The sound of the bell echoes in the city like a faint reminder of once it dictated time itself in China. And according to legend, one bell also carries the voices of the dead.
Once, the great city of Beijing all followed the beat from the drums in the drum tower and the chiming of the bell in the bell tower. It told the time for centuries, telling people when it was the right time to work, to eat, to sleep, and also, it told when it was too late. It was the thing that announced when the gates of the city were to open and close, and the sound of the bell could be heard every fifteen minutes, chiming across the city. For centuries it towered as the tallest building to be seen by everyone as a landmark of the skyline. To this day and age, even between the massive skyscrapers in the modern city landscape, it still stands the test of time, although no longer the one that tells it.
The Bronze Bell
During the Ming dynasty around 1420, the new bell tower was erected in the northern end of the inner city. The bell kept getting bigger and bigger. Originally it was a huge cast iron bell, but was replaced by a larger bronze bell that chimed even loader. The sound and size of the bell was important, and that is the foundation of the tragic story they still tell tourists visiting the place to have a look.
According to legend it was a man named Deng, an official with the mission to create this new bronze bell. They tried so hard for over a year to get the perfect bell that sounded as clear and loud as they needed for the emperor. But no matter how much they tried, they never managed to get it perfect and the deadline for the new bell was closing in. And with the date coming up they grew more and more desperate. The whole family felt it, especially Deng’s daughter as she was afraid it would bring shame on her family, her father in particular. But no matter what they tried to do, the fire of the furnace the bell was made in, would not get hot enough.
In a desperate last attempt, the daughter flung herself into the fire, sacrificing herself to get the heat needed to make the bell. The father tried to stop her and reached out to save her. The only thing he managed to get a hold of, was one of her embroidered slippers, the only thing left of her after being consumed in the furnace.
Goddess of the Golden Furnace
Apparently, however gruesome, this was what the project needed and the bell was ready in time and the sound as clear as ordered. The bronze bell is over 10 inches thick, seven metres tall and weighs almost 46 ton. All around the bell, it has over 230 000 words of Buddhist mantras inscribed to it. And to this day as perfect as it was when first formed.
The emperor himself is said to be so moved by the daughter’s action that he gave her the title ‘Goddess of the Golden Furnace’. A temple was erected in her honor near the foundry where she had sacrificed herself.
But the temple for her is now gone, and the goddess is mostly forgotten in the glory of the bronze bell. But listen carefully. To this day, the bell can still be heard on special occasions. The sound of the bronze bell can be heard at a great distance, at least some twenty kilometers away. On particularly stormy nights the bell doesn’t chime as clear as it usually does, but emits a sound, sounding distinctly as the words ‘xie’, meaning shoes in chinese. The haunted spirit of the girl who sacrificed herself still echoes through the bell. And the mothers that lived were the bell was heard would tuck their children in, telling them ‘Go to sleep, the Bell Tower is ringing, the Goddess wants her slipper back’.
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