bell in a temple

The Bell of Kanzeonji-Temple, from the late seventh Century in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan.

Project (2022)

Time Bell in Northern Wei Luoyang: The Soundscape of a Nomadic Buddhist City

The Northern and Southern Dynasties (439–589 CE) were eras of innovation. During these eras, the cultural complex of agricultural area in East Eurasia, namely, the Han culture, was combined or blended with nomadic culture from Northeast Eurasia. Buddhism from India was also added to them. As a result, a new culture was created in the north of China.

A bell of a Buddhist temple, that is, a Fanzhong, and a time signal system which was using a Fanzhong as a bell were good examples of this new culture. Although “Fanzhong” as a word means “an Indian bell,” it originated from a traditional large bronze bell in China. The Northern Wei Dynasty, which was founded by the nomadic Xianbei people, brought an enormous Fanzhong into the palace and used it as a time bell. Luoyan Jialanji said that its sound was heard around the Luoyang city. This was one of the earliest examples of a time signal for the common people in China.

Contrary to that, the bell that the Southern Dynasties used as a time signal was very likely to have been far smaller, so its effect was also more limited than Luoyang’s. Why did the Southern Dynasties not have a large interest in informing people of the time? This project aims to answer this question by inquiring into the differences in the technical and social situation between the Northern and Southern Dynasties. This should allow us to understand something about the new culture created at that time.