Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa


  • Avital H. Rom (a1)

The Huainanzi text (淮南子 presented in 139 b.c.e. compiled by Liu An 劉安 179–122 b.c.e.), while defining itself as a political guide, is replete with references to Music (yue 樂) itself and music-related terms. While no chapter of the work’s twenty-one chapters is specifically dedicated to the subject of music, no single chapter of it is without musical references. This gives rise to the question: Which functions could music possibly have in such an overtly political text?

What this article will examine are the interactions between music and the social and political spheres in the Huainanzi. An analysis of the text’s musical references reveals an intriguing, multidimensional attitude toward music, touching upon moral discourse, discourse on political power, cosmological perceptions, and much more.

The article suggests a dual function of music in the text—on the one hand, music serves as a rhetorical tool for the authors of the Huainanzi, and on the other hand, it is a subject of discussion in its own right. For each of these functions of music, a model is proposed. The first model depicts the innovative musical conceptions of the Huainanzi; the second demonstrates how, through an analysis of musical references in the text, a model of sagely rulership is revealed. These models are illustrated and embodied in the human realm.


劉安(公元前 179–前 122)撰寫的《淮南子》(成書於公元前 139 年), 儘管基本上是討論政治思想的記載, 但是它包括許多關於“樂”的記錄以及音樂相關的文本。雖然全書二十一章裡沒有專門論述音樂的章節, 但是沒有一個章節是對音樂隻字未提的——由此引發了這樣的問題:在這樣的政治文本中, 音樂起到了什麼樣的作用呢?

本文旨在研究《淮南子》中體現的音樂和社會政治層面的相互影響, 通過分析書中與音樂相關的文本, 揭示了一個多元化的對待音樂的態度, 涉及了道德話語、政治權力話語、對宇宙的認知等諸多內容。

本文提出了《淮南子》文本中音樂的雙重功能:一方面,音樂是該書編著者們使用的一種修辭手段;另一方面, 音樂本身也是該書討論的一個主題。本文為上述兩種功能分別提出了模型,第一個模型闡釋了《淮南子》中創新性的音樂理念, 第二個是通過分析書中的音樂相關文本提出的賢明統治的模型。

Hide All

1. (Huainanzi, 20.825 “Tai zu” 泰族) see following footnote for reference method.

2. All the translations in the following article are my own work. In my translations of passages from the Huainanzi itself, I rely heavily on the 2010 translation by Major et al. See Major John et al. , trans. and eds., The Huainanzi: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Government in Early China (New York: Columbia University Press. 2010). Where my translation departs significantly from theirs, I footnote it and explain my choice of translation. As for Chinese texts: the Huainanzi passages are cited from Wendian Liu 劉文典, ed., Huainan honglie jijie 淮南鴻烈集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 2013), and are referenced in parentheses in the following manner: (Huainanzi, chapter number, “Chapter title”). Additional primary texts are footnoted individually for reference.

3. All specific years mentioned hereafter refer to Before the Common Era (b.c.e.).

4. The Xunzi itself seems to be praising music as a counter-reaction to Mozi’s 墨子 (c. 470–c. 391 b.c.e.) negation of it in his “Fei yue” 非樂 (“Negating Music”) chapter. Despite it being a negative allusion to the concept of music (see n. 24), it is an important one to consider, possibly being the very first Chinese political discussion specifically dedicated to the subject of music.

5. To quote but a few monographs commonly cited in this article: on cosmology in the text, see Major John S., Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought: Chapters Three, Four and Five of the Huainanzi (Albany: University of New York Press, 1993); on intellectual affiliation, rhetoric, text structure, and more: Queen Sarah A. and Puett Michael, eds., The Huainanzi and Textual Production in Early China (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2014); on rhetoric and the principle of resonance in the text: Charles Le Blanc, Huai Nan Tzu 淮南子: Philosophical Synthesis in Early Han Thought—the Idea of Resonance (Kan-Ying 感應) with a Translation and Analysis of Chapter Six (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1985).

6. English: Major et al., Huainanzi (see n. 2); French: Blanc Charles Le and Mathieu Rémi, eds., Philosophes Taoïstes, II, Huainan Zi (Paris: Gallimard, Collection Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2003).

