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Tiger bells in China

Tiger bells are of the A type, smaller B type and some of alternative variations.

Group: Unknown, probably common locally
Four tiger bells, on a brightly colored woven belt. Bells and belt look recently made. No further details available.

In the Leyden Ethnological Museum, procured in 1976.

Belt with four bells

The bells

South China
On website From these hands by Leslie Molen, a doll maker and textile arts expert, several boys' hats are shown; one of these has two type A tiger bells.

Although not very clear, the bells attached to the hat are undoubtedly
tiger bells. On the right we see a picture of a mother with her boy child.
Photographs: courtesy Leslie Molen's website

The hats are said to be used by the Miao and Dong minorities in Southern China, also known as the Hmong. The Hmong are a large ethnic minority that lives in Southern China, Vietnam, Laos and northern Thailand. Originally these groups lived in the mountainous areas near the Yellow river and the river Yangtze. Over the centuries they migrated southwards to Yunnan and the SE Asian mainland.

The author adds the following personal information:

The Miao and Dong Chinese Ethnic Minorities use symbols to convey their desire for a good life. Most are from moral teachings and legend stories that have been handed down generation to generation. A Mother would embroider a baby's hat, bib, or carrier with these moral meanings, wishes, or especially for the young- protection. Every stitch of her embroidery was the expression of a mother's deepest affection for her child. It was a way to embrace her child with a good life.

There are four ways this symbolism is used in their work:
  • To invoke good fortune.
  • To outwit the evil forces.
  • To imply social achievement.
  • To wish for happiness and longevity.
There are many symbolic meanings of the auspicious motifs, I would like to share one with you-The Tiger! This ancient Chinese animal symbol is an emblem of dignity, ferocity, sternness, courage, and by itself is Yin energy. Also a symbol of protection, the image of a tiger is often seen on clothing or in the home to ward off harm any semblance of harm and assure safekeeping.

The face on the hat is indeed a tiger´s face as is shown in another example:

We can see the Wang character just above the nose. On the website more examples of these hats are given. The design always represents a tiger´s face although the Wang character is not always present.

Reported in June 2014, by Harald Lux, (Germany

China (mainland)
One tiger bell, roughly made. In an antique shop in Nanking. According to the shop owner the bell dates from the Kuang Hsu dynasty (1875-1908). There were more bells like this one but no further information.

Dimensions: wide 2,7 cm., high 2,5 cm., side 2,1 cm.,
hoop 1,5 cm. rectangular

Reported and donated to the author in 1986 by Annemarieke Koch.
One tiger bell, seen in the Regional Museum 'House of Kanton' in Kanton, on a jacket, similar to the bell from the antique shop. No details were available. Reported in 1986 by Annemarieke Koch.
Jane Po, Berkeley bought one type A tiger bell in Hongkong and reports (January '96):

...I bought [the bell] from an old curio shop on the Guangdong border, thinking that it looked like some ancient Pacman. It's about 3 1/2" around. It's attached to an old hand beaten heavy double-link bronze chain. The chain doesn't look like it's of Chinese origin, though. No further information was available.

China (South Shantung)

Four tiger bells, type A, in a bundle. Collected by a missionary of the SVD mission, place and time uncertain but probably Ch'ing tao (South Shantung) at the end of the 19th century.

The bells have a width of 2.7 cm. and a height of 2.1 cm. No further information available.
In the Mission museum, Steyl, (Limburg, the Netherlands)

China (mainland)
Group or region unknown.

On the website of Sporting Collection: a complete horse harness with saddle, bridle and stirrups. Attached are nine tiger bells of type A.

Pictures: courtesy Sporting collection
    • An antique Chinese saddle, bridle and stirrups.
    • The saddle is made of wood, it has steel mounts inlaid with silver geometric and foliate decoration. The front and back are covered with shagreen (shark or ray skin).
    • The stirrups with rounded treads and the arches are decorated in a similar way to the saddle.
    • There is a matching bridle with a snaffle bit and a neck band of jingle bells with a red horse plume.

West China (province of Shaanxi)
Two tiger bells, in Xi'an, on a local market, reported by Dolf Heubers. He explains:

(While traveling) from Shanghai to Nanjing we did not see one single bell. It was 1200 kilometers westwards, in Xi'an that we found several tiny new jingle bells of 1 cm. diameter, in several stalls in an antique market in the Muslim quarters. One dealer asked us into his shop and showed us several old bells: 'velly old' and expensive: 100 yuan (about € 10,-). Because of language problems we could not find out where they came from...

