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Tiger bells in China


Ancient China


Northern China

Two bronze bells, with the design of a face with eyes. Also the more or less rectangular hoop is present. However the other typical tiger bell elements are missing. What is it then? The data:


Period: Liao Dynasty: AD 947 - 1211

In the collection of prof. Ovidiu Oana: a pair of bronze horse bells, possibly funerary objects. (Prof. Oana also contributed pictures of an alternative bell from Burma.)
Dimensions: 30 mm. x 40 mm. x 25 mm.; weight: 20 gr. each.

Prof. Oana gives the following information:

The Liao Dynasty, 907-1125, also known as the Khitan Empire, was an empire in East Asia that ruled over the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, and parts of northern China proper. It was founded by the Yelü clan of the Khitan people in the same year as Tang Dynasty collapsed (907), even though its first ruler, Yelü Abaoji, did not declare an era name until 916.
Although it was originally known as the Empire of the Khitan, the Emperor Yelü Ruan officially adopted the name "Liao" (formally "Great Liao") in 947 (938?).

The Liao Empire was destroyed by the Jurchen of the Jin Dynasty in 1125. However, remnants of its people led by Yelü Dashi established the Xi (Western) Liao Dynasty 1125-1220, also known as Kara-Khitan Khanate, which survived until the arrival of Genghis Khan's unified Mongolian army.

When I asked prof. Oana who had identified these bells he gave me the following additional information:

The identification of these bells as Liao bells was given to me by my supplier from China, a very respectable antiques company. The bells seem to be part of a number of objects found in several tombs from the Liao-Dynasty (1093 – 1117), excavated not far from Xuanhua

The bells are very worn. The design is not very clear but two eyes are clearly present. Other details such as the Wang character or the long life character (on B bells) and the floral curles are missing. The bells are however too old te be classified as an alternative.

Prof. Oana's horse bells reminded me of a picture of a bell I had seen in the magazine Sacred Hoop (issue 57). The picture is not very clear and no details are given but there are evidently similarities. In the Sacred Hoop magazine the bell is called a 'new tiger bell'.


Compare the bells from the Liao Dynasty (right) and from the Sacred Hoop magazine (left). The bell on the left is (possibly) new; the bell on the right is (possibly) very old. Is the bell on the right a predecessor of the tiger bells or are both examples of yet another type of tiger bell? We'll have to wait for more examples.


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