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. Various bronze tuning keys are shown in line drawings illustrated by J. So, ed., Music in the Age of Confucius, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 2000, p. 78., fig. 3.
Of the published examples, most are surmounted by an animal or bird, and a number of these are surmounted by a bear, including one previously in the Sze Yuan Tang Collection, illustrated by Li Xueqin, The Glorious Traditions of Chinese Bronzes, Singapore, 2000, no. 94, and subsequently sold in these rooms, 24 March 2004, lot 112.