The bell is a type A tiger bell. The nose seems to be different from the classic type but dimensions and the rest of the design are roughly the same. The bell is photographed from both sides.
Dimensions: 3,3 cm. x 3,1 cm.(without hoop) x 2,6 cm.
This bell has the shape of a type B tiger bell but is much smaller. The shape comes closer to the dog bell from Thailand (although the design is different). The bell is photographed from both sides
Dimensions: 2,7 cm. x 2,6 cm. (without hoop) x 2,5 cm.
Reported and donated to author by Dolf Heubers, December 2010. In 2005 and 2006, Dolf Heubers reported several bells from Afghanistan.

In 2004 Claire Chantrenne, curator of the Music Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium, bought a bundle of four bells, of which two are tiger bells. The other two are not tiger bells but occur regularly on ritual objects, sometimes in combination with tiger bells.

Ms Chantrenne reports:

I bought my tiger bells in November 2004 in a flea market in Shaanxi province in West China, possibly in Pinyao but I am not sure of that.

The dimensions:
- the larger bell: width: 2,8 cm, thick: 2,1 cm. height: 2,5 cm. (3,5 cm. incl. hoop)
- the smaller bell: width: 2,2 cm. thick: 1,8 cm. height: 1,9 cm. (2,6 cm. incl. hoop)
No further details known. See also the bells from Xi'an (Shaanxi prov.) reported by Dolf Heubers.
Reported in September 2011

In June 2014 on E-bay several tiger bells of the classic type A were offered. The first offer is one fairly large tiger bell supposed to be used in a horse harness. The seller, Japanese-vintage, describes the bell as follows:
Chinese antique horse bell, hand made bronze item, 1800, nice sound, Tiger face, good conditions.

Five views of the same bell. The height from the top of the hoop to the rim of the 'beak' is appr. 5,5 cm. This is a fine example of a classic type A tiger bell. No further details are given.

Reported by Harald Lux (Germany, he has reported several cases in this report),
in June 2014.

The second offer comprises two tiger bells of type A. The seller, Japanese-vintage, describes the bell as follows:

Chinese antique horse bell, hand made bronze item, 1880s, nice sound, good conditions.

The height of the bells is given as 7,5 cm. but that seems to be a rough guess. These bells have some similarities with the horse bells from Sporting Collection given above. Three views are given:



Reported by Harald Lux (Germany) in June 2014

China (region unknown)

Group: Unknown

One tiger bell, type A, unusually large, picture placed on Flickr (address:, by John Cornelius. He writes:

(The bell).. was in a box of miscellaneous stuff I came across in a basement in Rochester NY USA, in the 1970s. The owner of the property had no information about it and let me have it, as I had an interest in it.

The 'face' is about 6,5 cm wide and the 'side' view is about 5,5 cm deep. From the top of the handle to the bottom of the bell is about 7,5 cm.

I did show it to a curator of Chinese art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. He thought it might be more likely from the south of Asia (Philippines / Indonesia?) but it was just a guess.

This tiger bell has several interesting features. First of all the size:
the bell is larger than most other reported type A tiger bells
(except for a bell from Korea).

The holes at the sides are not seen on other tiger bells.

The 'Wang' character is present; other Chinese characters are replaced by what probably are floral motives.
All pictures courtesy: John Cornelius

The various design elements are clearly the same as those of the other type A tiger bells. The size of the bell is however uncommon. I have seen bells this size and bigger, with a tiger's face as decoration but not in the style of the tiger bells, used as door bells, in a Chinese shop in Bangkok. Probably this bell was used as a door bell too. The age is uncertain.

Reported in 2008.

Also with the Iban one finds classic tiger bells of type A that are larger than usual but these are not common.
Group unknown, local variation (alternative)
For sale on E-bay by antique dealer Thethe Dragon, from South Korea. According to the seller the bell is from the Qing (or Tj'ing) dynasty (1644 -1911), from the period between 1850 and 1899. This is more or less the same period as given for the tiger bell reported in Nanking, the Kwang Hsu period. This bell is fairly large: appr. 6 cm x 5,5 cm. (2.75” x 2.25”) and is made of bronze. The 'Wang' character is missing and the overall design is very different from the usual type A tiger bells. See also the bells from Burma, New York and Korea. No further details available.
Reported by Amy Amalzamar in February 2008

The face is very different from the usual tiger bells

The square hoop and Chinese characters are present

China (mainland)
Group or region: unknown, probably common.
For sale on the website of Sea Eagle Coins. The following data are given:
    • Item name: Horse bell
    • Origin: China, Qing dynasty (AD 1644 - 1911)
    • Dimension: appr. 7 cm diameter
    • Material: bronze
    • Price: US$ 100,-

Pictures: courtesy Sea Eagle Coins

The bell is quite large. The relief and the representation of the nose differ from the type A tiger bells, and the representation of the whiskers is unusual. These factors make this one of the alternative tiger bells.
Region: unknown
On the website of Harmonic Healing: several alternative tiger bells. They are described as:

Very old Shamanic Tiger bell bestows fearlessness and happiness. The bells have been cleansed and oiled with sandlewood oil.

