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HOME > TAIPEI > ARTS & LEISURE >

Xian Jen Ho's - Chinese drum arts

By Shanzi Chen Translated by Ann Lee

Xian Jen Ho Bell Drum Factory
171, ZhongZheng Rd, Xinzhuang City, Taipei County
(02) 2992-7402, (02) 2991-2468

In certain circles, Taipei County's Xinzhuang City has created a nice little reputation for itself, thanks to the handmade Chinese drums created by the Xian Jen Ho studio there.
Xian Jen Ho was founded 82 years ago by Mr. Wang Guei-zi (a.k.a. A-Tun) and is today run by a member of the second generation, Mr. Wang Xi-kuen, who has embraced the skills and artistry of Chinese drums. The founding Wang originally had no intention of encouraging his children to follow in his footsteps, because of the labor-intensive, very challenging skills required. About 20 years ago, however, A-Tun abruptly passed away, plunging the family business into crisis. As the eldest son, Wang Xi-kuen didn't want all of his father's hard work to go to waste, so he plunged into the production of Chinese drums, investing his time and energy to learn from scratch.

Fortunately, Wang's sincere efforts have paid off, making Xian Jen Ho famous throughout the local community and further abroad, as the studio has received continuous requests from around the world. The studio's most famous drum to date is a two-sided bass drum with a 126-centimeter diameter. The Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche appointed Xian Jen Ho to fabricate this creation to sit within a temple atop a 5,000-meter peak in Nepal.

Chinese drums come in many types and are used for various purposes, including religious uses in Buddhism, Daoism, Zen Buddhism and Lamaism. Specific drum shapes and sounds can have different meanings while, on a secular level, the drums are used for festivals, stage productions, even for exercising, or simply celebrated as a folk art.

Regardless of purpose, a drum starts to take shape with the cutting off of fat from the drum skin. Then the drum body (barrel) is made. After a membrane (drum leather) covers its body, the drum is tested (known as "stepping") and finely tuned--a process entirely done by hand and taking a few days, but necessary for high-quality, durable drums.

While it's hard to believe that a drum skin fastened with copper nails can make good, lasting sounds, Mr. Wang says, "The greatness of the drum can be proven through time, just like the drums my father made. Their sounds are still steady and powerful, even after 70 years or more, so you can see how diligent he was when he made them." Other ancient drums from all over the world are also displayed in the cultural center next to the factory. To really feel what personality a drum has and appreciate the varied sounds they make, Wang also advises, "Drums are not to be looked at; you should hit them to see what kind of feeling the sounds portray."

Wang's commitment to Chinese drum culture is ubiquitous at Xian Jen Ho. Visitors who enjoy listening or drumming themselves will love this place. For the uninitiated, this is also a great learning experience. Regardless of who visitors are, Xian Jen Ho's culture center and factory welcome both individuals and groups for tours.

Other related activities:
"Happiness. Beauty": Taipei Cultural Festival Activity--The Miracle of Drums in Xinzhuang, Jen Ho Drums Cultural Exhibition, May 18-30.

See website:
http://library.taiwanschoolnet.org/cyberfair2002/C0219330170/skill_2_2.htm
In addition to many website articles about Xian Jen Ho, a book about the studio's history and heritage was published by the Xinzhuang City Culture Center of Arts. For more book information, call (02) 2276-0182.

 

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