7. Lothar von Falkenhausen presents a short survey of the evolution of early Chinese writings on music. See von Falkenhausen Lothar, Suspended Music: Chime-Bells in the Culture of Bronze Age China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 15 .

8. A brief survey of some of the musical references in the text was published as early as 1914 by Louis Laloy; and the cosmological and theoretical appearances of music in chapters 3, 4, and 5 have been thoroughly researched by John S. Major. Yet, the social and political functions of the multiple musical references within the text have been largely ignored in the West. See Laloy Louis, “Hoai-nan Tze et la musique”, T’oung Pao (2nd. ser.) 15.4 (1914), 501–30; Major, Heaven and Earth.

9. While these ideas are clearly debated in the Huainanzi, none of these terms actually appears in the text as such. The term wusheng zhi yue appears several times in the Li ji and is attributed to Confucius. The current article will touch upon the subject of soundlessness, albeit from a different point of view—as a part of the generative process of musical creation. See discussion below.

10. This discussion is also prominent in Western scholarship and will be discussed in more detail below.

11. See Zhongde Cai 蔡仲德 Zhongguo yinyue meixue shi 中國音樂美學史 (Beijing: renmin yinyue, 1997), 270–96. To name but a few additional related articles (in large also revolving around such contradictions and their solutions): Zhicheng Wang 王志成 “ Huainanzi zhong de yinyue meixue sixiang” 《淮南子》 中的音樂美學思想, in Yinyue Tansuo, vol. 4 (2002), 4448 ; Hailin Xiu 修海林 and Xiaoping Luo 羅小平, yinyue meixue tonglun 音樂美學通論 (Shanghai: yinyue, 1999); Zhenxi Zhou 周振錫 “ Huainanzi zhong de yinyue lilun” 《淮南子》 中的音樂理論, Huangzhong 黃鐘 (Journal of Wuhan Music Conservatory, 1996), 16 .

12. One piece of research that does draw a line between Liu An’s role as a ruler and the musical thought of the Huainanzi is Zhang Jingya’s 張靜亞 Master’s thesis. In addition to presenting the main philosophical contradictions hitherto discussed in Chinese scholarship, Zhang suggests that there exist connections between social-political practices (such as ritual and governance) and the musical theories of the text, and that these reflect the spirit of Liu An’s political preferences. See Zhang Jingya, Huainanzi yinyue meixue sixiang de maodun tongyi xing 《淮南子》 音乐美学思想的矛盾统一性, Henan University, Music Studies Master’s thesis, 2010.

13. Yung Bell, “The Nature of Chinese Ritual Sound”, in Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context, ed. Yung Bell, Rawski Evelyn S., and Watson Rubie S. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 14.

14. We do not have certain evidence for any form of notation at that time, or information about the exact way of transmitting music. A curious possible piece of evidence for a method of musical transmission, however, is included in the story of Duke Ping and Master Kuang (also discussed in the following pages) as depicted in the Hanfeizi. See Hanfeizi xin jiaozhu 韩非子新校注 (Shanghai: Zhonghua yaoji jishi congshu, 2000) 10.205–12 “Shi guo” 十過. Duke Ping’s guest, Duke Ling, hears a tune he likes, and asks his Music Master to “listen and xie it for me” (為我聽而寫之). This xie 寫, at the time of Hanfeizi, did not denote writing but expressed a transmission, mimicking, sketching. Music Master Juan thereupon “sits holding the qin and ‘xies’ it” (坐撫琴而寫之). The fact that he was holding his qin means he may have “transcribed” the tune onto the instrument itself, meaning that having heard it, he copied it by playing.

15. A detailed discussion about the meaning of the term yue and its translation follows.

16. Although I adhere in this article to the common translation of he as “harmony,” one should bear in mind that the ancient term he is not completely identical in meaning (or in its various meanings) to the Latin/Greek harmonia that comes to mind when speaking of harmony. It is possible that the Chinese he originates in several different characters, meaning musical concord, but also a successful mixture of flavours. For a discussion on the meanings of he and its comparison with Greek notions of harmony, see Li Chenyang, “The Ideal of Harmony in Ancient Chinese and Greek Philosophy”, Dao 7 (2008), 8198 .

