What do a tiger, a
rat, a bell and a drum share in common? No idea? Well, the answer is
time Ė or, to be precise, telling the time. These two animals, along
with the dog, the ox and the pig, were time periods in the night for
Chinese in days of old, and the drum and the bell were struck to let
people know whether it was the hour of the pig, the tiger, or whatever.
If you would like to learn more about time-telling in olden days you
should make a trek out to Beijing's Drum Tower and Bell Tower. These two
sites, which are situated near to each other, are a popular sightseeing
spot with tourists.
Not only do the towers offer fascinating examples of architecture, but
you can get sweeping views of the city from the top of both of them. You
may even get the opportunity to see a drum performance if you arrive at
the designated time. Drum performances start at 9:30 a.m. and then run
pretty well every hour, on the half hour, throughout the day, with the
last performance at 4:50 p.m.
The Bell Tower offers the opportunity to view what is said to be China's
heaviest and biggest ancient bell. The bronze bell weighs 63 tons. It
was cast in the Ming Dynasty, during the time of Emperor Yongle, who
reigned from 1402 to 1424. It was dubbed the "King of Ancient Bells" and
apparently when struck, the bell could be heard by people both within
and outside the ancient capital. Even those living 10 li, about five
kilometers, away are said to have been able to hear the bell.
Construction of the actual Bell Tower was started in the 13th century,
during the reign of Emperor Zhiyuan in the Yuan Dynasty. But the tower
was destroyed by fire shortly after its construction and so was rebuilt
in the 14th century, during the reign of Emperor Yongle. However, it was
destroyed by fire yet again, and so the bell tower that stands today
actually dates from the 18th century. Construction of this tower began
in the 10th year of the Qing Dynasty, during the reign of Emperor
Qianlong. The tower is almost 48 metres high and took two years to
Construction of the Drum Tower also began during the 13th century. The
tower was originally called Qizheng Tower, which means "coming from" the
seven ancient celestial bodies of gold, wood, water, fire, the earth,
sun and moon. However, shortly after completion the tower was, like the
Bell Tower, destroyed by fire. Then in 1297, during the reign of Emperor
Chengzong, the tower was rebuilt. The tower that stands today, however,
is the result of reconstruction in the 14th century, which was during
the reign of Emperor Yongle.
The Drum Tower is just slightly smaller
than the Bell Tower. It stands almost 47 metres high. There used to be
25 watchman's drums here, with one drum representing one whole year and
24 drums representing the 24-hour solar hours. The Bell Tower and the
Drum Tower serve as the time-announcing centre of the capital during the
Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. In 1924 the time-announcing function of
the towers was put to rest.
So, as you have already learned, the Chinese had a unique way of telling
the time. But how were the hours of the day split up? The night was
split up into five time segments which were named after animals in the
Chinese zodiac. But this ancient unit of time used by the Chinese was
not an hour as we understand today. It didn't consist of 60 minutes. The
time unit was known as a Geng. Every Geng marked a Shichen, another time
unit that is equivalent to two hours.
For example the first Geng came at dusk, so from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and
was called Xu Shi, or Dog Hour. This time was also known as the Ding
Geng. The second Geng, for the time when people went to sleep, was
called Hai Shi or Pig Hour, and it ran from 9 p.m. through to 11 p.m.
The Third Geng was Zi Shi, or Rat Hour, and it signaled the middle of
the night, and ran from 11 p.m. through to 1 a.m. The Fourth Geng was
called Chou Shi, or Ox Hour, and it ran from 1 a.m. through to 3 a.m.
The Fifth and final Geng was Tiger Hour, or Yin Shi, and it ran from 3
a.m. through to 5 a.m. This Fifth Geng, which was also known as Liang
Geng, marked the dawn of a new day.
The Ding Geng and the Liang Geng were always announced with the beating
of drums and followed by the striking of the bell. Only the bell was
struck for the second, third and fourth Geng. The gate of the city was
closed and traffic was stopped as the sound of the first bell rang out
What a wonderful way to tell the time, So, certainly, if you are
interested in learning more about how they told the time in days of old,
donít miss a visit to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower.
(Source: CRIENGLISH.com 2010-03-31)