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Music in China can be traced back since the dawn of earliest Chinese civilization with artifacts providing enough evidence of a developed musical tradition even during the Zhou Dynasty, which notably existed from 1122BC to 256 BC. Even today, music in China continues to be a very important component that binds the community together and further continues to grow at a more contemporary form day after the other. The founder of music, according to Chinese mythology, was Ling Lun, who developed bamboo pipes that produced tunes like those of the birds. Music in the ancient Chinese community, as it can be perceived today, had many important functions. Other than entertaining the community, it also had the role of educating the society, warning against any impeding dangers, praising the rulers, advising and offering guidelines to the youngsters and in worshiping their gods. As such, music was one of the most treasured components in the community as it formed a part of the community-forming modules. It played a very great role of guiding people to the ethics of the community and reproving them. This document focuses on the explicit meaning of music in the ancient China by critically examining the various functions that were served by music and other ceremonies organized by ancient kings.

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Relationship between Music and the Mind

Confucius believed that all inflection of voice originates from the mind and that the different fondness of the mind is produced by external things. As such, affections are manifested through the sounds that are uttered through the mouth. Depending on the way those distinct sounds respond to each other, there are changes, which consecutively constitute the voice modulations. These modulations form music after they are combined harmoniously with an aim of giving pleasure. This drives to a general inference that music is production of distinct voice modulations, whose sources are the affections of the mind but it is highly influenced by the external things. Therefore, variations in the music sounds were dependant on the mood of the soloist and other external factors that were ambient during the performance period. For instance, when the state of the mind was sorrowful, then the resultant sound was likely to be sharp and fading away; when the sound was gentle and slow when the mind was moved to pleasure; when moved to joy, the sound was exclamatory; when agitated, the sound became fierce; when moved to reverence, the sound became straightforward associated with the virtue of humility; and finally when the mind was moved to love, a harmonious and a soft sound was produced.

Paying a closer attention of the above mentioned components of music, one can already realize that they were all produced by external things. This prompted the authorities in the ancient China to lay extra emphasis on the external things that had an influence on the mind. In order to achieve this, they planned ceremonies that would direct men towards the right direction, music was meant to ensure that there was harmony in their voices, laws to unite their behavior, and punishments were administered to dissuade people from indulging in evil. Since voices are determined by the state of the mind, it was very easy to tell the performance of the government by simple listening to people’s performance in music. According to the nature of voices during music, the authorities could detect areas that required adjustments. Necessary amendments could have been made to ensure that the society lived harmoniously.

Note Kung represented the king; Shang, the ministers; Kio, all the people; Kih, issues and you represented things. If these notes were projected regularly, then the interpretation was that there was total harmony in the entire state. Music is a distinct feature mainly found with the humans. This follows the notion that though animals know and can produce sounds, they cannot modulate it. This has the implication that it is only the superior men that would have understood music actually. This perception motivated people to learn and perfect music in order to be integrated with the rest of the community and to comfortably express their opinions through it. On this relation, it was important for everyone to single out sounds for the purpose of knowing the airs; airs to know music; and music to perceive the character of the government. This reveals that the ancient rulers were not interested in satisfying the desires of their eyes and ears, but their aim was to regulate their likes and dislikes and consecutively reframe them in the usual trend of humanity.

One’s personality is shaped by the external features that come into play after his or her birth and determines the development of the likes and desires of a person. The same case applies to knowledge, the more exposed an individual is, the more he or she is likely to acquire wisdom. Music manifests itself to be present in all humans from birth but constant interactions with the external factors influence its development. This best explains why people have different degrees of exposure and their mental capacities vary depending on their level of exposure (Mannes, 2011).

