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The Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng


The Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, dated around 430 BC (early Warring States period), this tomb is located in present-day Suizhou, Hubei Province (review map). Inscriptions on the bronzes found at the site identify the tomb as that of a marquis of the state of Zeng, a minor state subordinate to its powerful neighbor, Chu. 


State of Chu and Warring States Period

The Warring States Period (475-221 BC) was a time of turmoil and violence, with constant warfare between the regional states, but it was also a time of great intellectual and artistic activity, when the intellectual traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism originated. 


As military conflict became more frequent and more deadly, one by one the smaller states were conquered and absorbed by the half dozen largest ones.  One of the more successful such states was Chu, based in the middle reaches of the Yangzi River.  It defeated and absorbed fifty or more small states, eventually controlling a territory as extensive as the Shang or Western Zhou dynasties at their heights. Zeng is a state under the domination of Chu.  


About the Tomb

The tomb is 21m long, 16.5m wide, and 13m deep, making it 220 square meters in area. It is divided into four separate chambers, resembling the layout of a palace of the day.

-The northern chamber is the smallest and contained military artifacts.

-The eastern chamber contained the tomb of Marquis Yi, who was buried in a wooden lacquer coffin nested inside a larger lacquer coffin. This chamber also contained eight other coffins that held the remains of eight women.

-The western chamber contained thirteen coffins that held the remains of thirteen other women.

-The central chamber is the largest, and contained a large ensemble of ritual musical instruments, including a set of 64 bianzhong (bronze bells).



Musical Instruments From the Tomb

The most famous discovery at the tomb is the large set of 64 bianzhong bells, mounted on an elaborate framework, which required a cast of five members to be played, and were struck with wooden mallets to produce music. The bells are two-toned, producing two distinct tones when struck at the center or the side; this property is enabled because the bells have an almond-shaped cross-section. The bells cover a range of five octaves.


The collection also contains a non-matching bell, a memorial to Marquis Yi from King Hui of Chu, recording King Hui's rushed trip from the west to create the bell and attend the Marquis's funeral during the 56th year of King Hui's reign; the inscription on the bell dates the event to 433 BC. The bells were inscribed with music notations that detailed the relationship among the pitch standards of Zeng, Chu and Zhou.

Other musical instruments in the ensemble include stone chimes and a large standing drum. Various string instruments were also discovered in the tombs, including se, qin and zhu. The tomb also contained pan flutes (paixiao), flutes and special sheng.



Reconstructed Model of Tomb of Maquis Yi

Music played by the bells from the Tomb of Marquis Yi

Bronzes from the Tomb

Lacquer Wares from the Tomb

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