Chinese Music 101 – Stone Musical Instruments in Ancient China

By Sari Xu

As we discussed last time, Chinese traditional musical instruments are divided into 8 categories, including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin instrumentsI guess stone must be the most questionable category among all, so here are some examples of traditional stone musical instruments:

A Set of Japanese Style Bianqing

Bianqing (编磬) – It is an ancient percussion instrument consisting of a set of L-shaped flat stone chimes known as Qing(磬), played melodically. The chimes were hung in a wooden frame and struck with a mallet. Along with the bronze bells called Bianzhong(编钟), they were an important instrument in China’s ritual and court music going back to ancient times. It was imported to Vietnam as well as Korea back at the ancient time, and nowadays, people could seldomly see this set of instruments and get the chance to play with it. Instead, it mostly appeared in historical and art museums and temples worldwide, and in some film and television works as well. The melody Bianqing usually plays is comparatively slow-paced and provides a calming and majestic feeling.

The Famous Zeng Hou Yi Bianqing (曾侯乙编磬)
A Bianqing with 24 Chimes


Qing (Sounding Stone, ) – Not necessarily a set, a single L-shaped flat stone could also make great sound as a chime itself. The shape of such stones was often quoted as description for the reverent ritual pose. Important information on Qing nomenclature is contained in the Erya dictionary (尔雅, the oldest surviving Chinese encyclopedia known): the large sounding stone was called xiāo(毊), and a solo performance on Qing, jiǎn(寋). However, the mentioned names do not have much currency in the classical literature. But what we are sure about, is that this kind of instruments, along with the traditional melodies, are widely favored by Chinese ancient scholars and literati. Qing is even mentioned in the Analects as one of the instruments played by Confucius. In the Han dynasty treatises on music, its sound is referred to as “reminding to the monarch about his officers who died while protecting the borders”.

A Single Qin

Tezhong (特钟) –  It is a single large stone tablet hung by a rope in a wooden frame and struck using a mallet, works in a very similar way to a bell. Thedifference between a Tezhong and a Bianzhong is a Tezhong is usually hanging alone and larger in terms of size. It’s made of bronze and has a sonorous and loud sound. It was invented during Shang Dynasty (B.C 1600) and was mostly played with Ya Music (Ya Yue, 雅乐, similar to Japanese Gagaku). Nowadays, again, we can only find this kind of instruments in museums, and Chinese archeologists are gradually finding more and more instruments from the emperors’’ graves and archeological sites.

A Tezhong Bell

One fun fact about these stone tones are, Bianqing are usually played along with Bianzhong (smaller than Tezhong), and the harmonic melody the two make together are called “The sound of golden stone”!

A Whole Set of Zhong

Last but not least, check out this video clip for a short Bianzhong performance at the Blackhawk Museum with all the musicians in Traditional Chinese Han clothing!




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2 thoughts on “Chinese Music 101 – Stone Musical Instruments in Ancient China

  1. Pingback: Interact China
  2. This feeling in my chest is brutal, to consider DKC anything but a top 3 game let alone the best game on the system.
    Then again, I realize I’m on the outside looking in when it comes to Zelda. I do like Link to the Past, but it never had that feeling of pure joy, awesomeness from literal minute 1. That, and it has one of the best overall soundtracks ever. Visually the game was stunning back then, and it still holds up well today with a very good art style.


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