Kings in the ancient China instituted music and other ceremonies to help them discover the underlying requirements of humanity. The sackcloth that the parents wore, the weeping and wailing pronounced the mourning rites. Seasons of enjoyment and rest were announced by drums, shields, bells and axes. Capping, marriage and hair-pin assumptions enabled them to maintain the separations that ought to exist between males and females. Whereas the aim of music is similarity and union, difference and distinction are associated with the other ceremonies (Legge, 1966). When union is at hand, mutual affection is the result and when different and distinction are at play, mutual respect is evident.

Important Functions of Music in Ancient China

In ancient China, music was regarded as an important tool of shaping humanity. It was through music that the entire community would be partitioned into various groups that placed everyone in his or her respective position. Some people were regarded as superior men due to their conversant with the dance and others would be regarded as small men. Initially, music was intended to reward the most honorable among the feudal lords. Music was used to reward those, whose virtues were greater than the rest, their rules were adhered to, and all cereals got ready during their reign. As such, those who worked tirelessly for the well being of the other people became so popular, their rows of pantomimes were extended far, and those, who had been unresponsive to the people’s government had their rows made short (Online Library of Liberty, 2012).

In the daily life, cold and heat are expected to alternate at the appropriate intervals. This means that both cold and heat have to come at their proper seasons, failure to which illnesses may arise. Similarly, if wind and rain do not occur in their optimum seasons, there might be famine. The instructions of the authorities were assumed to be the heat and cold of the people; if they did not coincide with what was demanded by time, then the entire society was likely to get hurt. The superiors’ affairs were assumed to be the people’s cold and heat; in case they were not regulated aptly, then it was indubitable that there would never be success.

In order to abide with this notion, the ancient kings strove to harmonize their government with these rules, of heaven and earth, through music. If their endeavors were good, then the behavior of the people resembled that of their superiors. Though the feast on grain-fed animals was not intended to produce any evil, there were many evils that were evidenced due to excessive drinking. This later prompted the kings to fix rules that would control the people’s drinking behavior. This was achieved by providing one cup at a time to both the guest and the host, where both would bow down to each other, actually a hundred times, drank together and never got drunk hence preventing evil.

The wise people found pleasure in music and realized that it would be used to make other people’s hearts feel good. Due to the high influence that it had on people and its ability to promote proper behavior, kings constantly used it as a primary tool of instruction. Usually, there were both the energy of physical powers and intellectual intelligence of the mind in human beings. However, there was no standard rule for joy, pleasure, grief and anger as these components were determined by external objects, which appeal to different faculties of the mind. When the ruler’s objectives were small, the notes notably faded away quickly, and the thoughts of people were sad; when harmonious, generous and of a placid temper, notes were neat with frequent changes and the people got satisfied; when coarse, excitable and violent, the notes were full and bold all through the entire piece and the people would get resolute and daring; and when the ruler was strong, straightforward and correct, the notes expressed sincerity and the people got respectful and self-controlled.

Therefore, the ancient Chinese kings did not just take music for singing, but rather framed it in the nature and feelings of men. They were very observant on the notes and they measured the quality and length of each ensuring that it adhered to the intended meanings of ceremonies at hand. This made them be considered responsible for bringing harmony with the power that produces life. This harmoniously blended with the minds of men, and was later expressed in their performance. Every component was important in its own way and none of them injuriously blended with the rest. Schools were established to teach music and there were different grades for different learners.

Music was marked by small divisions and later condensed into smaller parts and discrepancies giving rise to vivid beauty and elegance. This was meant to increase as well as regulate the internal virtues of the learners. Laws were passed to all the people, both great and small, as per their name, but were harmonized from the beginning to the end in a manner that represented how things were to be done. Therefore, this  controlled covertly the nature of relationships that existed between near and distance relatives, young and the old, noble and the mean, males and females, to make them all appear distinctly in music. This enhanced healthy relationships in the entire society ensuring that everyone was aware of what was expected of him or her; the young respected the old, unhealthy sexual relationships were discouraged and generally morality was enhanced.

