Ancient Music in the Academy

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:28 pm Print
Han DrummerConfucius liked to talk about Rites and Music. Thus I have to spend a lot of time explaining to students why. Most Americans are more like Mozi
Mozi asked a Confucian, saying ‘What is the reason for music (樂)?’ The reply was: “Music is performed for the sake of joy ()1 Mozi said: ‘You have not answered me. Suppose I asked: Why build houses? And you answered: It is to keep off cold in winter, and the heat in summer, and to separate men from women. They you would have told me the reason for building houses. Now I am asking: Why perform music? And you answer: Music is performed for music’s sake. This is like saying : Why build houses? And answering Houses are built for houses’ sake.” Mozi 43
So Mozi can see no point in music, just like most most American parents can’t see the point in being a music major.
I won’t get into the whole modern defence of Music (and Art), but in early China music was magic. All my evidence here comes from the Lushi Chunqiu, which is basically a philosophical encyclopedia compiled at the very end of the Warring States period.
Music is a way to keep track of the state of the world

Thus, the tones of an orderly age are peaceful and joyous because its policies are stable. The tones of a chaotic age are resentful and angry because its policies are perverse. The tones of a doomed state are sad and mournful because its policies are dangerous. It is a general principle that music is influenced by government and affected by customs. When customs are fixed, music adjusts itself to them. Thus, in an age that possesses the Dao one has only to observe its music to know its customs, to observe its customs to know its government, and observe its government to know its ruler. The First Kings were, therefore, certain to rely on music as a means of professing their teachings. LSCQ 5/4.4B

O.k., this is not too hard to grasp. Just like “Rap Music is Black America’s CNN” you can learn about a society by listening to its music. I particularly like this quote because I remember reading something along the lines of “Thus, the tones of an orderly age are peaceful and joyous because its policies are stable. The tones of a chaotic age are resentful and angry because its policies are perverse.” on the liner notes of a Jefferson Airplane album2
Here is another

   When Yu ascended the throne he toiled and laboured on behalf of the world. He rested neither day nor night, opening up the great streams, cutting through obstructions and blockages, boring out the Dragon Gate, and circulating the flowing waters by guiding them to the Yellow River. He dredged the Three Rivers and the Five Lakes and made their waters flow to the Eastern Sea, to benefit the black-headed people. At this, Yu commanded Gaoyao to compose all nine movements of the Xia Flute” in order to celebrate his achievement. LSCQ 5/5.10

O.k., so you can use music as political propaganda, so that people will never forget Yu taming the flood or the bombs bursting in air. Also not too complex. The next two are a little harder.

In the past, at the inception of the Yinkang clan, the Yin had coagulated in great amounts and accumulated excessively. The watercourses were blocked and obstructed, and water could not flow out from springs. The ethers of the people became thick and clogged up, and their muscles and bones tight and constricted. They therefore invented a dance with which to spread and guide the Yin .LSCQ 5/ 5.4

In the past, when the ancient Zhuxiang clan ruled the world, there was an excess of wind that caused the Yang ether to gather and accumulate, the myriad things to disperse and scatter, and the fruits and nuts not to ripen. Knight Da therefore invented a five-string zither with which to attract the Yin ether and arrange the survival of the various living things. LSCQ 5/ 5.2

These two are a  lot more magical. Music actually changes the world. In the first one we can see it changing people, which makes a bit of sense. Then in the second one it changes the universe. There are actually a bunch of passages in here about how inventing new instruments gave humans new ways to control the world. This is not our idea of music at all (unless you are a follower of the Church of Les Paul), but it does help a bit with Early China.


  1. same word! []
  2. not sure which album or if I am remembering this right. My memories of the 60′s are mostly a blur. Still, it fits pretty well. []


Mixing water with water

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:37 pm Print

Here is a dialogue (from the Zuozhuan) I used in class this week.

The Duke declares “It is Ju alone who is in harmony with me.”

Yanzi replied, “Ju is in fact the same [as you]. How can he attain to harmony?” The ruler said, “Are harmony and identity different?”

Yanzi said, ‘They are different. Harmony is like a stew. Water, fire, jerky, mincemeat, salt, and plum [vinegar] are used to cook fish and meat; they are cooked over firewood; the master chef harmonizes them, bringing them into equality with seasonings, compensating for what is insufficient and diminishing what is too strong. The gentleman eats it and thus calms his heart. With ruler and subject it is the same. When there is something unacceptable about what the ruler considers acceptable, the subject reports the unacceptable to perfect the acceptability. When there is something acceptable about what the ruler considers unacceptable, the subject reports the acceptable in order to eliminate the unacceptable. In this way administration is calm and without interference, and the people lack the desire to struggle. Thus the Shi says:

There is a harmonious stew.

