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Yongle Bell
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

Yongle TempleThe Yongle Bell (yǒng lè dà zhōng 永乐大钟) was cast during the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty early in the 15th century. The story goes that when Emperor Chengzu (míng chéng zǔ 明成祖)  moved the capital to Beijing, he initiated three great projects, that is, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Yongle Bell.

This attests to the historical position of the Yongle Bell in those days. Emperor Taizu (míng tài zǔ 明太祖) overthrew the Yuan Dynasty and founded the Ming Dynasty. He made Nanjing the capital. In order to strengthen the frontier defense in the north, Zhu Yuanzhang made his fourth son Zhu Di the Prince of Yan and gave Beiping to him as his domain. In 1398, Zhu Yuanzhang (zhū yuán zhāng 朱元璋) died and his grandson Zhu Yunwen (zhū yǔn wén 朱允文) succeeded to the throne. Historically he was known as Emperor Jianwen. After he came to the throne, he deeply felt the threat from the various vassals who had powerful troops under their command. He adopted the advice of Qi Tai, Minister of War, and Huang Zicheng (huáng zǐ chéng 黄子澄), Minister of the Court of Imperial Sacrifices to weaken the power of the vassals. In the 6th lunar month of the year when he came to the throne, he began to depose Prince of Zhou, Prince of Xiang and three other princes in outlying areas. Zhu Di (zhū dì 朱棣), Yongle Bellthe Prince of Yan, who had 100,000 troops under his command, was the most powerful vassal. He launched a punitive expedition against Qi and Huang under the pretext of "no honest ministers but treacherous officials in the imperial court." He won the war to seize the throne. In 1402, he stormed into Nanjing and seized the throne. Emperor Jianwen was nowhere to be found. Qi Tai, Huang Zicheng and other senior officials as well as their families were executed. Tens of thousands of people were involved in the case and executed. In 1403, Zhu Di changed the reign title to Yongle and issued an imperial edict to "take Beiping as Beijing" (Northern Capital). He decided to move the capital. In the first lunar month of the 19th year of the reign of Yongle (1421), Beijing became the capital.

 

Yongle BellAccording to the established law contained in the Veritable Records of Taizu that "a big bell can be cast only for those who made meritorious services," he ordered the casting of the matchless big bell. The Yongle Bell was regarded as a "guardian" when Zhu Di moved the capital to Beijing. It was also a symbol of the greatest reverence of imperial power.

No matter which argument holds true, Emperor Chengzu has really left behind an admirable and priceless treasure. Several hundred years have elapsed. The rise and fall of emperors have gone with the wind. But the Yongle Bell remains majestic. It is a crystallization of superb skills of laboring people in ancient times. Today, the resounding strokes of the Yongle Bell spread the splendid civilization of the Chinese nation far and near.

永乐大钟
      15世纪初叶,明成祖朱棣迁都北京后,营建京师有三大工程,即故宫、天坛、永乐大钟。明成祖铸造大钟,是为宣扬“壮举”。大钟铸好后,先挂在宫中,明万历年间移置万寿寺,清雍正十一年移至觉生寺。

      铜钟悬挂在大钟楼中央巨架上,通体褚黄,高6.75米,直径3.7米,重46.5吨。钟唇厚18.5匣米,钟体光洁,铸造工艺精美,无一处裂缝。轻撞,声音清脆优扬,回荡不绝达一分钟。重撞,声音雄浑响亮,尾音长达2分钟以上,方圆5o公里皆闻其音。据冶金部门分析,该钟配方科学,钟体强度达最佳值,故受撞五百多年,仍完好如初。此钟的悬挂方法符合力学原理,悬钟木架采用八根斜柱支撑,合力向心,受力均匀,大钟悬挂在主梁上,全靠一根长一米、高14厘米、宽6.5匣米的铜穿钉,穿钉虽承受几十多吨的剪应力而安然无恙。

      钟体内外皆铸有经文,外面为《诸佛如来菩萨尊者神僧名经》、《弥陀经》和《十二因缘咒》,里面为《妙法莲花经》,钟唇为《金刚股若经》,蒲牢(钟纽)处刻《楞严咒》等,计有经咒17种,皆汉字楷书,字体工整,古朴道劲,匀称地分布在钟体各处,相传是明初书法家沈度的手笔。当初明成祖铸造这么多佛经於钟上,为的是弘扬佛法,使佛经传诸久远。二十三万多字的佛经铸在钟上,击钟一下,字字皆声,等于诵读一遍经文,自然是功德无量。

 

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