It is obvious that when the soil is worn out plants on it do not do well just like fish would never grow big in troubled waters. Similarly, in an age of chaos, music often became licentious and ceremonies were neglected and forgotten. During such instances, notes were glum though without gravity, or merry but without repose. This made people fall in a state of dissipation, which consequently made them forget the virtues that properly belonged to their nature. In great matters, people often became disloyal and evil; in smaller matters, they turned greedy and envious. There is a decreased level of endurance, gracious forces of nature, as well as an extermination of the virtue of contentment and accord. In such an instance, the Superior man loathed such styles of music and ceremonies.

Depending on the nature of the notes, men either got motivated or de-motivated; when the notes were correct, people adhered to the ruling of their leaders but when otherwise, there was disobedience and transgression of the already set rules and regulations. Hence, it was an obligation to the leaders to ensure that they played the correct notes as it would determine the people’s virtues. The superior men would embrace the good affections and harmonize them with the proper nature in order to perfect their conduct. They were also extra cautious not to allow their eyes or ears to get the evil and depraved notes. Corrupted ceremonies and wicked music was also to be prevented from getting into their minds and affect their power. Additionally, the spirit of depravity, idleness and perversity would never be tolerated in the mind of such people. This made such people to make their ears, nose, mouth and eyes apprehensions of their minds, and the distinct movements of their bodies follow the preset direction and only adhere to what was right avoiding any potential indulgence into evil.

The fact that music would have single-handedly been able to capture the attention of men to the extent that they would restrict themselves from listening, watching and entertaining laxity, reveal that music even today can be used to shape and train people towards the right direction. This can be done by ensuring that the words used in the songs has some considerate advice that would appeal to all people irrespective of their age, economic background, color and religious affiliations (Mannes, 2011). Kings should also strive to be good role models that can be emulated by the others. Above all, they should work tirelessly for the well-being of the entire society, and not for their personal benefits. This has the implication that they should ensure that there is harmony within the people and that they eliminate oppression and other immoral acts that are likely to affect the progress of the society. They ought to understand that through their actions, their subjects are likely to either be easier to rule or complicated.

When music had a full course, dissimilar relations were defined by it; the eyes and ears’ perception became sharper and unique; physical energies and the action of blood was pleasant and calm; awful influences were eliminated and conduct was changed; and there was relaxation all under the heaven. Therefore, music enabled superior men attain the courses, which they aspired to pursue. On the other hand, the smaller ones got an opportunity to obtain their desires. After the objects of desire got standardized by the consideration of the path to be pursued, joy was finally attained with no disorder. However, when the objects made contribute to the forgetfulness of the then preset course, then both joy and delusion were eliminated. This very reason made the superior men resume the favorable virtues with the aim of creating harmony and accord with the better deeds and the recommendable ways of the society. It additionally made them adhere to the regulations of music in order to make their instructions perfect. Incase music followed the right course, the entire society was able to show adherence and absolute submission to the authorities.

How Music Appeals To People’s Feelings

During music, people got an opportunity to express their feelings, which did not acknowledge any change; that is, those ceremonies that did not appeal to any alteration. Music united people through its power to embrace what all the involved people shared and distinguish ways that the involved people were different in. As such, music and ceremonies covered the entire nature of the human existence. Music was associated with the capacity of investigating the very root of people’s feelings and detected areas that were to be adjusted; ceremonies also helped in manifesting sincerity and unearthing any potential instances of hypocrisy. As a matter of fact, ceremonies and music were alike the nature of heaven and earth: penetrating the nature of spiritual intelligences, forcing down spirits from above, and uplifting those whose seats are below (Legge, 1966). This offered some sort of considerable embodiment of what was most delicate and regulated the activities between not only the father and the son, but also between the authorities and the subjects.

