When Music and Ritual Ruled Chinese Society

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While analyzing China’s one-party Communist state where cultural and spiritual repression is enforced by official policing agencies and backed by the government’s propaganda mouthpieces, it’s important to remember that the arts were once pillars of Chinese society cultivated through thousands of years.

One of the five great Chinese scholarly works is considered to be the “Classic of Poetry,” a 3,000-year-old collection of lyrics and verses from the early Zhou Dynasty compiled by Confucius.

Confucius admired the Zhou dynasty for its virtuous governance, upright culture, and emphasis on Chinese ritual known as “Li.”

Li which embodies spirituality, etiquette and music is among the five cardinal virtues taught by Confucius.

Similar to how Western theater developed from ancient Greek festivals held in honor of the gods, Chinese etiquette and music originated from the religious rites meant to maintain bonds between humans and spiritual entities.

Music played a central role in these rites. By the time the Zhou Dynasty came to power, music and the arts were staples of high society. Children of aristocrats were expected to study classical music and dance from an early age.

It was this norm that appealed to Confucius. He believed leaders could create societies that promote harmony and heart while diminishing the need for strict laws and policing if they govern under the principles of Li.

According to the “Classic of Rites and Music,” people succumb to thoughts of greed and cruelty once lured by material wealth and gain. Thus, the kings cultivated music and ritual to regulate the heart. “Through ritual, human nature is preserved, through music, harmony is upheld.”




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