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Bronze drum: A living account of history

08-29-2011 09:48 BJT

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Human beings have long lived with music, and in China, musical instruments have existed for thousands of years. In Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of Southwest China, the ancient Bronze Drum is still part of everyday life for the local minority there. It's regarded as the essence of their culture.

More than 2,000 years ago in the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history, bronze drums were the prevailing percussion instrument in southwestern China.

The bronze drum was used as a sacrificial vessel at offerings and rituals. But more than that, bronze drums were also struck to transmit signals, summon the tribespeople, and direct fighting in battles. Thus, the possession of the instrument was seen as a symbol of power.

So far, a total of 1,300 bronze drums have been discovered and collected in China, and nearly half of them were found in Donglan County of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a place known as "the homeland of bronze drums."

Chen Yaoling, director of Donglan County Bronze Drum Museum, said, "In the homes of minority people such as Zhuang, Yao, Miao, and Shui, bronze drums were honored as God's object and treasure. Each drum has its own acoustic texture, and a unique story behind it, because it was made according to some individual's need. They have chronicled the historical development of minority people."

Living a tradition of arable farming, the Zhang people's bronze drums are generally decorated with objects of nature such as the sun, clouds, lightning, and animals, to bring rain and good harvest. It was also common practice for big clans to craft on a bronze drum the images of major events as a way to record family history. They were, surprisingly, the best illustrated books for children living in poor villages.

Liu Xiao, bronze drum craftsman, said, "When you put all the drums that chronicled family history in chronological order, it's like watching a movie, frame by frame. Very interesting."

Liu Xiao is the youngest bronze drum craftsman in the county. He began learning the craft 3 years ago, after having left his village and working in cities for some time. He became an apprentice with some other friends, but they all decided to give up in less than a month, since the casting was too exhausting. The drum is so hard to make that it took Liu many attempts before he could successfully cast one.

The craft has been slowly diminishing since its peak during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. And even in Donglan County, which is traditionally famed for the making of bronze drums, there are less than 10 craftsmen who can master the art today.

Liu Xiao said, "I will do anything I can to pass on the craft. If someone wants to learn it, I will definitely teach him. If there is not even one person who wants to learn it, I will persuade them to. If it still doesn't work, then at least I will get my family members to inherit the art."

Liu's passion may not be shared by everyone, but he is a shining beacon of hope. Perhaps, with his help, the ancient drum will tell another thousand years of stories.

 

Editor:Liu Fang |Source: CNTV.CN

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