Tuesday, July 7, 2009

音乐:古代中国美学之灵魂 Music: The Soul of Ancient Chinese Aesthetics

If mathematics is the soul of ancient Greek aesthetics, then music is the soul of ancient Chinese aesthetics. This could due to the fact that Confucius himself was almost crazy about music. When he was pleased with the singing of someone he was with, for instance, he would always ask to have the song repeated and would join in himself. He was also good at playing musical instruments: playing qing at Wei, singing while playing zither, learning drumming from Xiangzi. And as is recorded in the Analects, when Confucius was in the State of Qi, he heard the music of Shao; he was so intoxicated with the sweetness of its tone that he for three months did not know the taste of flesh. ‘I did not think that music could have been made as excellent as this.’ he said. (7:13)
This Confucian doctrine of aesthetics is elaborated in Yue ji or Record of Music which is perhaps the most systematic literature on aesthetics in the tradition of Confucianism.
From the very beginning, Yue ji gives an explanation to the origination and function of music:
‘All the modulations of the voice arise from the mind, and the various affections of the mind are produced by things (external to it).
The affections thus produced are manifested in the sounds that are uttered. Changes are produced by the way in which those sounds respond to one another; and those changes constitute what we call the modulations of the voice. The combination of those modulated sounds, so as to give pleasure, and the (direction in harmony with them of the) shields and axes, and of the plumes and ox-tails, constitutes what we call music. Music is (thus) the production of the modulations of the voice, and its source is in the affections of the mind as it is influenced by (external) things.
When the mind is moved to sorrow, the sound is sharp and fading away; when it is moved to pleasure, the sound is slow and gentle; when it is moved to joy, the sound is exclamatory and soon disappears; when it is moved to reverence, the sound is straightforward, with an indication of humility; when it is moved to love, the sound is harmonious and soft. These six peculiarities of sound are not natural; they indicate the impressions produced by (external) things. On this account the ancient kings were watchful in regard to the things by which the mind was affected.
And so (they instituted) ceremonies to direct men’s aims aright; music to give harmony to their voices; laws to unify their conduct; and punishments to guard against their tendencies to evil. The end to which ceremonies, music, punishments, and laws conduct is one; they are the instruments by which the minds of the people are assimilated, and good order in government is made to appear.’

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