17. By excluding these terms from the scope of “musical references,” I might differ from other scholars. Erica Fox Brindley, e.g., chooses to dedicate attention to the notion of he as part of the world of music, though acknowledging that it is does not always appear as merely musical. See Brindley Erica Fox, Music, Cosmology, and the Politics of Harmony in Early China (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012), 1220 .

18. See John Major, “Tool Metaphors in the Huainanzi and Other Early Texts,” in Queen and Puett, 153–98, table on p. 182; Le Blanc, Huai Nan Tzu, 79–99, table on p. 83. Additional articles in Huainanzi and Textual Production also use quantitative methods.

19. See Queen Sarah A., “Inventories of the Past: Rethinking the ‘School’ Affiliation of the Huainanzi ”, in Asia Major 14.1 (2001), 5172 . Queen states (54) that “to impose […] an identification would negate all that its authors sought to achieve.” The discussion of the text’s intellectual affiliation is still ongoing, the main tendencies varying between categorization of it as an eclectic work, in accordance with its late Han categorization by Sima Tan as “miscellaneous” (zajia 雜家), or a work with no specific affiliation (Queen above), to affiliating it with early forms of “Daoism” (affiliations with Huang-lao 黄老 thought or inner cultivation practices)—for the latter see Harold D. Roth, “Daoist Inner Cultivation Thought and the Textual Structure of the Huainanzi,” in Queen and Puett, 40–83. Cai Zhongde concludes (and his conclusion is adopted by many Chinese scholars in years to follow) that the existence of the philosophical contradictions in the text symbolizes an integration of “Ruist” views into “Daoist” ones, representing a Han dynasty “new daoism” (Han dai xin daojia 漢代新道家) that is promoted by the Huainanzi authors. See Cai, 296.

20. Bruno Nettl, “The Art of Combining Tones: The Music Concept,” in Nettl Bruno, The Study of Ethnomusicology: Thirty-one Issues and Concepts (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983, 2005), 21. The cited entry (occupying pp. 16–26) contains a stimulating and concise discussion of the concept of music.

21. John Major, “Tool Metaphors in the Huainanzi,” 153, n. 1.

22. In addition to his monograph Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought, cited above, Major dedicates an article specifically to the technical and cosmological musical theory of the Huainanzi. See Major, Celestial Cycles and Mathematical Harmonies in the Huainanzi ”, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 16 (1994), 121–34. Besides Major, who conducted comprehensive research exclusively on the Huainanzi, the unprecedented calculations made in the text are mentioned in numerous other articles relating to the development of Chinese Musical theory. See, e.g., McClain Ernest G., “Chinese Cyclic Tuning in Late Antiquity. With translations by Ming Shui Hung”, Ethnomusicology 23.2 (1979), 205–24.

23. A proof that Music is not only an audible concept, but also a visual one, is the reference: 目觀掉羽、武象之樂 (Huainanzi, 1.44 “Yuan dao” 原道)“When the eyes observe the Music of the ‘falling feathers’ or the ‘Martial Images’ […]”—the eyes, thus, can observe yue, meaning it is not merely audible. The two compositions mentioned in this reference are musical pieces, the first said to have been composed by the Duke of Zhou (Major et al., 72). Scott Cook suggests keeping in mind that yue is still first and foremost a sonic phenomenon, and dance is but the final extension of this development. See Cook, Unity and Diversity in the Musical Thought of Warring States China, Ph.D. dissertation (University of Michigan, 1995), 53–54.

24. Scott Cook, “‘Yue ji’ 樂記: Record of Music: Introduction, Translation, Notes, and Commentary,” Asian Music 26.2 (Spring–Summer 1995), 21. I also support Ori Tavor’s suggestion of translating yue as “musical performance.” However, having defined this (“capitalized”) “Music,” I see no need to use the longer term here. See Tavor, review of Brindley’s Music, Cosmology, and the Politics of Harmony”, Journal of Asian Studies 72.4 (2013), 970. As mentioned above, the character 樂 may refer to yue—Music, or le—joy, to rejoice, pleasure, and so on. In this article, its translations alter between the two meanings, depending on context. At times, the meaning appears ambiguous (such ambiguity is often the conscious choice of Western Han authors). In such cases, I have chosen one translation that in my eyes fits the context better. The word “music” (lowercase “m”) will denote the concept of music in its broader, all-inclusive sense (and not be used to translate any specific word).

