Muschamp Rd

I like Big Bells

February 11th, 2006
The King of Bells and I

Sounds a little bit lurid to me, like it is some kind of reference to female anatomy. I’ve never heard it used like that but maybe I can start a trend.

Would you look at the bells on her!
She can ring my bell anytime.

All these sound legitimate, I’m sure they’ll enter the popular parlance in a heartbeat. It doesn’t even matter what part of the anatomy it is applied to, breasts, calves, who cares. I can just picture the guys leering now.

Anyway, I like big bells. I was talking to this Harvard alum at a mixer a long while back when I first got to China. She was asking what I was looking forward to seeing and I told her I wanted to see the big bell temple or 大钟寺. She replied she had never even considered going there. I told her all about the difficulty in casting something that big, which requires an elaborate one of kind mold, a careful mixture of bronze which isn’t an element but a compound, not to mention the difficulty of producing all the heat. I had seen a TV special on casting bells while in Japan. Very few people know how to do it still, so when a temple needs a new bell they pretty much have to call in this one old dude. Then there are all the religious rites to consider.

I also told her my favourite bell story about Chionin and how the female devotees all donated their hair to make a giant rope so it could be hauled up the mountain side. The biggest bell at the big bell temple is bigger than the bell in Chionin. There is another huge bell in the bell tower. I mean how do you get something that weighs that much to the top of a tower with only muscle and sweat?

If your bronze mixture isn’t perfect, the bell will crack when first struck. Supposedly the three largest bells ever made were made by Russians, their largest bell by weight broke during casting. All that time to make the custom mold with all the Buddhist/Christian scriptures lost.

The biggest bell at the big bell temple, is thus only the fifth largest in the world by weight, but it is considered the King of Bells by the Chinese due to the elaborateness of the casting. The one at the top of Beijing’s Bell Tower is slightly larger.

Some of the many bells at the temple

In addition to the King of Bells, the temple has a whole museum of bells made of Bronze and Iron. Many of them are frickin’ big. There was a lot of reconstruction going on while I was there, so I might have missed some things, but I got some decent pictures.

One tradition they have is throwing coins into the top of the bell. If you get it in you’ll have good luck or become rich or something. You also have to pay 2 RMB to go up. I chucked the four coins I had, two 5 Mao and two 1 RMB. Then I started making paper airplanes out of my smallest bills. When I was down to my second to last 1 RMB bill a Chinese couple climbed up the stairs. They had an entire roll of the smallest Chinese coins. I should have thought of this, I saw a similar thing in Thailand. They gave me a few coins and I got the third one in the hole and gave the rest back.

Now with bigger photos of bells

In 2024, I spent an ungodly amount of time updating old blog posts. I also went back into Apple Photos and dug up new old photos which I generally uploaded to Flickr. I have a picture of me tossing coins into the King of Bells and you can see my paper airplanes made of small Chinese bills.

The King of Bells
A big bell outside

I was going to buy a small bell as a souvenir but they seemed too pricey and they didn’t haggle or I didn’t haggle.

Finding the temple was epic for the cab driver. We had to stop and ask no less than six other cab drivers where to go. I even wrote out the characters to make sure he understood me. When I finally got there, I realized I had already walked by it once on my way to Walmart.

More Chinese Bells

Knowing how much some guys like big bells, below is a pictures I took almost ten years later in Nanjing. I eventually put a lot of pictures on Flickr even though it is blocked in China, I struggle with the VPN and iPhoto / Photos to upload my best pictures from China.

Treasure Fleet Ship Bell

When we travelled to Xi’an we saw there Bell Tower and Drum Tower. Sure enough in 2024 I checked Apple Photos and I have a photo of a bell in Xi’an taken in 2005. You could ring the bell too. I don’t know if you had a to pay a fee. I know I have pictures of a classmate ringing the bell and banging on the drums. If we were smarter we would have taken video, but memory cards were a lot more constraining almost twenty years ago.

Another big bell

I ended up returning to live in China a second time. I did a lot of traveling but I never returned to Beijing and the Big Bell Temple. I guess that is what I’ll do next time I’m in China which won’t be for a few more years I can tell you. Also in Apple Photos was a picture of me posing with the big bell in Chioin. I’ll have to research where else has big bells in planning future trips. The Liberty Bell is the most famous one in America, so maybe I should visit Philly. I believe France has some famous bells, casting them is almost a lost art.

This post may have originally had more photos. Keeping this blog online for twenty years let alone trying to optimize it to load reliably quick was a major challenge. There is an image on my webhost called paperAirplanes.jpg but it was not included in this post in 2024. I actually am switching to using Flickr more for my image hosting but I really need to figure out why this WordPress blog is running so poorly. I filed a support ticket as blogging is definitely no fun at the moment. But I swear they just encourage me to update to a more expensive hosting plan and to encourage me my website runs worse and worse each year.


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