Not until the excavation of bronze tuning keys together with a set of tuning pegs for a Chinese qin, from the 2nd century BC tomb of the king of Nanyue in Guangzhou, Guandong province in 1983, was the function of objects of this type understood. Keys of this type were used to tighten the pegs on which the strings of a qin are wound.
Of the published examples all are surmounted by an animal or bird. Several other tuning keys surmounted by a bear have been published: one in the collection of Dr. Paul Singer is illustrated by M. Loehr, Relics of Ancient China, Asia Society, New York, 1965, no. 112; one in Sammlung Baron Eduard von der Heydt, Wien, 1936, no. 103; one with a patterned body in the exhibition catalogue, Ancient China: Music & Ritual, J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 20 March-7 April 2001, no. 12; and one sold in these rooms, 21 September 2000, lot 175. Another raised on the hand of a bronze acrobat, which must have served as an amusing stand for the tuning key, is in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art, and illustrated by T. Lawton, Chinese Art of the Warring States Period, 1982, p. 80, no. 37.