25. Most authors use several different translations for yin, according to context. Cook, noting that this term signifies the transition from mere sounds to music, decides to translate it generally as “music.” See Cook, “‘Yue Ji’ 樂記—Record of Music,” 19–21.

26. The Yue ji appears as a chapter in the eclectic Li ji 禮記, as well as being incorporated in its entirety into the “Yue shu” 樂書 chapter of Sima Qian’s Shi ji 史記 (compiled c. 100). It is generally agreed among scholars nowadays that the Yue ji does not pre-date the time of Han Wudi (r. 141–87 b.c.e.). It is also claimed by some that the “Yue shu” was not added to the Shi ji by Sima Qian himself, but was a later addition to the text: Martin Kern, e.g., gives convincing evidence to show that at least the parts of the “Yue shu” other than the “Yue ji” are probably a late Western/early Eastern Han addition. The Yue ji itself may or may not have existed earlier, and it draws largely upon Xunzi’s “Yue lun.” Since it seems to have circulated separately from these texts, I refer to it here as an independent work (thus it appears italicized). In citing it, I use the following editions: Li ji jijie 礼记集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1989) for the “Yue ji” (chapter 19), Shi ji lunwen 史記論文 (Taipei: Taiwan Zhonghua shuju, 1967) for the “Yue shu” (chapter 24). For discussions on the dating of “Yue ji” and “Yue shu” chapters respectively, see Cook, “Yue Ji—Record of Music,” 3–10; Kern Martin, “A Note on the Authenticity and Ideology of Shih-chi 24, ‘The Book of Music,’Journal of the American Oriental Society 119.4 (1999), 673–77.

27. Li ji jijie 19.976 “Yue ji”; Shi ji lunwen 24.114 “Yue shu.” Hereafter “Yue ji,” “Yue shu.”

28. The kind of pattern remains unspecified, however the character wen 文 denotes a pattern which is of cultured, human qualities. The human aspect of yin is a main characteristic that differentiates it from sheng.

29. For an interesting discussion about yin see DeWoskin Kenneth J., A Song for One or Two: Music and the Concept of Art in Early China (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1982), 5253 . DeWoskin puts it well: “Yin is sound that is patterned or marked by virtue of being placed in an ordered context.”

30. According to DeWoskin (44), prior to the fourth century b.c.e. the wuyin possibly denoted not only patterns of five different notes, but also fivefold groups of other musical qualities such as timbre, volume, and so on.

31. von Falkenhausen Lothar, “On the Early Development of Chinese Musical Theory: The Rise of Pitch-Standards”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.3 (1992), 436.As a way to clarify the relations between the two systems (pitch-standards and notes), one might say that principally speaking, if you asked two musicians to play a shang (one of the five tones) on their instruments, they would look at you and ask—“Which shang?!,” to which you would reply something like “A Shang in ‘Responsive Bell’ standard!” Only then will they know which note to produce that would correspond to their colleague’s playing.

32. Lüshi chunqiu xin jiaoshi 呂氏春秋新校釋 (Shanghai: Guji, 2002), 5.5.288 “Gu yue” 古樂.

33. With this, the Huainanzi resonates the views of the Zhuangzi. For discussions on Zhuangzi’s view on winds and piping, see Kuriyama Shigehisa, “The Imagination of Winds and the Development of the Chinese Conception of the Body”, in Body, Subject, and Power in China, ed. Zito Angelo and Barlow Tani E. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 3334 ; Jeong Park So, “Musical Thought in the Zhuangzi: A Criticism of the Confucian Discourse on Ritual and Music”, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 12.3 (2013), 341–42. Zhou Zhenxi suggests that feng means that it refers to songs of the people, i.e. “airs,” such as the feng poems that appear in the Odes (see Zhou Zhenxi, Huainanzi zhong de yinyue lilun, 4). However, in light of the nature of the discussions in the text, it is more likely that the Huainanzi echoes the ideological concepts of the Zhuangzi.

34. Cook, Unity and Diversity, 60. Chenyang Also Li. The Confucian Philosophy of Harmony (London, New York: Routledge, 2014), 40.

