The Marquis Yi of Zeng ı Bronze Objects

By Hubei Provincial Museum

Hubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Crane with AntlersHubei Provincial Museum

Mausoleum of Music —— The Marquis of the Zeng State and His Underground Orchestra

A mausoleum, which was then named Leigudun No.1 Tomb, was unearthed in May of 1978 in Suizhou, Hubei. This mausoleum belongs to a man named Yi who rule the Zeng State in the early Warring State Period. He was granted the position of Marquis and was dead and buried no earlier than 433B.C. Since the term “Zeng Hou Yi (the Marquis Yi of the Zeng State)” was seen several times in the inscriptions on objects from his tomb, he is usually called Zeng Hou Yi and his mausoleum is then called the Zeng Hou Yi Mausoleum.

This grand four-chamber mausoleum has been buried for 2400 years. 15404 objects have
been unearthed from these chambers which add up to a total area of 220 square meters. Among these splendid objects, there is indeed an orchestra consist of chime stones, Qin, Se, panpipes Chi and the world’s largest and heaviest bronze chimes. There are also oceans of jade ware and lacquer ware that, despite their daily usage, were designed most delicately and unique.

As one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the 20th century China, the Zeng Hou Yi mausoleum makes is possible for historians to recover the daily life in the Pre-Qin Period and the traditional ritual system that was strictly followed by ancient aristocrats. This discovery updated our understanding about South China in Pre-Qin Period and makes up a great part in the history of Chinese music.

Today, these precious objects are exhibited in one of Hubei Provincial Museum’s most important exhibition halls. Standing in a hall like this, we may get a glimpse of how ancient
Chinese pursued that eternity of soul in their mortal lives by creating delicate art with advanced techniques. Meanwhile, they expressed their admiration and fear for the gods, and their high hopes for life.

Chimes bells under water in the mausoleum (1978-05)Hubei Provincial Museum

An Accidental Discovery

The Underground Palace of Music that had been Sleeping for Ages

Map of Hubei Province and the location of the tomb of the Marquis Yi of ZengHubei Provincial Museum

The discovery dates back to September, 1977 on the Dongtuan Hill. The sun was giving off scorching heat and the dust and dirt were dancing in the air. At that time, the radar maintenance factory of Wuhan air force of Chinese People's Liberation Army was planning on an expansion and they were trying to explode the ground even. With the project proceeding, the Dongtuan Hill area would soon be reclaimed with the same method. But once it was, something strange happened: when the surface of the soil was dug out, an amazingly large portion of soft brown soil was exposed. At that time, there happened to be two soldiers, deputy director Wang Jiagui and director Zheng Guoxian, who were keen on archaeology. These two spent their free time studying lots of historic and archaeological books and had visited plenty of museums. At the sight of this unusual brown soil, they made a quick judgment that this might be soil left burying coffins in ancient times, which, accordingly, suggested a mysterious tomb underneath.

With extreme excitement, they began to run about to seek proof for their judgment, hoping at the same time that their hobby could lead to a significant archaeological discovery. From the county bureau of relic to provincial institute of archaeology, owing to their persistence, the unusual brown soil of Leigu Mound finally caught attention. On May 11th, 1978, the excavation of “the grand ancient tomb in Leigu Mound, Sui County, Hubei Province” was official initiated.

Excavation site of the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (1978-05)Hubei Provincial Museum

As outer coffin covers were lifted, a huge “pool” gradually came to light. The area separated by the wooden boards was an irregular huge outer coffin boards. The continuous roar of the cranes boasted the great industrial accomplishment of mankind. However, without machines, how did ancient people make these huge wooden battens and place them on top of the tomb? This is another question to be answered. The structure of the tomb finally showed itself.

Chimes bells under water in the mausoleum (1978-05)Hubei Provincial Museum

The excavation team continuously measured the length between the water surface and the top of the chamber. When the figure reached 40 cm, the top of two wooden shelves showed up in the water. Another day went by, the top of the bronze chime-bells was exposed. This was indescribably inspiring. The loud cheers broke the darkness before dawn and this good news was spread around instantly. In the archaeological report of 1978, we found this exciting and unforgettable moment: 5:05 am, May 23rd.

Researchers measuring the chimes (1981)Hubei Provincial Museum

After 40 days of excavation, the ancient tomb that had been sleeping for more than 2400 years was finally woken up. More than 15000 objects were unearthed, including 125 pieces of musical instruments made of bronze and stone which fall into 9 categories, a set of bronze wares that are composed of 134 pieces in total, 4777 weapons that fall into 8 categories, 1127 chariot parts which fall into 9 categories, etc.

