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Chinese Incense Clock

October 25, 2012 by  

Chinese Incense Clock, The incense clock (“fragrance clock”) is a Chinese timekeeping device that appeared during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and spread to neighboring countries such as Japan. The clocks’ bodies are effectively specialized censers that hold incense sticks or powdered incense that have been manufactured and calibrated to a known rate of combustion, used to measure minutes, hours, or days.

The clock may also contain bells and gongs which act as strikers. Although the water clock and astronomical clock were known in China (example: Su Song), incense clocks were commonly used at homes and temples in dynastic times.

In addition to water, mechanical, and candle clocks, incense clocks were used in Asia, and were fashioned in several different forms. Incense clocks were first used in China around the 6th century; in Japan, one survives in the Sh??s??in, Although popularly associated with China the incense clock is believed by some to have originated in India, at least in its fundamental form, if not function. Early incense clocks found in China between the 6th and 8th centuries CE all seem to have Devan??gar?« carvings on them rather than Chinese seal characters.

To explain this, Edward Schafer asserts that incense clocks were probably an Indian invention, transmitted to China. Silvio Bedini on the other hand asserts that incense clocks were derived in part from incense seals mentioned in Tantric Buddhist scriptures, which first came to light in China after those scriptures from India were translated into Chinese, but holds that the time-telling function of the seal was incorporated by the Chinese.

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