35. E.g., the “Yue lun” 樂論 chapter of Xunzi, where sounds are said to be issued by people as an expression of joy, requiring an orderly formation in the shape of Music.

36. Guo yu jijie 國語集解 (Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju, 1930), 3.24 “Zhouyu xia” 周語下.

37. Huainanzi, 10.407 “Cheng mou” 繆稱; 13.522 “Fan lun” 氾論; 18.760 “Ren jian” 人閒.

38. This is not to say that the author/s of the Yue ji knew the Huainanzi, though it is not completely impossible. In any case, it is quite a reliable source of comparison, representing a Han musical text.

39. “Yue ji” 19.1011; “Yue shu” 24.116.

40. “Yue ji” 19.976; “Yue shu” 24.114.

41. “Yue ji” 19.990; “Yue shu” 24.115.

42. See also Cook, Unity and Diversity, 54.

43. “Yue ji” 19.1015; “Yue shu” 24.119.

44. “Yue ji” 19.982; “Yue shu” 24.114.

45. Xunzi jijie 荀子集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1954), 20.255 “Yue lun.”

46. I adopt Major et al.’s translation of the combination as “The Way and Its Potency” (道德).

47. Mao Qiang and Xi Shi symbolize perfect beauty. These were the names of two beauties who helped bring to destruction the state of Wu by distracting the king. See Major et al., 249, n. 29.

48. Alternatively—wouldn’t find it joyful. Within this context, both translations make perfect sense.

49. Xunzi jijie, 20.252 “Yue lun.”

50. Major et al. (63) rightly translate wu yin 無音 as “toneless.” I translate it as “silence,” but wish to emphasize that this silence, as I perceive it, is not an absolute lack of sound. This complex term deserves further enquiry and I intend to write more about it in the future, but a short explanation here may be necessary nevertheless: drawing upon the translation of yin as “patterned-sounds” I suggest that this silence means a lack of organized, patterned sounds, rather than a complete stillness, i.e., it includes primary, “wild,” uncultivated sounds, but not sound patterns. The Way, hinted upon in the citation above, is on numerous occasions described as being soundless (wu sheng 無聲). When taking into consideration this and other descriptions of the Way, we see that it is not described as being a complete vacuum, but as an unorganized existence of things. As a reference, one could examine the term pu 樸—unhewn, or uncarved—which is prevalent in the Huainanzi. Pu, constantly related with positive ideas of a sort of primary purity, does not mean the lack of material, but a material (or often—a person) that has not been arranged, shaped, affected, and maybe even harmed, by human hands and human ideas. Such is, I believe, the type of “silence,” or soundlessness, rendered in our text. I am indebted and grateful to my anonymous reviewer for suggesting the possible parallel between pu and wuyin, thus drawing my attention to the research of conceptions of silence in the Huainanzi (as well as other texts).

51. And indeed it is additionally stated that the Way (referred to as “the One”) “Is soundless, but the five notes all resonate from within it” (無聲而五音鳴焉 1.35 “Yuan dao”).

52. Puett interestingly reaches this conclusion while discussing the ideals standing behind the ritual perceptions of the Li ji. See Puett Michael, “Constructions of Reality: Metaphysics in the Ritual Traditions of Classical China”, in Chinese Metaphysics and Its Problems, ed. Chenyang Li and Perkins Franklin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 120–29. He has a similar discussion regarding the Huainanzi in his article “Sages, Creation, and the End of History in the Huainanzi,” in Queen and Puett, 269–90.

53. For more scholarship comparing some musical aspects of the Huainanzi with those of the Yue ji, see Xiuling Guo 郭秀岭 “ Huainanzi Yueji yinyue guandian bijiao” 淮南子樂記音樂觀點比較, Journal of Suihua University 26.3 (2006), 9698 ; Yongwen Hong 洪永稳, “ Huainanzi he Yueji de ‘wu gan shui’ bijiao”, 《淮南子》和《樂記》的 “物感說” 比較, Journal of Anhui Agricultural University, Social Science edition 17.5 (2008), 7375 . Guo uses the two texts to relate to the aforementioned “contradictions” often mentioned by Chinese scholars who write about music in the Huainanzi. Hong compares between the philosophies of the two texts as reflected through their musical views, but does not discuss the role, or generative process, of music itself in the texts as an independent subject of inquiry.

