Tag Archives: Confucius on music

More than just jade and silk

Confucius said: “The rites, the rites, surely there is more to them than just jade and silk! Music, music, surely there is more to it than just bells and drums!”

Confucius regarded ritual ceremonies and music as the ultimate embodiment of civilization and tradition, and urged his contemporaries to treat them with due sincerity and respect. Continue reading More than just jade and silk

Best of breed

When Yan Hui asked how to govern a state, Confucius said: “Observe the calendar of the Xia Dynasty; ride in the chariot of Yin Dynasty; wear the ceremonial cap of the Zhou Dynasty. As for music, follow the Coronation Hymn of Shun and the Victory Hymn of Wu. Ban the music of Zheng. Stay away from smooth talkers. The music of Zheng corrupts. Smooth talkers are dangerous.”

Far from advising his favorite disciple Yan Hui to copy slavishly from the past, Confucius is telling him to adopt only the finest traditions and practices from previous dynasties. Continue reading Best of breed

Zilu rocks the house

Confucius said: “What is Zilu doing playing that type of music in my house?” The disciples began showing disrespect to Zilu. Confucius said: “Zilu may not have entered the inner chamber yet, but he has at least reached the reception hall.”

Although Confucius is irritated at Zilu for playing loud military music rather than peaceful, calming tunes, he doesn’t expect his disciples to overreact by showing their disrespect for their colleague. Continue reading Zilu rocks the house

A win-win situation


Confucius said: “It was only after I returned to Lu from Wei that the music was reformed and the court songs and sacrificial hymns put in the proper order.”

Confucius is probably referring to the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng), the oldest surviving collection of Chinese poetry and one of the “Five Classics” that became required reading for Chinese students for over 2,000 years. Continue reading A win-win situation

Rich and beautiful music


Confucius said: “What rich and beautiful music fills my ears when Zhi, the master of music, is conducting – right from the opening passage through to the finale of the Ospreys!”

I have commented on Confucius’s love of music before. Master Zhi was a famous court musician of the state of Lu; the Ospreys is the first poem in the Book of Songs. Continue reading Rich and beautiful music

Perfectly good?

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. Continue reading Perfectly good?

The music master

Confucius was talking about music with the music master of Lu. He said: “We can know this much about music: It begins with everyone trying to play together; when it gets in full swing it flows harmoniously, clearly, and continuously until it reaches the end.”

Confucius regarded music as being at the very apex of human civilization. Continue reading The music master