern day Shanxi Province, China.

Music was an essential part of court life in ancient China and there is a long tradition of music making for court ceremonies and ritual. Both drums and bells were used. With the advent of bronze casting, the first small bells appeared in the seventeenth century BC, but large bells became fashionable only several hundreds of years later.

Known as a bo, this bell was made using section-moulds. The mould was made from clay, into which molten metal was poured. To achieve a consistent decoration, craftsmen created special pattern blocks, so that exactly the same motifs appear across the surface. One master block could be used many times. So, all the narrow borders on the bell are filled with the same dragon pattern interlace, derived from a single pattern block.

Rows of identically decorated vessels and massed groups of bells of varying sizes to produce a wide array of sounds would be made in this way. They certainly must have impressed its audience of the living and of the ancestors in whose benefit the rituals were conducted.

Bronze casting in northern China came to be centred on the state of Jin during this time period and the area is renowned for exceptional bells such as this one, which also illustrates methods of mechanical production that had become typical.

Ancient China


The period we know of as ancient China runs from around 10,000 BC to about 221 BC.

Ancient China world culture

Western Zhou dynasty

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Height: 55 cm
Width: 39 cm
Depth: 31.5 cm


Museum number

OA 1965,0612.1



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