Perfectly good?

子謂韶,「盡美矣,又盡善也。」謂武,「盡美矣,未盡善也。」
Confucius described the music of the Emperor Shun as being perfectly beautiful and perfectly good and the music of King Wu as being perfectly beautiful but not perfectly good.

The Emperor Shun was the legendary sage king of ancient China in the 23rd or 22nd century BC. He reportedly ruled for nearly fifty years after the previous ruler Yao had abdicated in favor of him because of his higher virtue. Confucius therefore judged his music (said by some sources to be some kind of orchestral ballet) to be “perfectly good” as well as “perfectly beautiful” because it reflected of the emperor’s fine moral character.

King Wu founded the Zhou dynasty after overthrowing the last Shang king Di Xin in the bloody battle of Muye in around 1046 BC. Although Di Xin was an evil king, Confucius still considered Wu’s victory as a rebellion against the legitimate ruler. Hence, he concluded that this music (believed to be a dance of conquest) was “perfectly beautiful but not perfectly good” because it reflected Wu’s questionable character.

No prizes for guessing what Confucius would think of today’s music and how it reflects the moral character of those playing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *