Image: The Bell and Cauldron Inscriptions-A Feast of Chinese Characters: the Origin and Development
國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum (New window)
Image: The Bell and Cauldron Inscriptions-A Feast of Chinese Characters: the Origin and Development
Image: The Bell and Cauldron Inscriptions-A Feast of Chinese Characters: the Origin and Development
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Title: Zong Zhou Zhong

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Also known as Bell of Fu or Bell of Hu, the bell was commissioned by King Li of West Zhou to perform in the ceremony of ancestral worship. The stately form and dignified look, coupled with its courtly, erudite inscription, certainly exemplifies the most significant Son of Heaven bronze that is extant today.

Thirty six decorative pegs prominently protrude from both sides of the double-tile-shaped bell. The bell handle stands imposingly tall and erect. The 122-character long inscription commences from the middle of the front, continues on the lower left then turns to the lower right of the other side. The name of the person who commissioned the piece is indicated as Fu, which phonetically approximates to, and is likely interchangeable with, Hu, the personal name of King Li, thus to whom the scholars attributed the bell.

The inscription describes how King Li had modeled on the great virtues of his royal ancestors, the two founding fathers of Zhou dynasty, King Wen and King Wu, in assiduously consolidating and solidifying his realm. When the chieftain of a southern state Pu launched an outrageous military offense against the land of Zhou, King Li didn't hesitate and personally led his troops expelling the enemy all the way back to its wretched capital. The surrendering Pu sent emissaries to beg peace and twenty six other states also came along to seek audience. King Li, grateful of the blessings bestowed by the Almighty One and Hundred Divinities, commissioned this Bell of Zhou to celebrate the exploits, to offer it to the family temple with music, and to pray for the ancestor kings' benediction of eternal peace and safety across the entire realm.

The bell was already a treasured item in the imperial collections during early Qing dynasty, yet without any official or other records as to the date of its first discovery or unearthing. In 1978, a bronze guei (a round vessel to hold cooked grain offering to ancestors) was excavated at Qi village of Fufeng County, Shanxi Province, with an inscription of 124 characters long. It is another one of fine ritual vessels made under the order of Hu, King Li, and a worthy piece which could serve to establish mutual vouchering reference with the bell.

  Zong Zhou Zhong  
Zong Zhou Zhong

late West Zhou (reign of King Li)

h. 65.6 cm, w. 35.2 cm, 122 characters

Enlargement 1234