An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yueji 樂記

Oct 7, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Yueji 樂記 "Record of music" is transmitted as a chapter of the Confucian Classic Liji 禮記. The art of music was seen as one of the "six arts" (liuyi 六藝), five of which are reflected in the Five Classics (divination in the Yijing 易經, political instructions in the Shangshu 尚書, poetry and songs in the Shijing 詩經, proper conduct in the ritual books, and historiography in the Chunqiu 春秋), while no separate text exists for music.

The Yueji was brought into the present shape by the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) bibliographer Liu Xiang 劉向 (77-6 BCE). The bibliographic chapter Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 says that during the time of Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), Prince Xian of Hejian 河間獻王 had ordered his retainers to assemble information on the performance of music as described in ancient texts. The result was the book Yueji that was later preserved by Wang Ding 王定, vice chamberlain for the capital (? neishicheng 內史丞), and which then found its way into the hands of Liu Yu 劉禹, Prince of Zhongshan 中山, who compiled an enlarged version, in which he explained the meanings of the different paragraphs.

The result was a 24-juan long book called Wang Yu ji 王禹記 "Record of Prince Yu". At the time when Liu Xiang revised the Yueji it included 23 chapters. The Liang-period 梁 (502-557) writer Shen Yue 沈約 (441-513) said that the Yueji was part of the book Gongsun Nizi 公孫尼子 (Gongsun Ni, early 4th century BCE, was a disciple of Confucius), a statement that is confirmed in the Zhengyi 正義 commentary on the history book Shiji 史記. It is also known that the Former Han-period version inspected by Liu Xiang included a chapter called Dou Gong 竇公 (the name of a music master) that had originally not been part of the Gongsun Nizi.

The received version in the Liji has eleven chapters with implicit titles, while of twelve more chapters nothing but the titles have survived.

Table 1. Parts of the Yueji 樂記
樂本 Yueben The foundations of music
樂論 Yuelun Discussion on music
樂施 Yueshi The outcome of music
樂言 Yueyan Talking about music
樂禮 Yueli Music and ritual
樂情 Yueqing The expressions of feelings in music
樂化 Yuehua The change by music
樂象 Yuexiang The manifestation of music
賓牟賈 Binmou Jia Binmou Jia
師乙 Shi Yi [Music]-master Yi
魏文侯 Wei Wenhou Marquis Wen of Wei
Titles of chapters that are not preserved: 奏樂 Zouyue, 樂器 Yueqi, 樂作 Yuezuo, 意始 Yishi, 樂穆 Yuemu, 說律 Shuolü, 季劄 Jizha, 樂道 Yuedao, 樂義 Yueyi, 昭本 Zhaoben, 招頌 Zhaosong, 竇公 Dou Gong

Fragments of texts called Yueji that have lived on as quotations in many books were collected by Ma Guohan 馬國翰 (1794-1857). He assumes that the chapter on music in the book Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 (Jixia ji 季夏紀, section Yinlü 音律), is a fragment of the original Yueji. His collected fragments are included in the reprint series Yuhanshanfang jiyi shu 玉函山房輯佚書.

When Confucianism became a state doctrine (circa 100 BCE), musical theory in the form of the text Yueji acquired a canonized status, but only as part of the ritual Classic Liji. The earliest commentator of the Liji, and hence of the Yueji, was Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200 CE), and the second great exegete was the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) scholar Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574-648).

The compilation history of the Yueji is as complex as that of the Liji collection itself (Cook 1995: 3-10). The authors of the Yueji were Confucian scholars of different generations—from the early 4th to the 1st century BC—, among which Gongsun Ni, Xun Kuang 荀況 (Xunzi 荀子, c. 210-c. 235 BC), and Liu De 劉得 (d. 129 BC) were the most important.

The Yueji is one of the oldest fully preserved writings that present a coherent theory of music, with a focus on psychology (DeWoskin 1982: 91). To some extent, the Yueji derives from the chapter Yuelun 樂論 ("About music", ch. 20) of the Confucian collection Xunzi , which is attributed to Xun Kuang and whose genuine components (to which the music chapter belongs) originate from the early 3rd century BC (Riegel 1993: 295). Xun Kuang sees music as a functionally ordering, but also enriching element of society, in opposition to the purist Mo Di 墨翟 (Mozi 墨子, late 5th century BC), who wanted to abolish music.