These treasures indicate people’s strong emphasis on rite and war in the Zhou Dynasty. Others demonstrating people’s exquisite workmanship are jade wares, lacquered articles (5012 pieces, 26 categories), gold wares (9 pieces), gold foil (940 pieces), bamboo slips (240 pieces) and so forth. These artifacts are unbelievably impressive in their maintenance, quantity and type.

The discovery of this huge tomb presents the world with a gorgeous treasure house hidden underground for more than 2400 years.

Bronze Jian Gu BaseHubei Provincial Museum


There are 9 different kinds of instruments, 125 pieces in total, found in the mausoleum. They've been buried for more than 2400 years.

The Chimes of Zeng Hou YiHubei Provincial Museum

"Chu Shang", song made by the chimes of Zeng Hou Yi.

Chimes bells were first made in the West Zhou and they remained to be a kind of important musical instruments through Spring and Autumn to the Qin and the Han Dynasty.These percussions were usually hung on a frame and were arranged by their sizes, which suggest their tunes.

65 chime bells were discovered from the Zeng Hou Yi mausoleum, including 19 Niu bells, 45 Yong bells and a Bo bell.The chime bells make all the semitones in five and a half octaves. They play in today’s C major and the tonic train can be alternated. They can be played in platonic, or diatonic scale.

The musical sound made by the replica Bo Bell.

A Bo bell which was gifted by Xiong Zhang, the king of Chu.

The lowest pitch made by the replica Yong Bell.

Two musicians stand in the front, with their long wooden sticks, hitting the Yong bells which make the low pitches.

The highest pitch made by the replica Niu Bell.

Three musicians stand in the back, hitting the alto and high-pitch Yong bells and Niu bells with T-shaped wooden hammers.

The Chimes of Zeng Hou Yi - Part4Hubei Provincial Museum

" Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Variations", Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), made by the chimes of Zeng Hou Yi.

The Chimes of Zeng Hou Yi - Part5Hubei Provincial Museum

The chime bells are made of alloy of tin, lead and bronze. There are in total 3755 characters of inscriptions with inlaid gold on the whole set of chimes about the musical sound made by the bells.

The Chimes of Zeng Hou Yi - Part8Hubei Provincial Museum

The Chimes of Zeng Hou Yi - Part9Hubei Provincial Museum

The Chimes of Zeng Hou Yi - Part1Hubei Provincial Museum

The frame is supported by six bronze warriors and is decorated with embossment and lacquer paintings.

The Chimes of Zeng Hou Yi - Part2Hubei Provincial Museum

The Chimes of Zeng Hou Yi - Part3Hubei Provincial Museum

Chime Stones of Zeng Hou YiHubei Provincial Museum

Chimes stones were invented in the late primitive period. Their sound is not resounding as
that of chime bells yet chime stones sound brighter and clearer. In the Shang Dynasty, people started to use chime stones and chime bells as dominate instrument and the two went into great popularity in court music in the Zhou Dynasty.

32 chime stones were unearthed from the Zeng Hou Yi mausoleum. These chimes are
polished marble or granite pieces with broken-line upper edges and curving bottom edges.
Most of them are marked with numbers and musical alphabet. Each piece is one musical
scale and all 32 pieces are arranged by pitch. Together they make scales that cover more
than two octaves, each of 12 semitones.

Chime Stones of Zeng Hou Yi - PartHubei Provincial Museum

On both side of the frame are two imaginary beasts made of bronze, each a combination of
the head of dragon, the neck of crane, the trunk of bird and the feet of turtle. Two beams are welded to the beasts, each inlaid with golden clouds, and on their both ends are openwork carvings of dragons.

Bronze Jian Gu BaseHubei Provincial Museum

Jian stands for “holding up” in traditional Chinese. Jian drum is a combination of a drum and a pillar that goes through the drum and fixes it to the drum base. This drum base used to support a pillar and a drum. In the center of the base is a cylindrical slot for the drum pillar. Around the slot intertwined 16 dragons, each inlaid with calaite. On these dragons there are countless smaller dragons twining together. Looking from distance, the base resembles a fire; looked closer, the dragons seem to have been awakened by the drumming.

Bronze Crane with AntlersHubei Provincial Museum

This slender crane with antlers was discovered in the east side of the major coffin.

Bronze Crane with Antlers - SideHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Crane with Antlers - Part1, From the collection of: Hubei Provincial Museum
Show lessRead more
Bronze Crane with Antlers - Part2, From the collection of: Hubei Provincial Museum
Show lessRead more

Bronze Zun and Pan of Zeng Hou Yi - Zun - PartHubei Provincial Museum

Wine Vessels

Wine and food vessels are important components of the sacrificial vessels.