We are careful and calm.

We advance silently;

There is no struggling.’

The former kings adjusting of the five flavors and harmonizing of the five tones was for the calming of hearts and the completion of administration. Sounds are just like flavors. The single breath, the two forms, the three genres, the four materials, the five tones, the six pitches, the seven notes, the eight airs, the nine songs: these are used to complete one another. The clear and the muddy, the small and the large, the short and the long, the presto and the adagio, the somber and the joyous, the hard and the soft, the delayed and the immediate, the high and the low, the going out and coming in, the united and separate: these are used complement one another. The gentleman listens to it and thus calms his heart. “When the heart is calm, the virtue is in harmony. Thus the Shi says:

The sound of his virtue is unblemished.’

“Now Ju is not like this. What you, the ruler, consider acceptable, Ju also says is acceptable. What you consider unacceptable, Ju also says is unacceptable. If you were to complement water with water, who could eat it? If the zithers and dulcimers were to hold to a single sound, who could listen to it? This is how identity is unacceptable1)

I like this quote a lot, because it gives you a nice introduction to the world of classical Chinese thought. It is in the form of a dialogue between a ruler and a philosopher. The ostensible point is that a virtuous advisor, Yanzi, is putting down a toadying suck-up (Ju). More importantly it goes well with the common idea of resonance; that the patterns that govern the natural world are the same as those that govern the human world. Thus the sage is like a great cook or a great conductor, (or a doctor) harmonizing everything and thus bringing about tranquillity. Tranquillity of course being the goal. We have quotes from the Book of Songs, a contrast between the small man and the gentleman, the former kings, a list of examples with numbers  This is one that I like well enough that I actually print it out and give it to them.

Original text

十二月,齊侯田于沛,招虞人以弓,不進,公使執之,辭曰,昔我先君之田也,旃以招大夫,弓以招士, 皮冠以招虞人,臣不見皮冠,故不敢進,乃舍之仲尼曰,守道不如守官,君子同之,齊侯至自田,晏子侍于遄臺,子猶馳而造焉,公曰,唯據與我和夫,晏子對曰, 據亦同也,焉得為和,公曰,和與同異乎,對曰異,和如羹焉,水火醯醢鹽梅,以烹魚肉,燀之以薪,宰夫和之,齊之以味,濟其不及,以洩其過,君子食之,以平 其心,君臣亦然,君所謂可,而有否焉,臣獻其否,以成其可,君所謂否,而有可焉,臣獻其可,以去其否,是以政平而不干民無爭心,故詩曰,亦有和羹,既戒既 平,鬷假無言,時靡有爭,先王之濟五味,和五聲也,以平其心,成其政也,聲亦如味,一氣,二體,三類,四物,五聲,六律,七音,八風,九歌,以相成也,清 濁大小,長短疾徐,哀樂剛柔,遲速高下,出入周疏,以相濟也,君子聽之,以平其心,心平德和,故詩曰,德音不瑕,今據不然,君所謂可,據亦曰可,君所謂 否,據亦曰否,若以水濟水,誰能食之,若琴瑟之專壹,誰能聽之,同之不可也如是 Original here



  1. Schaberg, David. A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 2001. p.231 (from Zuo []


Bad sons

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:55 pm Print

Over at A Ku Indeed Chris asks about Mencius  4A28, in which Mencius commends Shun for transforming his father.

He (Shun) considered that if one could not get the hearts of his parents he could not be considered a man, and that if he could not get to an entire accord with his parents, he could not be considered a son. By Shun’s completely fulfilling everything by which a parent could be served, Gu Sou was brought to find delight in what was good. When Gu Sou was brought to find that delight, the whole kingdom was transformed. When Gu Sou was brought to find that delight, all fathers and sons in the kingdom were established in their respective duties…This is called great filial piety”

Chris asks

So is Shun (or Mencius) serious? Is a son not a son if he fails to transform his father/mother? Are the virtues that embody “being a son” incomplete if they are not mirrored by the virtues involved in being a dad? (I presume this holds in the reverse direction for sons, too).”