54. Xunzi Jijie, 20.254 “Yue lun.”

55. In square brackets are the elements that do not appear in the Yue ji model. Also, in the Huainanzi model, the concept of sound is comprised of all previous concepts, rather than “arises from the winds,” hence I use the mark “=” rather than an arrow, implying that the whole process sums up with “Sounds.”

56. Xunzi jijie, 20.254 “Yue lun.” From the Xunzi on this expression is commonly used in texts. The Huainanzi cites it no fewer than five times. It does believe in Music’s power to change, but reasons differently. The expression only appears in a musical context where it is said that unlike sounds and patterns, law (fa 法) “cannot (不能) change manners and alter customs” (9.330 “Zhu shu”).

57. While Major et al. translate shi 事 here as “activities,” I choose to translate it consistently as “affairs,” so as to make clearer the point that the dao and shi discussed here are the same as those discussed at the beginning of the postface. One could equally choose to translate it consistently as “activities” instead.

58. Blanc Le, “Huai nan tzu”, in Loewe Michael, Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 189.

59. Martin Kern further demonstrates that this division is apparent through an analysis of the pattern of rhyme between the chapter titles. The titles rhyme with each other, the first rhyme pattern lasting through the titles of chapters 1–8, with two more patterns in the remaining part. Notion attributed to Kern in Major et al., 14, n. 22 and 843, n. 5.

60. Major et al., 14–15. See discussion also in Vankeerberghen Griet. The Huainanzi and Liu An’s Claim to Moral Authority (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), 9597 .

61. Andrew Meyer, “Root-Branches Structuralism in the Huainanzi,” in Queen and Puett, eds., 23–39.

62. We have demonstrated such inter-phenomenal movement in the previous section of the current article: the evolution of music from natural roots to human “branches.” We have also seen that this conception is a reversal of the one common to other contemporary texts, which perceive human-made music as being the root, and its components the branches.

63. Meyer, 34–35.

64. (Huainanzi, 1.12 “Yuan dao”), translation adopted from Harold D. Roth, in Major et al., 53.

65. Erlmann Veit, Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality (New York: Zone Books, distributed by MIT Press, 2010), 10.

66. Amendments of text (round brackets for words that should be erased, square ones for the words that should substitute them) are based on the commentaries in the Liu Wendian edition, as well as on information in, which is the online version of D. C. Lau’s concordance to the text. See Lau D. C., Huainanzi zhuzi suoyin 淮南子逐字索引 (Institute for Chinese Studies Chinese Text Concordance Series. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992).

67. Quite symbolically, the literal meaning is equal to “does not act for things as the first-one-to-sing.” The expression 先倡 is sometimes written 先唱 (both pronounced xian chang)—lit. “to sing first.”

68. This is the Huainanzi’s version of the familiar Laozian/Zhuangzian term of non-action (wuwei 無為). Chapter 9 (9.355 “Zhu shu”) defines: “He who is non-active (he who ‘wu wei’s)—it does not mean he freezes and does not move; it means there is nothing he issues from within himself.” (無為者,非謂其凝滯而不動也,以(其言) [言其]莫從己出也)

69. In fact, in this sense it can be said that Liu An was not just philosophizing. At least during the first years of Emperor Wu’s reign, he seems to have supported a policy of non-initiation himself. This may be reflected, e.g., in his advice to the emperor not to intervene in the conflict between the Min Yue 閩越 and the Nan Yue 南越 in 135 (the emperor, however, did eventually intervene before Liu An’s plea had reached him). One can understand Liu An’s personal interests in giving such advice: a few years back, such interference resulted in heavy economic cost to the Huainan area. Additionally, keeping the policy of “innovation” to a minimum could mean that the local kings, such as Liu An himself, could each manage their own affairs, without having to fear being forced into submitting their territory to the empire. For more on the incident see Vankeerberghen, The Huainanzi and Liu An’s Claim to Moral Authority, 51–52.

70. Le Blanc, Huai Nan Tzu, 8–9.

71. Le Blanc (9) bases his claim, among other things, upon the fact that resonance appears in all of the twenty-one chapters. I could say the same thing about musical-phenomena, and yet, I think they serve as a tool rather than a central idea. The way I see it, and explain here, resonance, or “reaction” is a main component of a model central to the text, yet cannot be defined as “the main idea,” of this rich text. Furthermore, it derives from a yet deeper principle—knowledge of the Way and affairs.