Bronze Zun and Pan of Zeng Hou YiHubei Provincial Museum

This is a set of wine vessels that is consist of a bronze Pan and a bronze Zun. Zun was used to contain wine and Pan to contain ice. They are individual pieces yet designed to be a perfect match. Since this wine set was not made for practical uses, the functional parts are covered in delicate decorations. On the surface of the Zun, there are four dragons that are made of hollowed-out texture. Decorations as these transforms the daily objects into art.

Bronze Zun and Pan of Zeng Hou Yi - ZunHubei Provincial Museum

The complicated texture that forms the decorations on these artifacts is actually tiny sculptures of Hui (a kind of dragon which lives in water). These Hui are made by techniques that are rather advanced at the time. To make these entwining bronze Hui, a wax model was made first. Then the model was covered with fireproof material (such as clay) and via heating, the wax melted and was poured out, thus a mold was made. Then melted copper was put into the mold to make a decorating part that was at last attached to the vessel.

Bronze Zun and Pan of Zeng Hou Yi - Zun - PartHubei Provincial Museum

On the Zun there are in total 34 parts like this and on the Pan, 38.

The set was made was the most advanced skills at the time; therefor it represents the highest quality of bronze artifacts in the Warring States Period.

Bronze Zun and Pan of Zeng Hou Yi - PanHubei Provincial Museum

The bronze Pan.

Bronze Zun and Pan of Zeng Hou Yi - Pan - PartHubei Provincial Museum

The feet of the Pan.

Bronze Jian and FouHubei Provincial Museum

Jian is a water container. Fou is a wine vessel. In the early Warring States Period, distilled
liquor was yet to be invented. To prevent brewed wine from going bad, people would put ice in Jian and place a wine-filled Fou in the Jian. Both Jian and Fou are square and decorated with dragon patterns. To fix the Jian to the Fou, three hooks were made on the bottom of the Jian to be connected to the three holes on the Fou. Usually, a filter would also be used to eliminate the sediment.

Bronze Jian and Fou - Decomposition ChartHubei Provincial Museum

Two sets of Jian and Fou have been discovered from the Zeng Hou Yi Mausoleum. They were used with this filter that was found beside. For each set, there was also a ladle to use with. The ladle was found placed on the lid of the Fou.

Bronze Jian and Fou - PartHubei Provincial Museum

The "ears" of the bronze Jian.

Bronze Wine Pots on a JinHubei Provincial Museum

Jin was usually used to contain wine vessels. The most archaic Jin that ever discovered was made in early West Zhou Dynasty. This Jin was found in Zeng Hou Yi (The Marquis of the Zeng Kingdon)’s mausoleum. It contains two giant wine pots.

The the pots and the Jin altogether weigh more than 240 kg, held up by merely the four animal shaped legs at the bottom of the Jin. The position of these legs was accurately designed to keep the set of the vessels stable. Physics and aesthetics reach an impressive balance in this piece of artifact.

Bronze Wine Pots on a Jin - PartHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Zun FouHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Zun Fou - Part1Hubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Zun Fou - Part2Hubei Provincial Museum

This set of Zun Fou was put in the north tomb chamber with weapons and carriages. It was probably used for celebration after victory.

Bronze Flagon with a ChainHubei Provincial Museum

Lidded Bronze Ding with Bull-shaped Knob - PartHubei Provincial Museum

Food Vessels

The people of Shang Dynasty lay emphasis on wine vessels, while for people of Zhou Dynasty, food vessels play an important role.

Bronze Sheng DingHubei Provincial Museum

Ding was a cooking vessel. Ding was first made in Neo-Stone Age from clay. Later on people started to make Ding with bronze, which were mostly used as ritual vessels. Sheng Ding was a kind of Ding mostly used to offer meat to the gods. Ding was usually used in a set. The tradition for ceremonies is that an odd number of Ding were used in match with an even number of Gui. The number of these vessels were considered to have ritual meaning. The more vessels a man could use in ceremony, the higher social status he had. The weight of the vessels also indicates a man’s political power. Only the supreme ruler could use nine Ding and eight Gui when offering sacrifice to the heaven.

Bronze GuiHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Huo DingHubei Provincial Museum

Huo is a cooking pot. This Huo Ding, buried with a shovel-shaped ladle, was found containing cooked cow bones. On the Huo Dingare three hoof-shape legs and two top handles. When it was unearthed, a pair of hooks was found hanging on the handles. These hooks are supposed to be hung to the sides when the Huo Ding needs to be moved around.