Rather than focus on what Mencius is trying to proscribe here I am more interested in what Shun lore tells us about the construction of early Chinese ideas of the family. Shun was one of the mythical sage-kings of Early China, famous both for being chosen by Yao to take over the kingdom despite not being Yao’s son, and also famous able to influence both his own (worthless) father and and Yao’s nine (worthless) sons and make them better people. Mencius talks a lot about him and I suspect part of the reason is that while he is famous for being filial a lot of what he does (influencing Yao’s sons better than Yao can, influencing his father rather than vice versa) is in fact usurping the role of the father that he is not entitled too. A big chunk of Mencius 5a is Mencius explaining away Shun’s odd behavior for the benefit of his disciples.

In The Flood Myths of Early China Mark Edward Lewis points out that there is “a recurring pattern in early Chinese myths in which exemplary  men have wicked fathers and themselves produce evil offspring.”1 The fathers and sons made matched pairs, the fathers being perfect without any need for education and the sons being beyond the reach of education. Lewis says that this opposition between fathers and sons was necessary in a world where the father’s authority was not to be transmitted to the son. Later, as the lineage began to be developed great efforts were made to separate sons from fathers so as to impose hierarchy on the family. There is a whole section on sons who should not be raised. Some were unacceptable because they were animalistic (3 or more children born at once) and beyond improvement by human education. Other were too similar to their fathers and thus brought forward his inevitable usurpation of the father’s role.2

So, at least for Lewis, Mencius is not using Shun to describe filial piety, but rather trying to explain away the unfilial behavior in a story that is not really about filiality and moral influence, but rather is about the extremes of human posibility3 and the need to impose hierarchy on the family. Mencius is struggling to put a “modern” reading on a much older storywith different concerns.

  1. p.81 []
  2. Lewis does a lot more with this. It’s a really good chapter. []
  3. As Lewis points out, the Sages are themselves not really human, almost all of the them having animal charachtaristics and being in many ways outside socieity. []


I may never have to teach again

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:02 pm Print

As the Chinese movie industry gears up for a biopic on Confucius I get closer and closer to my goal of never having to do any work.  Soon I will be able to just show movies.  Given that they have cast Chow Yun-fat in the lead I hope they end up doing a gritty Behind the Music type of thing. That would actually make some sense.  Chinese netizens are already unhappy that this will distort the “true story of Confucius” but given that we have almost no reliable information on his life I suppose they will just be making things up. A life of idealism, with brief and limited fame slowly being drowned in long, bitter dissapointment (without drugs, in his case) would seem about right. Maybe they will do a Han-type uncrowned King version of Big C? Get E. Bruce Brooks to consult? Who will play Yen Hui? Does Gong Li have to be in this one, and if so what does she play?


Management by Hard Liquor

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:33 pm Print

A description of the administrative methods of the Han Dynasty chancellor Cao Shen

Day and night he drank strong liquor. Everyone from the aristocratic high officials to his own lowly clerks and retainers saw that Shen did not carry out his. duties. Everyone who came wanted to speak with him about it, but when they arrived Shen always offered them a cup of strong liquor. When, after a short while, they said they had something to say, he offered them more. Only once they were drunk did they leave, having spent the whole time unable to bring up the subject.” 日夜飲醇酒。卿大夫已下吏及賓客見參不事事,來者皆欲有言。至者,參輒飲以醇酒,閒之,欲有所言,復飲之,醉而後去,終莫得開說為常

This is a nice illustration1 of Early Han ideas of government by non-action (無為). It is a nice story one because it makes it easy to tell if students have done their reading. (Class, does anyone remember the story about Cao Shen?) It is also about the ultimate example of how a bureaucratic government should work. As Cao Shen put it. “Since someone who had virtue and was well-respected made
the rules and put the entire kingdom in such a good shape, if we just follow the rules and do not alter the principles, then the kingdom is easy to manage and everyone can relax and enjoy life.” The only people who can goof it up are the busybodies who keep messing with things. Fortunately a bottle in the filing cabinet can deal with them.

  1. from Csikszentmihalyi, Mark. Readings in Han Chinese Thought. Hackett Publishing Company, 2006.


You are nimble in warfare!

