The Big Bell Temple, or the Great Bell Temple, is a Buddhist temple located western section of the North 3rd Ring Road of Haidian District, Beijing. This temple holds a magnificent collection of ancient Chinese bells and is especially famous for housing the largest bell in China called Yongle Bell. With a history of more than 600 years, the Yongle Bell was one of the three projects that Emperor Yongle commanded after reestablishing Beijing as the capital. Another two were the famous Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven.
The Big Bell Temple, built in the year 1733 of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was originally called Juesheng Temple. In 1743 a big bell was transferred from the Temple of Longevity (Wanshou Temple) to this temple, the temple’s name was changed to the Big Bell Temple (Dazhong Temple). Since then, it was often chosen by the emperors to pray for rain and blessings for the people.
Facing south, the temple compound contains three rows of halls, one lined up behind the other. It has many large buildings, such as a Screen Wall, the Main Gate, Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Hall of Heavenly Kings, Grand Hall, Avalokitesvara Hall, Hall of Sutras, and the Big Bell Tower. Among them, the Big Bell Tower is the main part, which is 16.7 meters high with a circular shape on the top and square below, expressing the “Round Sky and Square Earth” world view and cosmology of ancient China.
As the big bell hanging in the Big Bell Tower at the rear of the compound was cast in 1403, the first year of Emperor Yongle in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it is called Yongle Bell. The bell is 6.75 meters high, 3.3 meters in diameter, and 94-185 millimeters thick, weighing 46.5 tons (102, 514.95 pounds). Inside and outside of the bell were inscribed with Buddhist scriptures in both Chinese and Sanskrit, totaling over 227,000 characters. Skillfully designed, its tone is pure, deep and melodious with a sprightly rhythm, and it sends a deep and resounding tone from a forcible strike which can be carried 15 kilometers (9.32 miles) away. For these excellent and unique characteristics, it is called “the King of Ancient Bells” by the people.
Then you would be wondering how this heavy bell was hung on the top of the building? After the bell was made, they waited until the winter came. Then they dug a well every 500 meters (1,640.42 feet), and ditches along the entire way to bring the water on the ground, which was able to turn into the ice soon. They pushed the bell along the surface to the icy earth piles in the temple, then they started to construct the Bell Tower and hung the bell from the top. As the ice melted in spring in the following year, they removed the mounds of earth. In this way the big bell was successfully hung there.
In 1985, the Ancient Bell Museum of Big Bell Temple was founded, housing more than 400 bells. The collections here range from several meters high bells to hand-sized chimes, many of them corroded to a pale green by time. The Ancient Bell Museum is the only museum that collects and exhibits ancient bells in the country.
Big Bell Temple is one of the famous temples that you should visit for a Beijing travel. The Yongle Bell is struck at the beginning of each year. Nowadays, it has become popular for people to strike bell to pray for a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year. It’s believed that 108 strikes of the bell in the New Year will expel an equal number of worries and bring people good luck.