Tuned Bells

 Tuned BellsHere you can see a set of sixteen bells housed in two large glass cabinets. Cast in gold, these rare treasures weigh 682.36 kilogrammes. In 1790, in order to congratulate Qing Emperor Qianlong on his 80th birthday, the viceroys of the various provinces in China collected gold by unfair means in order to cast these 16 bells. This was done to show off the power and wealth of the flourishing age, at the time of his “Longevity Festival”. This set of bells was usually placed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple and ryas taken out and played along with chiming jade, during special audiences, banquets and memorial ceremonies. They are elegant musical instruments and rarely seen in the world because they were cast from gold and can give different tone colours after being struck.

  The tuned bells were treasures of the imperial family of the Qing Dynasty. After the Revolution of 1911 overthrew the Qing Government, the Qing imperial family remained in the Forbidden City, with a large group of imperial kinsmen still living an isolated and extravagant life, spending an enormous amount of money every year. In 1924, Rong Yuan, the Father-in-law of Pu Yi, the abdicated Emperor and others, consulted secretly. They decided to borrow 800,000 yuan from the Salt Industry Bank of Beijing at one per cent month interest, and repayable within one year , by raising a mortgage on a collection of the cultural relics in the Forbidden City (the gold bells were mortgaged for 400,000 yuan and others for the rest). The limit of one year was set because the Qing imperial family estimated that their restoration to the throne would take place within a year. Unexpectedly, in November of that year, the “National Army” led by Feng Yuxiang drove the imperial family out of the Forbidden City. Restoration be-came illusion and the borrowed money fell due. The imperial family was unable to redeem the pledge, the Salt Industry Bank having advanced the money foreclosed and thus became the owner of the treasures.

  The inside stories of the Forbidden City were usually the gossip of newspapers in those years and this secret bargin was one of them. The bank decided to transfer the treasure to Tianjin for safe-keeping in1932. During the period from 1937 to 1949, the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek tried in vain to get hold of them. Shortly after liberation in1949, Hu Zhongwen, manager of the local branch of the Savings Association, wrote to the Military Control Commission in Tianjin to present to the nation on behalf of the Salt Industry Bank, the valuable gold bells which he had secretly hidden for nine years. Then they were sent back to Beijing and put on display.

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