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:16 pm Print

Two Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, both dating from around 850 B.C. and describing the war against the Xianyun1

It was the ninth month, first auspiciousness, wushen-day (no. 45), Boshi said:

“Buqi, the Border Protector! The Xianyun broadly attacked Xiyu, and the king commanded us to pursue to the west. I came back to send in the captives. I commanded you to defend and to pursue at Luo, and you used our chariots sweepingly attacking the Xianyun at Gaoyin; you cut off many heads and took
many prisoners. The Rong greatly gathered and followed chasing you, and you and the Rong greatly slaughtered and fought. You have done well, and have not let our chariots get trapped in difficulty. You captured many, cutting off heads and taking prisoners.”

Boshi said: “Buqi, you young man! You are nimble in warfare; [I] award you one bow, a bunch of arrows, five households of servants, ten fields of land, with which [you are] to take up your affairs.” Buqi bowed with [his] head touching the ground, [and extols the] the beneficence. [Buqi] herewith makes for my august grandfather Gongbo and Mengji [this] sacrificial gui-vessel, with which to entreat much good fortune, longevity without limits, and eternal pureness without end. May [my] sons’ sons and grandsons’ grandsons eternally treasure and use [it] in offerings.


It was in the tenth month, because the Xianyun greatly arose and broadly attacked Jingshi, [it] was reported to the king. The king commanded Duke Wu: “Dispatch your most capable men and pursue at Jingshi!” Duke Wu commanded Duoyou: “Lead the ducal chariots and pursue at Jingshi!”

On the guiwei (no. 20) day, the Rong attacked Xun and took captives. Duoyou pursued to the west. In the morning of the jiashen (no. 21) day, [he] struck [them] at Qi. Duoyou had cut off heads and captured prisoners to be interrogated: in all, using the ducal chariots to cut off 2 [X] 5 heads, to capture 23 prisoners, and to take 117 Rong chariots; [Duoyou] liberated the Xun people captured [by the Xianyun].
Furthermore, [Duoyou] struck at Gong; [he] cut off 36 heads and captured 2 prisoners and took 10 chariots. Following [the Xianyun], [Duoyou] pursued and struck at Shi; Duoyou again had cut off heads and taken prisoners. Thereafter, [Duoyou] rapidly pursued [them] and arrived at Yangzhong; the ducal chariotry cut off 115 heads and captured 3 prisoners. It was that [they] could not capture the [Rong] chariots; they burnt [them]. And it was their (the Xianyun’s) horses that they wounded gravely. [Duoyou] recaptured the Jingshi captives.

Duoyou contributed the captured, the heads, and the prisoners to the duke, and Duke Wu then contributed [them] to the king. [The king] therefore addressed Duke Wu and said: “You have pacified Jingshi; [I] enrich you and award you lands.” On the dingyou (no. 34) day. Duke Wu was in the Xian-hall [He] commanded Xiangfu to summon Duoyou, and [Duoyou] entered the Xian-hall. The duke personally addressed Duoyou and said: “I initially assigned [you the task], and you have done well! [you] did not disobey, but have accomplished [the deed and] taken many captives. You have pacified Jingshi. [I] award you one jade tablet, one set of bells made in finest bronzes and one hundred  jun of the jiaoyou copper.” Duoyou dares to respond to the duke’s beneficence, and herewith makes [this] sacrificial ding-vessel, with which to entertain friends; may my sons’ sons and grandsons’ grandsons eternally treasure and use it!2

This semester I am only teaching three classes, one section of East Asia History, one of Early China, and an Honors College class the first part of which is about ancient Chinese bronzes. So I have been going over some of the same things at three different speeds with three (mostly) different groups of students. This would seem to be a situation that is ripe for all sorts of profound insights. Sadly, I do not have too many.3 Teaching Early China has changed a lot since I was a kid, in part because of all the archeological work that has been done since 1976. Pre-Han stuff used to centered on the philosophers and their (fairly disembodied) debates, in large part because philosophical texts were about all we had. When Fairbank and Twitchett first started the Cambridge History of China project (back in the 1960′s) they deliberately left out the Pre-Qin period on the grounds that “It may well be another decade before it will prove practical to undertake a synthesis of all these new discoveries that will have lasting value. ”4 The Cambridge History of Ancient China, which came out in 1999 was intended to remedy this problem. In the last 30-odd years not only have we made a lot of progress in understanding classical texts but there has been a huge amount of progress in understanding the social and political systems of the Shang and Zhou in large part becuse of archeological evidence like the above. It used to be pretty much impossible to discuss the actual workings of Zhou feudalism with students, or to have a meaningful debate on the validity of  “feudalism” as a concept in China, or to do lots of other stuff. Textbooks have not really caught up with this, but it is getting easier and easier for even non-specialists to teach Early China.