Music is in the Yueji associated with three areas, namely the individual, the state, and the cosmos. The central theorem of the text Yueji is that sounds or modulations arose from the mind (Legge 1885: 92) and that music, just like the human voice, was an expression of the affections of the mind. Similarly, the ceremonial music of a state was always an expression of its inner constitution (Legge 1885: 94).

It was the duty of the state to assimilate the minds of the people (Legge 1885: 93) with the help of rituals, propriety, music, commandments and punishments, each according to need. The five tones of the pentatonic scale correlatively represented the functional parts of society: ruler, ministers, the people, affairs [of the sovereign] and things [used by the state and the people] (Legge 1885: 94). The individual state of these functional parts determined the purity of the pentatonic scale. The types of musical instruments corresponded to governmental devices: the bell to signals, the chime to exercise of discrimination, the string instruments to purity and fidelity, the bamboo to the assembly, and drums to movement (Legge 1885: 120).

It is said that the ancient kings created the rules of propriety, as well as music in order to rhythmically structure human life. Propriety was believed to regulate the requirements of humanity (Legge 1885: 97), while music brought harmony into the sounds of the folks, for in the course of listening, music caused reverential union of individuals and promoted concord (Legge 1885: 128). The highest perfection in music was not in the highest splendour of tones, but rather in its lightness and simplicity (Legge 1885: 95). Each dynasty therefore created its own music to determine political and social order (Legge 1885: 101-102), and for this reason regularized the tuning of pitch pipes and thus created harmony (Legge 1885: 118). The basic idea was that music and ritual pantomimic dances could improve the disposition of the people by reflecting the model character of the ruler in the sounds of music (Legge 1885: 107-108, 122-123, 129). "The disposition of the people" meant to keep to the social hierarchies (Legge Legge 1885: 109, 115).

Order in society, on the other hand, was seen as a reflection of nature, where all phenomena recur cyclically. The fine and distinct tones resembled Heaven, the ample and grand the earth, the end and the beginning of music the four seasons, and the five tones the five colours (Legge 1885: 111). If a great ruler promoted custom and music, heaven and earth would make their powers stronger, heaven and earth would unite, and lush herbs and trees sprouted (Legge 1885: 115).

The two texts Yuelun (Xunzi chapter) and Yueji (Liji chapter) integrate the music into a cosmology (Legge 1967: XLIV) and explain it as an expression of joy (with a homographic pun in which the character for "joy" (le /lɑk/ 樂) is the same as that for "music" (yue /ŋɔk/). Music stands side by side with the formal rituals, and in this combination, music (yue) regulates man's emotions, while ritual / custom (li 禮) standardizes his desires; Music stands for the central Confucian term of humanity (ren 仁), and rite for the fulfillment of duties (yi 義) (DeWoskin 2002: 98). Both in combination (li-yue 禮樂) were "twin arts" (Legge 1967: XLI; see also six arts). Music was thus not only passionately expressive, but, like the decency rules of the rite, it also acts normatively by restraining passion.

In the pantomimic depictions of paradigmatic events in history, exemplary leadership was allegorically enhanced and stimulated imitation in the hearts of sovereigns. Moreover, the Yueji was the first text in which music was seen as a means of reflecting the hierarchical order of society. While Master Xun still apologetically defended the higher purpose of music as something without which man could not be (Köster 1967: 261), music was in the Yueji seen as an integral part of state rituals, in which the individual subordinated himself to the social hierarchy. Music was considered as a functional link between state and society, in other words, it was a "symphony" conducted by the prince (DeWoskin 2002: 99).

The relationship between man and music is a "sympathetic resonance" (DeWoskin 1982: 97) whose agents and objects can change dialectically depending on the situation (Cook 1995: 13). Music had to perform a social "order" in order not to become a kind of "anti-music" (Unmusik) which would be the "result of perverted tonal and thus state order" (Middendorf 2005: 109). Order could also be achieved through music in a cosmic sense if ceremonial music was tuned in response to seasonal phaenology (Brindley 2012: 159), drawing from nature and directing it (Cook 1995: 13). In this way, music served less to please the individual aesthetically, but rather to purposefully cultivate and spiritually motivate individuals and society (Cook 1995: 12; Brindley 2012: 160; Liu 2014: 230). A musician would thus be able to ultimately show his genuine and natural feelings (Cook 1995: 15), and his oeuvre would act as a guide to moral action (Liu 2014: 236).

