Ancient Chinese instrument Bianzhong integrates with modern technology
Updated 22:01, 20-May-2019
By Li Jingjing and Yang Shengjie
In the long history of humankind, many iconic cultural relics have disappeared from daily life, existing only in museums for descendants to understand the wisdom of their ancestors. The reasons for it might vary, yet one common one is the lack of the item's relevance in the modern world. 
However, Bianzhong, or chimes, an ancient percussion instrument of China with a history of over 3,000 years, might have a new life beyond the museum.

Ancient history

It is believed that the Bianzhong dates back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-771BC) and thrived beginning in the Warring State Period (475-221 BC). 
The  Zeng Houyi Bianzhong exhibited in Hubei Province Museum. /VCG Photo

The  Zeng Houyi Bianzhong exhibited in Hubei Province Museum. /VCG Photo

An authentic Bianzhong was excavated in China’s Hubei Province in 1978 and was then exhibited in the Hubei Province Museum. The complexity and exquisiteness of the instrument shocked the world when it was found, since no one could believe that it was from over 2,000 years ago.
Such a massive instrument was used in ceremonies, galas and performances for royals back then. The different size of the bells, together with the different strength the performer used to hit them, create different tunes. 
Although as beautiful as it is, it does have one drawback -- it is difficult to operate. 
The gigantic size means that it requires the coordination of several people to play it at the same time. Beating the bells with the same strength at the same place to make sure the tune and pitch are exactly the same every time they play it. That makes it hard to be learned, hard to be used in common performances like more popular instruments. 
But now, there are some people working on changing it.

Blending into modern life

A instrument company from Shandong Province came up with the idea of designing a percussive structure and software to control it. Through this technology, a performer can play the giant Bianzhong simply through a keyboard.
“The core of the new Bianzhong is the percussive structure. Each structure contains an individual CPU. It'll gather key information like the strength and rhythm that the player uses. And send that info back to the drumsticks. After CPU received the instruction, it'll beat the bells with proper strength,” said Song Zhixing, the designer of the software.
Song Zhixing, the designer of the software, explains how the system works to CGTN reporter. /CGTN Photo

Song Zhixing, the designer of the software, explains how the system works to CGTN reporter. /CGTN Photo

More importantly, The CPU is fixed at the same place so the pitch will be very accurate every time the bells are hit. 
“So the new Bianzhong is a standardized instrument that can work with others. That makes Bianzhong much easier for people to play,” Song said.
The company is also cooperating with the Hubei Province Museum to make sure their replica has accurate designs like the authentic one, such as the prints on the bells, the size, and the pitch of each bell.
With its new technology, the instrument, which was extremely hard to play, let alone becoming part of musical performances, is becoming much more accessible and adaptive.
There are many more valuable cultural relics that are perfect examples of ancient wisdom. 
But without being more accessible, and more connected to modern people's daily lives, they will gradually be forgotten.
Giving them a new life through a method like this, no doubt, is a great way to inherit and protect our history.

Reporter: Li Jingjing
Scriptwriter: Li Jingjing
Filmed by: Yang Shengjie
Video Editor: Yang Shengjie
Copy Editor: Henry Wei Min
Producer: Wen Yaru
Chief Editor: Lin Dongwei
Supervisor: Pang Xinhua