  1. from Li Feng Landscape and Power in Early China []
  2. Zhou bronze inscriptions sound a lot like blog posts []
  3. One is that if you are teaching similar courses in the same semester you should try to at least get them scheduled for different rooms, which might reduce the number of times you end up asking the students if you have gone over this point with them before. []
  4. General Editor’s Preface []


Meet the meat

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:39 am Print

Foreigners have two contradictory images of “Chinese men”. One is the effeminate scholar with long fingernails and the other is the kung fu dude. This actually parallels real Chinese culture pretty well, where there has long been a tension between literati culture and the world of rivers and lakes.
Lu Buwei11 4/4 has a nice story to illustrate both literati fascination and contempt with the heroic redressers of wrongs..

Among those fond of bravery in Qi, there was one man who lived in the eastern part of the city and another who lived in the western part. Eventually they met on the road and said, “Shall we have a drink together?” After several rounds, they said, “Shall we look for some meat?” One of them said, “You are meat and I am meat. Why should we go seek meat elsewhere?” They thereupon soaked each other in sauce, then pulled out their knives and ate one another, stopping only when they had fallen over dead. It would be better to lack bravery than to practice this sort of bravery.

not much else to say, really.


The origins of World Beat (Lu Buwei on music)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:52 am Print

I’ve been talking about rites and music in Xunzi. To sort of finish off I want to look at some stuff from Lu Buwei. For those of you who don’t know the text, Annals of Lu Buwei is a late Warring States encyclopedic text that includes a little bit of everything and is a one stop shop for cool stuff about Warring States philosophy.

Of course there is a lot on music in here, especially in chapter six, where the origins of different regional musics are described.

Once when Kongjia, a sovereign of the house of Xia, was hunting at Mount Fu in Dongyang, there was a great wind and the sky darkened. Kongjia, lost and confused, entered the house of a commoner. At that very moment the woman of the house was giving birth. Someone said, “When the sovereign comes, it is a lucky day. Your son is certain to enjoy extraordinarily good fortune.” Another person said, “He is not equal to it. Your son is certain to suffer some catastrophe.” The sovereign thereupon seized the child and returned home with him, saying, “If I make him my son, who will dare harm him?” When the boy grew to maturity, it happened that a tent shifted, causing its supporting post to split, and a falling ax chopped off his foot. The boy was fit only to become a gatekeeper. Kongjia cried, “Alas! Suffering affliction is a matter of fate after all!” He then composed the song entitled, “Grinding an Ax.” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the eastern style.

While inspecting his work for controlling the floods, Yu saw a girl at Mount Tu; but before he could formally propose to her, he left to make a tour of inspection of the southern lands. The girl ordered a slave to spy on Yu at the southern slopes of Mount Tu. The girl then composed a song that went, “Spying on a man, ah!” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the southern style. The Dukes of Zhou and of Shao selected from these tunes the airs that came to be known as “Zhou nan” and “Shao nan”

King Zhao of Zhou personally led an attack of chastisement against Chu. Xin Yumi, who was both tall and very strong, was on the king’s right. On the way back, while they were crossing the Han River, the bridge collapsed. Both the king and the Duke of Cai were tossed into the river. Pulling the king, Xin Yumi crossed to the north bank. Then he went back to pull out the Duke of Cai. The Duke of Zhou then enfeoffed Xin Yumi as a marquis in the region of the West Di barbarians and thus he became senior duke among the feudal lords. When Zhengjia of the Yin dynasty moved to West of the River, he still missed his old home, and as a result created tunes in the western style. The senior duke continued to write these tunes when he resided in the western mountains. When Duke Mu of Qin collected these airs, it marked the beginning of the tunes of Qin.

The head of the Song barbarians had two lovely daughters and built the Terrace of Nine Tiers for them to live in. They had to have music played whenever they ate or drank. The Supreme Sovereign ordered a swallow to spy on them. Its cry sounded like “jik-rik” Loving this, the two girls struggled to catch the swallow. Putting it in a jade canister, they would take it out to look at it for a short time. The swallow, having laid two eggs, flew off to the north, never to return. The two girls wrote a song, with a refrain that went, “Swallow, swallow, flew away.” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the northern style.