Bronze Huo Ding - PartHubei Provincial Museum

The beautiful decorative patterns on Huo.

Lidded Bronze Ding with Bull-shaped KnobHubei Provincial Museum

Lidded Bronze Ding with Bull-shaped Knob - PartHubei Provincial Museum

A cow-shaped decoration.

Lidded Bronze DouHubei Provincial Museum

Dou is a goblet-shaped food container that usually used to contain meat sauce and preserved vegetables. In the Neolithic Age people used clay Dou and in the Shang Dynasty bronze Dou came into the scene. When used as a kind of ritual vessel, there are strict rules about the number of Dou that should be used by different people on different occasions.

Lidded Bronze Dou - PartHubei Provincial Museum

This bronze Dou is decorated with patterns of phoenixes and dragons with heads of birds.
The decoration has recognizable Warring State Period features: patterns were first carved on the vessel, then gems and lacquer were inlaid into the patterns; at last the whole vessel was polished so it would have a glamorous glow.

Bronze ZhenHubei Provincial Museum

Living Appliances

The living appliances of ancient Chinese people are delicate, fine and also useful.

Bronze Jian with a ChainHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Guanfou inlaid with red copperHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Guanfou inlaid with red copper - PartHubei Provincial Museum

This Guanfou (water container for washing) is made with the advanced method. The red
copper patterns were cast first then placed into a mold before bronze was put in the mold. So the red copper and bronze came out together as one piece.

Bronze ZhenHubei Provincial Museum

Ancient Chinese used to sit on mats. To keep mats in place, heavy artefacts called Zhen were put on the four corners of the mat. Near the main coffin of the Zeng Hou Yi Mausoleum, four hemispheric bronze Zhen were unearthed. They are hollowed and its top is decorated with a dragon-shaped knob hooked with a ring. Eight dragons intertwin and fourteen small rings are cast onto each Zhen.

Bronze Coal Plate, Bronze Dustpan and Bronze ShovelHubei Provincial Museum

This coal plate was used with the dustpan and the shovel. The plate is decorated with patterns like bamboo strips and it was probably used to contain coal or coal ash. There are 53 rhombic holes on the shovel, which was probably used to sieve coal.

Bronze Dustpan, From the collection of: Hubei Provincial Museum
Show lessRead more
Bronze Shovel, From the collection of: Hubei Provincial Museum
Show lessRead more

Bronze Grill PlateHubei Provincial Museum

This is a grill plate attached to a coal burner by four claw-shaped legs. On each side of the
plate there is a chain. When unearthed, there are remains of fish bones in the plate and on its bottom there are traces of smoke and burning.There are 13 vent holes on the plate. The wear and tear suggests that the grill plate and burner was often used and its owner was
probably a gourmet.

Bronze Incense BurnerHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Knife with a Jade PieceHubei Provincial Museum

Ge of Zeng Hou YiHubei Provincial Museum


The majority of the weapons are excavated from the north chamber of the tomb. They are all well fabricated.

Bronze Triple-blade Ji with inscription “Zeng”Hubei Provincial Museum

This Ji is consist of three Ge and three Mao. On three Ge blades there are inscriptions of
“Zeng Hou Yi Zhi Yong Ji”(Ji belongs to the Marquis Yi of the Zeng State). On the back of the top blade, there is an inscription of a dragon and a beast that looks like the character “Zeng”. It was probably the state heraldry of the Zeng State.

Ge of Zeng Hou YiHubei Provincial Museum

Three Ji Attached to BiHubei Provincial Museum

This Ji consists of a long shaft, three Ge blades and a Mao (spear) blade. The long shaft is
called Bi in Chinese. Bi is usually a 300-440 cm long wood shaft covered with bamboo pieces, yarned with silk threads, leather slices or rattan peels and painted with lacquer. Bi is light and pliable, usually used to assemble weapons that used in chariot battles.

Three Ji Attached to Bi - PartHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze Wei in the Shape of SpearHubei Provincial Museum

A Wei was used to attach wheels to the axle on a chariot in the Shang and Zhou Dynasty.
76 Wei were unearthed from the Zeng Hou Yi mausoleum, indicating 38 chariots.
Among them there are two pieces in special shape. A spear blade is attached to the functional part of each Wei, so to keep away enemy’s chariot and foot soldiers.

Bronze Wei in the Shape of Spear - SideHubei Provincial Museum

Bronze ArrowheadHubei Provincial Museum

Credits: Story

Hubei Provincial Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more