据说把礼节与乐（特别是音乐与书法）结合起来，在商朝（公元前1766-1122）就开始了。当时礼器以动物的形象来装饰，还铭刻了象形字 -- 书写文字的古老前身。所以中国美学理论的一个要点就是礼生乐。意思是从第一天开始，艺术品就为它的社区与国家服务。
It is said that the association of rituals and Chinese arts, music and calligraphy in particular, begin in the Shang Dynasty (1766 BC – 1122 BC), when ritual vessels were decorated with images of animals and inscribed with pictographs, the ancient precursors of written language. Therefore one salient feature of the Chinese aesthetic theory is that Rites gave birth to Arts. That means right from the beginning, art objects have always serve the interests of the communities and states that they inhabit.
Indeed, music is central to the Analects. Confucius uses music as a metaphor for a social arrangement kept in place by the observance of traditional li:
‘This much can be known about music. It begins with playing in unison. When it gets into full swing, it is harmonious, clear, and unbroken. In this way it reaches its conclusion.’ (3:23)
When a musical ensemble is playing well, it achieves unity and harmony effortlessly. No one has to be constrained or exhorted to play well or to combine his efforts with that of the group. Again, this is an image of a state of social harmony created by the observance of traditional rites. In such a state, no one has to be forced to act harmoniously with the whole; by virtue of one's participation in li, one is already in harmony. It has been well said that Confucius' political philosophy is essentially aesthetic, emphasizing a beautiful arrangement of traditional elements.
Xunzi has this to say about music and ritual:
Therefore when music is performed, the inner mind becomes pure; and when ritual is cultivated, conducted is perfected. The ears become acute and the eyes clear-sighted; the blood humour becomes harmonious and is balanced, manners are altered and customs changed. The entire world is made tranquil, and enjoys together beauty and goodness. Therefore it is said, ‘music is joy.’