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The traditional music of China
written by Ingo Stoevesandt

2. Heavenly bells
The most famous and amazing found of tombs from the 5th century BC (like the tomb of Marquis Zeng Hou Yi in Hubei Province) showed up with amazing sets of bell sets in various sizes hung up on stands. These bell sets ("Bian Zhong") are not surely declared in function, but it is clear that the first purpose was that of a musical instrument.

Bell sets differ in apperance, but most of them show at least a range of three octaves, including all chromatic pitches of the temperized scale. This way, one might think of a bell set as a melodic one, but it is also possible that the bells were used in ensembles to give accents and represent the master tunig for other instruments. All bells found are still playable, and all of them hold carvings and scripts, which do not only indicate the two sounds a bell can produce, they even give playing advice and the first solmisation in music history, which is outstanding, as mostly all instruments in this time only hold dedications if carved. The first bell sets seem to go back to 12th century BC, the latter ones seem to require 5 players to be played, while it is still unclear whether the smaller bells  which were hung nearly 3 meter above were played or not.
As with the bronze drums of the Dong Son culture in Vietnam we still have to be cautious with interpretations. Bells can be found worldwide, next to China we find bells in Persia very early, then followed by the signal giving hung bell in Christian churches. Worldwide, bells may be found as signal instruments used for cattle as for temple ceremonies, but only the Chinese bell sets surely function as a musical instrument, built with clearly defined pitches and carved with the two pitches and playing advices. Though the bells do not appear in the order we would nowadays expect them to, this is still another indication for the playing skills that were needed to be part of such a bell ensemble.
It also seems as if the first set of bells found dating back to the 12th century BC were collected over the time and not produced at the same time. This diatonic set with bells collected from different ages and locations seemed to be the initial set for all following productions - this means, there was no “how to make a bell tuned C”, they just copied a bell further on for later bell sets, using it as the basic model for copies.
This also is important for the historical impact of the
bell tuning on other Chinese musical instruments.

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