Harmonism as an Alternative
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Harmonism as an Alternative

Keping Wang

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eBook - ePub

Harmonism as an Alternative

Keping Wang

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About This Book

This Key Concepts pivot considers the fundamental Chinese cultural ideal of harmony (hé/?). Historically originating from Confucianism, the concept of harmony sits at the heart of Chinese traditional culture, which is characteristically morality-based and harmony-conscious due to the central role of pragmatic reason and wisdom nurtured through Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism, Legalism and other schools of thought. This pivot delineates the rationale of the Chinese philosophy of harmony and its implications for modern social practices worldwide. It notably reexamines the relevance ofhé beyond the realm of philosophy, and how this concept can impact on modern day human relations, amongst individuals and families as well as on a wider societal scale. It explores how hé can affect perspectives on political interaction, international relations and human conflict, as well as the interaction between man and nature. Addressing the inevitable tension between theory and practice, this bookargues for the very real relevance ofhéin 21stcentury cultural, social, political and economic spheres in China and beyond.

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© Foreign Language Teaching and Research Publishing Co., Ltd. 2019
Keping WangHarmonism as an AlternativeKey Concepts in Chinese Thought and Culturehttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-3564-8_1
Begin Abstract

1. The Musical Mode

Keping Wang1
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China
Keping Wang


The musical mode of harmony is symbolic of political ideal and moral expectation altogether. Politics in ancient times would be schemed to resemble or interact with music in both representational and expressive aspects. Hence different forms of political practices were supposed to be embodied in different styles of music that were construed as echoing people’s feelings and responses to the social reality, the current governance, and the human condition in the main. Such embodiment would be specified in the varied changes of sounds and melodies.


Musical mode of harmonyMusicRitesSocial harmonyNatural harmonyMental harmony
End Abstract
Etymologically, the term “” that means harmony or concordance, in general, is spelt as “和” in Chinese character. The character itself comes from the old form “龢” () that is first inscribed on ancient bronze. “龢” () shares the same pronunciation with “和” (). Originally, the former is referred to a set of pipes as a musical instrument, and the latter to a kind of consonance produced by the chords of a musical instrument called small sheng. Since musical consonance is characteristic of modulation of sounds and voices, it leads to the notion of harmony that expresses certain tonal effect, human emotion and vicarious response. It is therefore asserted that music entails harmony by nature, and harmony in turn originates from music per se.
As is said in an ancient text, “When all kinds of musical instruments are arranged properly, they produce moderate and suitable sounds; when these sounds come out together, they produce harmony that coordinate the sounds; when these sounds are either low or high without interfering one another, they produce repose or peace”.1 Accordingly, “the normal property of music can be summed up in harmony”.2 That is, music can be defined in terms of harmony. Incidentally, the Chinese notion of qua harmony in this case is not all the same with the Greek idea of harmonia in spite of their overlapping resemblance in light of their constituents each, because the latter pertains to a musical mode varied in the Doric, Ionic, Lydian, and Phrygian styles as is self-evidently characterized by Plato and Heraclides.3
Then, compared with the origin of harmony as a concept, music came into being earlier. It could be traced back to the original character for yue (music) in the oracle bone inscriptions according to the most recent archaeological findings. The character was properly referred to the maturing of an ear of grain and related to the joyous celebration of agricultural harvests. Later it was applied to the emotion of joy and enthusiasm.4 The definition in the Shuo wen dictionary reads: “Music is the general term referring to the five tones and eight notes. [The character] resembles drums and a wooden bell stand”.5 According to the Treatise of Music (Yue lun) and the Record of Music (Ye ji):
Music is joy, an emotion which man cannot help but feel at times. Since man cannot help feeling joy, his joy must find an outlet in voice and an expression in movement…The former kings created the musical forms of the odes and hymns in order to guide it [disorder]. In this way they made certain that the voice would fully express the feelings of joy without becoming wild and abandoned, that the form would be well ordered but not unduly restrictive, that the directness, complexity, intensity, and tempo of the musical performance would be of the proper degree to arouse the best in man’s nature, and the evil and improper sentiments would find no opening to enter by.6
All the modulations of voice arise from the mind, all the various affections of the mind are produced by external things. 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.7
Interestingly, the Chinese words yue (樂 music) and le (樂 joy) are written with the same character. Both of their spelling are now simplified into 乐 that is pronounced as either yue or le, and used to mean either music or joy, according to the specific contexts. This coincidence is often exploited by early and modern writers on music. In addition, the term music implies musical performance and a kind of trinity, including singing, dancing and musical accompaniment altogether. The performance is not only related to but also an integrated part of rites as an outcome of the rites-music tradition. Hence it involves the number and ranks of singers and dancers who are holding in hands “the shields and axes” and wearing overhead “the plumes and ox-tails”. Moreover, music functions socially, morally, psychologically and aesthetically, so as to facilitate social order, cultivate humane virtue, and nourish emotional repose.
Hence, according to its origin and property, musical harmony features a unity in diversity from an artistic viewpoint. Moreover, it contributes to social, mental and natural harmony due to its multiple functions. This conduces to the musical mode of harmony as is revealed in Confucianism and Daoism in particular. First of all, this mode is symbolic of political ideal and moral expectation altogether. For politics in ancient times would be schemed to resemble or interact with music in both representational and expressive aspects. Different types of political practice were supposed to be embodied in different styles of music that were construed as echoing people’s feelings and responses to the social reality, the current governance, and the human condition in the main. Such embodiment would be specified in the varied changes of sounds and melodies. Traditionally, musical performance is assumed to facilitate social harmony when mingled with rites together. For this reason,
When music is performed in the ancestral temple of the ruler, and the ruler and his ministers, superiors and inferiors, listen to it together, there are none who are not filled with a spirit of harmonious reverence. When it is performed within the household, and father and sons, elder and younger brothers, listen to it together, there are none who are not filled with a spirit of harmonious kinship. And when it is performed in the community, and old people and young together listen to it, there are none who are not filled with a spirit of harmonious obedience. Hence music brings about complete unity and induces harmony.8
Corresponding to what is said above is a generalized statement in the Guo yu: “Government resembles music; music entails harmony; and harmony entails peace”.9 The statement exposes the connection between politics and music owing to its designed service in close connection with rites. As regards that “music entails harmony” in view of the three kinds of spirit of harmonious reverence, harmonious kinship and harmonious obedience, it is claimed to bear three levels of meaning at least. The first level indicates that music and rites are one and the same, because they go hand in hand and thus form the rites-music culture in ancient times. The second level denotes that music and rites are distinct, in that music uses the communication, coordination, and harmonization of collective emotions in order to achieve the above-mentioned goals. As an internal guide, it works to establish rationality and sociality in one sense, and in the other sense, it works to build human nature by moulding the temperament and shaping the emotions. Above all, it works along with the rites to attain a harmonious order that binds society together. The third level implies that music seeks not only the harmony of human relationships that keep in order the social members including superior and inferior, elder and younger, noble and base, but also the harmony between gods and spirits of the universe and the human wor...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Front Matter
  3. 1. The Musical Mode
  4. 2. The Cosmic Mode
  5. 3. The Generative Mode
  6. 4. The Synthetic Mode
  7. 5. The Reciprocal Mode
  8. 6. The Paradigmatic Mode
  9. 7. The Dialectic Mode
  10. 8. The Receptive Mode
  11. 9. The Sentimental Mode
  12. 10. Harmonism Versus Conflictism
  13. 11. Harmonism and Ecumenism
  14. 12. Harmonism and Neo-communitarianism
  15. 13. Harmony and Justice
  16. 14. The Harmonious Society in Question
  17. Back Matter