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Cook, Scott (2002). "Yue ji—Record of Music: Introduction, Translation, Notes, and Commentary", Asian Music, 62/2: 1-96.
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Further reading:
Brindley, Erica Fox (2006). "Music and 'Seeking One's Heart-Mind' in the 'Xing Zi Ming Chu'", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 5/2: 247–255.
Brindley, Erica Fox (2012). Music, Cosmology, and the Politics of Harmony in Early China (Albany: State University of New York Press).
DeWoskin, Kenneth J. (1982). A Song for One or Two: Music and the Concept of Art in Early China (Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan).
DeWoskin, Kenneth J. (1983). "Early Chinese Music and the Origins of Aesthetic Terminology", in Susan Bush und Christian F. Murck, ed. Theories of the Arts in China (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 187-214.
DeWoskin, Kenneth J. (2002). "Chinese Philosophy and Aesthetics", in Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru und J. Lawrence Witzleben, ed. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 7, East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea (New York/London: Routledge), 97-104.
Liu, Johanna (2014). "Art and Aesthetics of Music in Classical Confucianism", in Vincent Shen, ed. Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy (Dordrecht/New York: Springer), 227-244.
Marchev, Robin P. (1982). Musik im alten China, translated and commented (Zürich: Stäubli).
Middendorf, Ulrike (2005). "Thematische Progression: Verkettung, Konnexität und Hierarchien musikalischer, emotionspsychologischer und staatsphilosophischer Konzepte im Yueji (Aufzeichnungen über die Musik)", Bochumer Jahrbuch zur Ostasienforschung, 29: 79-123.
Perkins, Franklin (2017). "Music and Affect: The Influence of the Xing Zi Ming Chu on the Xunzi and Yueji", Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 16/3: 325-340.
Riegel, Jeffrey K. (1993). "Li chi", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts. A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China), 293-297.
Wilhelm. Richard (1981). Li Gi: Das Buch der Riten, Sitten und Gebräuche (München: Diederichs) [Jena: Diederichs, 1930].
Cai Zhongde 蔡仲德 (1999). "Xunzi Yuelun yu Yueji 《荀子·樂論》與《樂記》", Wenshi zhishi 文史知識, 1999/9.
Hao Mingchao 郝明朝 (2004). "Liji Yueji fei Wang Yu ji kao 《礼記·樂記》非《王禹記》考", Zhongguo wenhua yanjiu 中國文化研究, 2004/3.
Jin Zhong 金鐘 (1979). "Guanyu Gongsun Nizi de Yueji de duandai he pingjia wenti: Jian yu Yueji pizhuzhe shangque 關於公孫尼子的《樂記》的断代和評價問題——兼與《樂記》批注者商榷", Renwen yinyue 人民音樂, 1979/7.
Sun Xingqun 孫星群 (2005). "Yueji chengshu yu Zhanguo zhongqi de lizheng: Yi Hubei Guodian Chumu zhujian wei ju 《樂記》成書于戰國中期的力證——以湖北郭店楚墓竹簡為據", Tianjin Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao 天津音樂學院學報, 2005/3.
Yang Helin 楊合林 (2011). "Liji Yueji yu Shiji Yueshu dui du ji 《礼記·樂記》與《史記·樂書》對讀記", Wenxue yichan 文學遺產, 2011/1.
Yao Chunpeng 姚春鵬, Yao Dan 姚丹 (2011). "Cong Guodian Chujian zai lun Yueji chengshu niandai 從郭店楚簡單再論語《樂記》成書年代", Kongzi yanjiu 孔子研究, 2011/4.
Zhang Qiqun 章啓群 (2010). "Lun Yuelun yu Yueji de genben qubie: Jian lun zhanxingxue dui Xian-Qin rujia liyue sixiang de chongji yu zhenghe 論《樂論》與《樂記》的根本區別——兼論語占星學對於先秦儒家禮樂思想的衝擊與整合", Zhexue yanjiu 哲學研究, 2010/2.