Drum and Bell Towers in Beijing

Drum and Bell Towers in Beijing


The bell and drum towers are a complex of ancient Chinese architecture situated at the northern end of the central axis of Beijing. The grand and imposing towers are visibly prominent constructions which have been considered landmarks of the ancient capital city.

History and Function

Bells and drums were originally used as musical instruments in ancient China. Afterward, however, they were used for telling time by government and common people. As early as in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), there was 'a morning bell and a dusk drum'. Telling the time by bell and drum played an important role in helping people live and work regularly when there was no other means to keep track of the time. Since the Han Dynasty, bell and drum towers were widely constructed in almost every city.

The bell and drum towers were the center of Chinese chronology throughout China during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The bell and drum towers continued to function as the official timepiece of China and government until 1924, when the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty was forced to leave the Forbidden City and western-style clockwork was made the official means of time-keeping.

In the history of their construction, the bell and drum towers of Beijing are the largest and highest. They were built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Khan and rebuilt twice after two fires. Their layout is unique, in that they were placed fore-and-aft, not as the traditional sense of standing right-and-left horizontally.

The Bell Tower

Built with gray walls and a green glazed roof, the brick and stone Bell Tower has two floors: there is an arched door on all four sides of the tower on the first floor, and you can go up to the second floor through stone stairs. Hanging on an eight-square wooden frame of the second floor, the bell in this tower is the largest and heaviest in China. It is 7.02 meters high including the pendants, with a weight of 63 tons. The bell was made of copper, and you can hear its round and clear sound from far away. The two 2-meter-long wooden logs hanging sideward are used to ring the bell.

The Drum Tower

Located 100 meters south of the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower was placed on a 4-meter-high stone and brick base. It is also a two-story building with a height of 47 meters. In ancient times the upper story of the building housed 24 drums, of which only one survives. The method of beating the drum is to beat it quickly for 18 times and then slowly for 18 times. Altogether there are three rounds and 108 tolls. The towers have lost their time telling function now; however, people can still hear the deep tones of the bell and drum four times every day, which represents the broadness and steadiness of history.

Source: CITS