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Home China Travel and Tour Beijing Tour Guide Dell and Drum Towers in Beijing

China Tour Guide
: Beijing Tour Guide

Bell and Drum Towers

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Time travel at the Bell Tower & Drum Tower By Mary King

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 build.

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 each night.

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: 2010-03-31)


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