Chinese Gongs

21 January 2017 by Roy Preece

The powerful sound of a gong will get the attention of everyone! In the West gongs are used mostly in orchestras and bands, but in China they have been used for thousands of years in ceremonies and official occasions.

Not surprisingly then, the best gongs are made in China, especially in the city of Wuhan where craftsmen have been making gongs by hand for over 2000 years. You can still buy hand-crafted Wuhan gongs today.

The gong and its “spirit” are given great respect, both because the craftsman is believed to have put his spirit into the gong and because gongs are reserved for important occasions, such as trials and religious ceremonies, and to announce important people.

Touching a gong is believed to bring a person good luck and health; however, it is important to ask permission before touching a gong. Since the time of Buddha in 600 BC, all sacred Chinese gongs have been inscribed with the two Mandarin Chinese characters “Tai Lai” (泰来), which means “Happiness has come”.

In Tibet gongs are bowl shaped, but Chinese gongs are shallow round plates made of bronze (a mixture of 75 per cent copper and 20 per cent tin, with some nickel as well). The thickness of the metal determines the pitch or note, but skilful hammering during manufacture is needed to make a gong that can produce the many rich overtones.

The subtly different sounds of the many different gongs are used for different purposes. Plate gongs are played by being suspended from cords through small holes in the edge and struck with special leather covered beaters.

Originally the Chao Gong was used to announce government officials and call people to watch, but also to warn people to keep out of the way; curiously, today it is often used for meditation.

The Wind Gong has shimmering and persistent - and rather hypnotic - overtones and is used in ceremonies such as the Lion Dance (very like the Dragon Dance). It is also used in spiritual ceremonies and for meditation.

Opera Gongs are very powerful and are used in Chinese opera.

The Tiger Gong has a true gong sound, like the wind gong, but it has a rather richer note. This is the usual choice for musical performances. Its overtones slightly descend in pitch.

The Jin Ban Gong has a very rich and pure sound; its overtones slightly ascend in pitch.

The Bao Gong is used in traditional Chinese temples and is particularly associated with intellectual thought and spirituality.

The Pasi Gong is the one used for entertainment and cultural events, such as pageantry, plays and circuses. It is also called the “Ma Xi” or Circus Gong.

At Snowflake Books we have a large Wuhan Wind Gong which we use for small dragon dances with children. The sound certainly attracts attention and everyone loves it.