Bearing this in mind, everyone would expect heaven to expose the brilliant influences upon anyone, who exhibited and used their ceremonies and music. This would lead to a happy union and the natural energies in alternating expansion and contraction would automatically continue harmoniously. In the ancient Chinese, music was not just taken to mean the tones and the instruments used; rather, it was meant for the entire community and all that was involved in it, either directly or indirectly. It is for this reason that the entire idea of music was not taken for granted by the rulers as it enabled them to distinguish the superior from the inferior and the first from the last and take the necessary measures in their leadership. To ensure that this plan was successful, music was organized for the entire kingdom and everyone was expected to get involved irrespective of age, status or gender.

Since it was hard for the kings to detect the inward aspirations of their subjects, music helped them understand what the people would aspire to have since people would display their wants through music. Another major function of music was entertainment. Music was believed to bring pleasure to the people involved through the modulation of sounds, tonal variations and various body movements. Naturally, music is believed to enlighten dull days and to capture people’s attention into doing what is right (Mannes, 2011). In simpler terms, it is an accurate method of guiding people on the ways that they ought to follow in a more fascinating way and in an extra humane way.

The performers were able to entertain their audience and other times the audience was free to join to the dance. This created a free atmosphere where there were no restrictions of what was to be done and by whom. Such interactions reinforced people’s relationships and encouraged the people to live harmoniously with each other making leadership become easier. This is because whereas the rulers are encouraged to lead the people in a gentle manner without any partiality, the subjects are encouraged to be submissive to the authorities and give them the respect that they deserve.

It was also in music that the ancient Chinese rulers were able to give the expression of their joy, anger, irritation or discontentment to the public and the armies. This acted as a feedback to the audience and they would consecutively know what is expected of them and adjust respectively. The correct responses were also given to the leaders by the subjects: when they were joyful, everyone was expected to share the joy but when they were annoyed, then the disorderly and the oppressive feared them. It was believed that music had words that were necessary to everyone. Though the musicians could not have sorted the words for each person, everyone was expected to be attentive and listen to everything that he or she thought would have been of importance to him or to her. Depending on the nature of the message and the event, at which the music is being performed, then one would decide the most appropriate measure to take (Online Library of Liberty, 2012).

Following the fact that people were expected to ever be respectful to the authorities, those who disobeyed were punished severely in order to be an example to the rest. There were four areas that music was believed to have an effect upon. These were known commonly as “the fundamental principles of music”. Firstly, it was believed that music the character of music takes its character from the good or the bad perception of the human mind. As such, everyone would interpret it depending on the perception that he or she has in his or her mind as it is affected by other external components. The second principle is that the external components were determined by the mode of governance. Hence, if it is good then people’s perception will be good, but if bad, the perception will be otherwise. The fourth principle is that ceremonies and music by the ancient kings were organized in order to regulate the minds of men and control their likings and disliking. Finally, the regulations were accord to the will of Heaven as manifested in the nature of man. Punishments passed to the transgressors varied depending on the nature of the offence that one had committed. The five major punishments that were used by the ancient kings included chopping off the nose, branding on the forehead, castration, dismemberments and on the extremes death sentence would be passed over. Just like monstrous like the punishments sound, people feared being held as lawbreakers and they thus abided in the laws without any objection. The authorities also enjoyed a period of smooth ruling without cases of revolts.


Leadership in ancient China took a very different strategy as compared to contemporary society. Unlike today, when everyone believes that high educational achievements are key to proper governance, ancient kings believed that music was the only key factor that would lead to proper leadership. People were encouraged to participate in music as it was only through it that interactions between authorities and subjects would be made and communication made promptly. Through music, the rulers expressed their joy, annoyance, grief and contentment to the people and the armies. In case there were any warnings from the leaders, then the subjects would adjust appropriately, and if the rulers expressed joy, then it was considerably shared by the others throughout the entire territories. It was also through music that the leaders observed the response of the people and acquired the feedback to their leadership; if positive, they were convinced to continue but if negative, then they would make the appropriate adjustments. From the above observation, it can be generally inferred that for the smooth running of the ancient communities, the influence of music was mandatory.

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