As a general rule, runes are products of the heart and mind of man. When feelings are aroused in the heart, they are expressed in melody. Melody that takes shape without is a transformation of what is within. This explains how one knows the customs of a people from hearing their music. By examining their customs, one knows their intentions. By observing their intentions, one knows their Powers. Whether a person is ascending or declining, worthy or unworthy, a gentleman or a petty man is given visible form in music and cannot be hidden. Hence, it is said, “What is visible in music is profound indeed!”

To me this is yet another reason why music is the better part of Rites and Music. Music is more universal. Although some texts suggest that different dynasties had different rites they certainly don’t vary by region or the quality of the individual. You could not tell much about a person from their ritual behavior. They either kept up the rites or they did not. Outsiders either adopted Chinese rites or they did not. How boring.

Music is far more expressive and interesting. You can tell a lot about a man or a state by its music, just as you could laterd by their calligraphy. Rites don’t give you much to think about, but music does. As a historian when I teach about Rites and Music I tend to focus on rites, since in the Shang and Early Zhou it was ritual that mattered in creating the state and the elite, but I am starting to think I should talk more about music going forward.


Contra Hip-Hop (Xunzi on Music)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:11 am Print

As I discussed last time, Xunzi clearly saw ritual as important, but important in very different way from his predecessors. Yes, a gentleman should perform rituals as if he was actually serving the dead, but he should not think he was actually interacting with ‘real’ beings. That type of talk was for commoners. Of course it was also for the Shang kings, who’s power came explicitly from their ability to use ritual to interact with and get favors from the ancestors and the powers. So for Xunzi ritual still matters, but not in the all-encompassing magical way it did before.

To find the real magic in Rites and Music in Xunzi you need to look at Music, which is Chapter 20. Here we do find a transcendent magical thing that can change the world. You can see this in at least two ways. One is that music is dangerous if you get it wrong. Bad music is connected to a bad age and seems to help make it bad.

The influence of music and sound on man is very profound, and the transformations they produce in him can be very rapid. Thus, the Ancient Kings were assiduous in creating proper forms. …. If music spoils and seduces toward wickedness, then the people will become dissipated and indolent and will be mean-spirited and base. Where they are dissipated and indolent, there is disorder; where they are mean-spirited and base, there is conflict. Where there is disorder and conflict, the army is weak and the city walls are broken through, so that enemy states can threaten the existence of the state. When this situation prevails, the Hundred Clans feel insecure even in their own homes, are
discontent with their native villages, and are dissatisfied with their superiors. Thus, casting aside ritual and music and allowing evil songs to develop is the root of danger and territorial encroachment for the country and of insult and dishonor for the ruler. Thus, the Ancient Kings esteemed ritual and music and despised evil songs.

If people are exposed to bad music the effects are….bad

Men wear brightly colored clothing; their demeanor is softly feminine; their manners are lascivious; their minds are bent on profit; their conduct lacks consistency; their music is wicked; and their patterns and decorations are gravely in error and gaudy.1 They nurture the needs of the living without measure, but they send off their dead in a niggardly manner and with blackly impure principles. They despise ritual and moral principles, and prize instead valor and feats of strength. When they are poor, they become robbers; when they are rich, they become predators. An orderly age is the opposite of this.

The stuff about those kids today and their music goes back farther than you might have thought. The big difference from rites is that music is actually dangerous. Mis-perform a rite and nothing happens.2 Play bad music and the world is disordered. You can sort of see this in the status of people who do these things. In Xunzi (and Lu Buwei, who I am also reading right now) music masters seem to be people of considerable stature, while the guy who checks to see if you have the right kind of vessels out for a ritual is some sort of underling.

Next Lu Buwei on music and the other way it is magical. (Bet you can’t wait)

  1. Who understands those rap guys anyway? []
  2. In fact I’m not sure you can mis-perform a rite for Xunzi. If the point is to appear gravely sincere as long as you screw up with dignity you should be fine. []


Xunzi on ritual

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:16 am Print

Next semester I will be teaching about ritual, so I have been reading Xunzi on ritual and music. I’ve been using the Knoblock translation, which is wonderful.  (Chinese Text project has the Chinese) Xunzi is always good to use when teaching about classical ideas, since he was the last of the Big Three classical philosophers and he also tends to write in complete essays.  Xunzi was quite interested in ritual and music, in part because he was a Ru and in part because the value of  ritual and music were under attack by Mo-zi and others. 19.11 gives a wonderful defense of the role of ritual as a method of externalizing emotion. Its a long quote, but better than my commentary so I reproduce it in full and welcome any comments about teaching it.


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