Music was of great importance in the court life of ancient China, and depictions of musicians playing instruments, both string and percussion, can be seen in wood and pottery figures from the Han through the Tang dynasty, and as decoration on bronzes of Eastern Zhou date. Figures shown playing a set of bells and stone chimes is shown in a reproduction of decoration on a bronze hu from Baihuatan, Chengdu, Sichuan province, illustrated by J. So (ed.), Music in the Age of Confucius, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, 2000, p. 20, fig. 1.7. As R. Bagley states in his chapter on percussion, ibid., pp. 35-63, "no other instrument tells us so much about musical performance, music theory, and acoustic technology." He goes on to point out that "sets of bells were both aurally and visually the most prominent instruments of musical ensembles" in ancient China, but outside of China were unknown.
Bells (zhong) of this type, with a large loop handle formed by the addorsed bodies of dragons or birds, are known as bo. They come in various sizes, as they were made in graduated sets, and with variations in their decoration. A set of eight graduated bo zhong in the Musée Guimet, of smaller size (the largest 29 cm.), cast with similar bands of coiled-serpent bosses and interlaced dragon scroll, and with a similar handle formed by a pair of addorsed dragons, is illustrated by C. Delacour, De bronze, d'or et d'argent, Arts somptuaires de la Chine, Paris, 2001, pp. 44-46. However, unlike the taotie mask decorating the striking area of the present bell, the Musée Guimet bells are cast with a pattern of interlaced stylized dragons. A bo zhong of slightly smaller size (40.8 cm.) with a handle similar to that on the present bell, but cast with an interlaced dragon scroll in the striking area, and relief curls in the central trapezoids and narrow vertical and horizontal borders, is illustrated by J. So in Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 1995, pp. 373, no. 77. Compare, also, the bell with similar decoration, but of smaller size (32.4 cm.), and with a handle formed by two addorsed birds, sold at Christie's New York, 15-16 September 2011, lot 1115.