Temple Bell, 13th year of the reign of the Shunzhi emperor, 1657

  • Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
  • Bronze
  • Given in memory of Edward Cunningham by his descendants, 1968
  • E78689

The chime bell first appeared in China in the Western Zhou dynasty (11th century -771 B.C.E.), and the corresponding Rites of Zhou states “Rites and music are the means to adjust the transformations of Heaven and Earth and the production of all creation, to serve the ghosts and gods, bring harmony to the myriad people, and perfect all creation.” Thus it was believed that the sovereign’s proper playing of music would maintain the order of the cosmos and bring harmony to the people. Traditionally, Chinese bells lack a clapper, and are intended to be struck from the outside. This bell was commissioned for a Buddhist temple, and the writing that appears on the surface is the Diamond Sutra, a sacred text of Buddhism that was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the early 5th century. The names of the bell’s donors are also cast along its body.

An edition of the Diamond Sutra from 868 is the world’s oldest extant copy of a dated printed book. Currently it is in the collection of the British Library. You can view it here.