An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yueshu 樂書

Dec 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

There are two books with the title Yueshu 樂書 "Book of music", the first one written by Xin Dufang 信都芳 (mid-7th cent., courtesy name Yulin 玉琳), and the second, a kind of encyclopaedia, by Chen Yang 陳暘 (10641128, courtesy name Jinzhi 晉之). Yueshu is also the title of a treatise on music (24) in the universal history Shiji 史記.

Xin Dufang was an excellent mathematician. He became a retainer of Yuan Yanming 元延明 (484-530), the Prince of Anfeng 安豐王, together with whom he collected ancient texts on music and commented on them. When the Prince had to flee for political reasons, Xin Dufang continued this work and compiled the book Yueshu. According to the bibliographic chapter Jingji zhi 經籍志in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書, this Yueshu was 7-juan long, but the bibliographical chapters in the histories Jiutangshu 舊唐書 and Xintangshu 新唐書 speak of 9 juan. The book thereafter was lost, but twelve fragments were collected by Ma Guohan 馬國翰 (1794-1857) from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) encyclopaedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽. One fragment deals with pitchpipes, one with ancient music, and the rest with musical instruments. They are included in Ma Guohan's collectaneum Yuhanshanfang jiyi shu 玉函山房輯佚書.

Chen Yang's Yueshu was finished in 1101, after forty years of compilation. It is a sister-book to the Lishu 禮書, a compilation by Chen Yang's elder brother Chen Xiangdao 陳祥道 (1053-1093), who had originally been entrusted with the compilation of the Yueshu, but was overburdened with the two books. The Yueshu was first printed in 1199. It is 200-juan long and has a special index of 20 juan. In the first half (juan 1-95, entitled Xunyi 訓義) the author quotes extensively from the Confucian Classics about the Confucian theory and idea of music. Chen Yang annotated and explained each paragraph. The second half of the book (96-200, entitled Yuetulun 樂圖論) presents his own theory of music, with an in-depth explanation of the construction and functioning of the pitchpipes (lülü 律呂), the musical keys (gongdiao 宮調), musical forms (yuezhang 樂章) through the ages, dance, play (baixi 百戲), musical instruments, the composition of music and its use for certain court and sacrificial rituals, and the music of the "barbarian" peoples. Musical instruments are divided according to two different criteria, here the environment of their use (yabu 雅部 "instruments for elegant performances", hubu 胡部 "instruments of the barbarians", and subu 俗部 "instruments of the common folks"), and there, on a lower level, according to the material (called bayin 八音 "eight types of tone", namely metal, stone, earth, leather, silk, bamboo, gourd, and wood). The whole section describes 462 musical instruments and is richly illustrated. Also in this part, Chen quotes from older texts, and was therefore highly admired by the bibliographer Chen Zhensun 陳振孫 (Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題). Unfortunately the text includes quite a few errors, so that the original texts have to be used with great care.

Chen Yang's Yueshu is the oldest surviving complete text on musical theory in China, except for the Huangyou xinyue tuji 皇祐新樂圖記 that also dates from the Song period. The scholarly value of the Yueshu is therefore very high. Lou Yue 樓鑰 (1137-1213) wrote a critical commentary on the book called Yueshu zhengwu 樂書正誤. Chen Yang's Yueshu is to be found in the imperial collectaneum Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

Dai Ning 戴寧 (1996). "Yueshu 樂書", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Yishu 藝術卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 68.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 628.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1987). Jianming Zhongguo guji cidian 簡明中國古籍辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 263.
Zhao Hankun 趙含坤, ed. (2005). Zhongguo leishu 中國類書 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe), 92.

Further reading:
Filipiak, Yu (2015). Chen Yangs Darstellung der "barbarischen" Musikinstrumente im Buch der Musik (Yueshu): Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung des Musiklebens am Kaiserhof der Song-Dynastie (960-1279) (Großheirath: Ostasien Verlag) [with translation of the chapters on "barbarian" musical instruments].
Miao Jianhua 苗建华 (1992). "Chen Yang Yueshu chengshu niandai kao 陈旸《乐书》成书年代考", Yinyue yanjiu 音乐研究, 1992/3.
Shan Lei 单蕾 (2008). "Qingdai yiqian cunjian de Chen Yang Yueshu banben zhuangkuang 清代以前存见的陈旸《乐书》版本状况", Zhongguo yinxuexue 中国音乐学, 2008/1.
Xu Zaiyang 许在扬 (2008). "Chen Yang ji qi Yueshu yanjiu zhong de yi xie wenti 陈旸及其《乐书》研究中的一些问题", Huangzhong (Wuhan yinyue xueyuan xuebao) 黄钟(武汉音乐学院学报), 2008/2.
Zheng Changling 郑长铃 (2005). "Zai tianye zhong zoujin Chen Yang: Guanyu Chen Yang ji qi Yueshu yanjiu de minzu yinyuexue fangfa xuanze yu sikao 在田野中走近陈旸——关于陈旸及其《乐书》研究的民族音乐学方法选择与思考", Zhongguo yinyuexue 中国音乐学, 2005/4.