The Earliest Musical Instrument in Ancient China Stone Resonator

Stone resonator is made by grinding bluestone, with a hole at the top for hanging. Its hemline is flat and straight, obviously being finely ground. The whole stone resonator is in massive shape and irregular stone veins spread all over its body, thus it is filled with natural beauty. In 1973, when archaeologists were conducting archaeological excavation in Yin Ruins of Anyang, Henan, this fish-shaped stone resonator was discovered. It has a history of more than 3000 years. Yin Ruins is the site of later period of Shang Dynasty, whose discovery shocked the world, and where Simuwu Rectangle Ding was unearthed. A large number of bronze wares and oracle bone slices carved with ancient characters were excavated in Yin Ruins, which provided a lot of information in kind for study of early Chinese civilization.

Although among the large number of culture relics unearthed in Yin Ruins, oracle bone slices and bronze wares occupy an important place, while fish-shaped tone resonator is not that attractive, experts tell us that, stone resonator is not as delicate as bronze ware, but in ancient tomes, it was deemed to have the important function of "secure the nation and the people".

Stone resonator is the earliest musical instrument in China, thus it is called "ancestor of ancient musical instrument", which is closely related with China's title of "state of ceremonies". As early as in period of the Yellow Emperor, China had started the system of "ceremony and music moralization" which included two parts of ceremony and music. The Yellow Emperor wanted to reclaim his subject by music, to lead them to live and work in peace and contentment. The music at that time was called "elegant music", and stone resonator was the earliest musical instrument used to play elegant music. In oracle bone inscriptions, the upper half part of Chinese character "pan" was depicted into a hanging stone slice, while lower half part was depicted into a man holding a gavel, seeming to be knocking. In oracle bone inscriptions, we can easily see that ancient people thought much of stone resonator. In life of ancient Chinese emperors, stone resonator had occupied an important place. According to history records, during reign of Yu the Great, five kinds of musical instruments were hung on front door, such as bell, big wooden bell, stone resonator and so on. He prescribed that: one who wanted to offer way of managing state affairs should knock the bell; one who wanted to report worrisome things, should knock resonator; and it is the origin of listening to politics by five musical instruments. Later on, son of Yu the Great, Xia Qi inherited his father's tradition of using resonator. Till Shang Dynasty, stone resonator was divinized. Rulers of Shang Dynasty stipulated that resonator could only be used by the emperor and vassal. While offering sacrifice to ancestors and previous emperors, jade resonator was used. In Shang Dynasty, it was popular to worship the divinities. So people made stone resonator into shape of animal to communicate with ancestors and the gods by knocking it. Before Shang Dynasty, stone resonator has plain surface, without emblazonry, then till Shang Dynasty, especially late Shang Dynasty, emblazonry carved hollowly appeared on stone resonator. It was to show air and stateliness of royal aristocrats. Experts find that craftsmen of Shang Dynasty had mastered sounding rules of stone resonator. Whatever pattern was carved on stone resonator, they had similar appearance, which would sound most melodiously.

Except single one, there is stone resonator set, named stone chime. Among cultural relics unearthed, the comparatively complete stone chime preserved can be no other but stone chime of Marquis Yi of Zeng State. In March, 1978, archaeologists found an ancient tomb of Warring States Period in Suixian County of Hubei Province, i.e., Marquis Yi Tomb, whose owner is monarch of Zeng State in Warring States Period. Its frame foundation is made up of a pair of monsters made from bronze. The stone resonator is divided into upper and lower floors, hanging on its frame, 16 resonators in each floor, which are made of limestone or marble. Among the stone chime unearthed in China, Marquis Yi stone chime is the biggest one in scale, highest in production technique, and best in musical performance.

There are a lot of Marquis Yi stone chimes, but why there is only one of stone resonator with tiger pattern and fish-shaped stone resonator? Experts say that in terms of using place and way of playing, resonator can be divided into two kinds, special resonator and stone chime, special resonator is single big resonator, used for playing music when offering sacrifice to heaven and earth and ancestors; while stone chime is composed of several stone resonators, hanging on the frame, used for playing elegant music in court. Both stone resonator with tiger pattern and fish-shaped stone resonator belong to special resonator, knocked singly; while Marquis Yi stone chime is used in group, so it can be used to play complicated music.

According to records, this is strict stipulation in use of stone chime in ancient China. For example, emperor can hang stone chime in four sides of the house, while vassals can hang in three sides only, from which we can see that resonator stands for power and rank. In Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang even put stone resonator into Confucian Temples.

According to historical data, the first emperor of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang was once a monk. When he in Huangjue Temple, he knocked stone resonator everyday. Later he became the emperor. On one Double Ninth Festival, he revisited Huangjue Temple, and he had much sentiment, thus he made the stone resonator in the temple be mystical thing and asked for worshiping it in the main hall. Zhu Yuanzhang also asked craftsmen to make more stone resonators to confer to Confucian Temples all over the country for hanging. Nowadays, stone chimes collected respectively in Beijing Confucian Temple and Temple of Heaven, were both made upon the order of Zhu Yuanzhang. They have provided precious information in kind for study of history and musical instrument of Ming Dynasty. According to records, some experts even try to restore the "sound of metal and stone" made by ancient stone resonator.

There is such an idiom in China: the seas run dry and the rocks crumble, which is used to describe things impossible to happen. However, experts tell us that stone resonator is not as solid as what we have imagined. A lot of stone resonators are made of bluestone limestone, whose main chemical component is calcium carbonate, which may be eroded by water, thus, a lot of stone resonators become mud-like when unearthed after being dipped in water underground for two or three thousand years. It is really one in thousand for those stone resonators which are completely preserved and still is able to play music.


 

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