Photographs: courtesy Harmonic Healing

In the design the 'Wang' character is missing. The 'nose' is replaced by what possibly is a combination of two Chinese characters. No information on country or region of origin, possible age and use are given. It is therefore not sure if these bells, or these necklaces, come from China. It is also not sure if the combination of bells and other elements such as the lingam (fertility symbol) is authentic. Compare these bells with the small alternative bell from Thailand, from Prof. Ovidiu Oana's collection.

Zhejiang Province (mainland)

In the Yiwu Ekia Pet Products factory, tiger bells of various types and sizes are mass produced.

In June 2011, I found a website with address:

The factory produces products for pets, such as dog collars and leashes, bird cages, etc. They also produce antique imitation tiger bells, by the thousands. The factory was opened in the year 2000 and has a production capacity for brass bells of 200.000 pieces per month. Tiger bells can be ordered with a minimum of 2000 pieces. These are some examples:

These new tiger bells are based on originals from the Qing dynasty and classic tiger bells.

The tiger bells in front are clearly based on bells from the Qing dynasty; the bells in the back are not tiger bells. They are seen in the bundle of bells used by the drummer of the Hanggai group.

These bells are based on the classic tiger bell

The company describes them as follow (sic):

The tiger brass bell is very traditional, classical and elegant of China products.
It own perfect in workmanship, Create elegant and perfect life for people. His voice sounds sunny, sweet, and lasting. Bell is widely used, it can be used on pet, as signal bells, or as children's toys. It also used as necklace, bracelet, anklet, wind bell or accessories of other DIY jewelry. Our Chinese call it Tiger Bell.

Many of the tiger bells offered recently on the Internet are produced in this factory, or in other similar factories. They are produced for world export. Buyers should be aware that, contrary to what some vendors state on their website, these bells are modern and mass produced.

Report: June 2011

Something for everyone...
Photographs: courtesy Ekia Pet Products

Group: unknown, probably common

A Dutch auction house had a little collier from China on offer. The collier is hand embroidered, with nine newly made tiger bells. It is modern, probably for girls. The bells are appr. 9 mm. which makes them the smallest examples in the collection. (See also the illustration above).

Total length: appr. 27,5 cm.
Embroidered part:
Width: 9 cm.
Height: appr. 6,5 cm.

Materials: Silk, cotton, plastic, brass

Reported in: summer 2018 by Hendrik Wittenberg, Amersfoort, The Neth.


Central China (ancient Shanxi)
In the paper An investigation of early Chinese bronze mirrors at the Harvard university art museums by Susan D. Costello (2004) I found some interesting remarks on the production of bronze mirrors and other small and bronze objects during the Tang dsynasty.

In 1943 the museum rceived a large collection including a.o. ancient Chinese ritual objects such as bronze vessels, Buddhist sculptures, bronze mirrors and different types of bronze bells. In her study Ms Costello concentrates on the mirrors.These mirrors are of the same type as the mirrors that are known from many shaman costumes in Mongolia, East Siberia and Northern China. On the costumes the mirrors are very often used in combination with tiger bells. Some of Ms Costello remarks on the production of mirrors are very likely also applicable for the production of tiger bells. Mirrors (and most likely bells and tiger bells as well) were produced using molds and cast using the lost wax process:

The earliest mirrors were made using direct, ceramic molds. They were made in two sections: one side was flat for the reflective side and the other side contained the decorative back. The decoration was created directly in the clay by carving and/or by the use of stamps. In general, this resulted in a crisp and two-dimensional design. The clay was fired and then used to produce only one mirror because the mold was broken to remove the cast bronze.

Lost wax casting was known in China from about the 5th century B.C. (Moy 2005), and although the date it was first used for mirrors is unknown, it appears to be the exclusive technique from the Tang Dynasty (618-906) onwards. Lost wax casting had two advantages over direct ceramic mold made mirrors. Numerous copies of a mirror can be produced from one mother mold, and there was much more design freedom because more three-dimensional and undercut shapes were possible.

These facts could imply that the tiger bells, like the mirrors mass-produced, were already produced during the Tang dynasty.

Prof. Ovidiu Oana from Rumania reports a pair of horse bells in his collection. The bells are from the Liao dynasty (AD 947 - 1211). According to Prof. Oana the bells are not tiger bells. However, although the bells are very worn, some interesting details are visible. There are clearly two eyes, and the hoop is more or less square. One would think of an alternative type. However, these bells are probably older then the oldest tiger bells and can therefore not be classified as alternatives... Click on this link to see the bells.


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