72. Sadie Stanley, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 15. (London: Macmillan, 1980), 757.

73. Major et al. (618) translate: “an echo cannot be a high note if the sound [itself] is a low note.” I see it as the opposite—lit. “the echo—does not for high sound—[resound-a-] low.”

74. See Chunqiu fanlu jiaoshi 春秋繁露校釋 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chuban she, 2005) 13.809–10 Tonglei xiangdong” 同類相動; Zhuangzi jijie 莊子集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), 24.839 “Xu wugui” 徐無鬼; Lüshi chunqiu 13.2.683 “Ying tong” 應同, 20.4.1369 Zhao lei” 召類; Chuci buzhu 楚辭補註 (Taipei: Yiwen yin shuguan yinxing, c. 1963) 13.420 “Qi zeng: Miu jian” 《七諫》:《謬諫》.

75. Le Blanc, Huainanzi, 140–42. See also Blanc Le, “From Cosmology to Ontology through Resonance: A Chinese Interpretation of Reality”, in Beyond Textuality: Asceticism and Violence in Anthropological Interpretation, ed. Bibeau Gilles and Corin Ellen (Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1994), 69.

76. Such a phenomenon has not been observed so far. However, in theory only, it is plausible. Theorists of Han times may have deduced it by making more basic calculations.

77. Le Blanc, “Cosmology and Ontology,” 69.

78. And indeed, the word gan 感, to stir, appears 36 times in the text, while the word ying 應, to respond, appears as many as 151 times.

79. Sadie, 757.

80. Fully articulated in 12.467–68 “Dao ying” 道應. Additional references: 9.330–31 “Zhu shu”; 10.406–7 “Cheng mou”; 11.414 “Qi su”; 13.541 “Fan lun.” Ning Qi’s name appears in many earlier texts. The whole story is articulated in the Lüshi chunqiu—19.8.1320 “Ju nan” 舉難.

81. Huainanzi 6.229 “Lan ming” 覽冥. Interestingly, the story is told elsewhere in the Huainanzi (20.844 “Tai zu”) with an alternative ending, whereby Duke Ping stops the music to prevent disaster, having received a warning from Master Kuang that it is “the Music of doomed states.”

82. Hanfeizi, “Shi guo.” For an English translation, see Watson Burton, Basic Writings of Mo Tzu, Hsün Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 5356 .

83. Like the natural elements of music, some types of immutable ritual behaviour are also depicted in the cosmological chapters of the text. Chapter 5 refers to which colour the emperor should wear, what he should do and what instruments the ladies of the palace should play for each month of the year. This, even if not openly stated, is in a way a ritual behaviour. Looking into the functions of ritual and perceptions of it in the text can thus serve as an extension of this current research.

84. Particularly Mozi, “Fei yue.” See Mozi jiaozhu 墨子校注 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1993) 8.379–83.

85. Most of all Xunzi “Yue lun.” Generally by the Han it was more this attitude that was adopted (e.g. in the Yue ji as the first section of this article has demonstrated).

86. The Lüshi chunqiu, though philosophizing positively about Music, says very little about the subject of rites.

87. The se at the time had movable wooden bridges, the mobility of which is what enabled its tuning. Thus gluing it means not being able to play the se any longer. For more on the se structure see Kaufmann Walter, Musical References in the Chinese Classics (Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1976), 99100 .

88. On the Li ji’s view regarding the change of rituals, see Ing Michael D. K., The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 8692 .

89. Confucius compares his persuasion attempt of “[trying to] persuade people with what they cannot listen to” with “[trying to] please flying birds by singing the ‘Nine Shao.’” (夫以人之所不能聽說人 […] 以《九韶》樂飛鳥也.)

90. “Gathering Caltrops” and “Northern Bank” are old songs of Chu, which according to Liu Wendian represent the ultimate musical aesthetic creation, while “Perpetual Dew” is a common rural song. Nevertheless, the country people are more familiar with “Perpetual Dew” and thus join it in singing, rather than appreciating the beauty of the Chu songs. See Liu Wendian commentary in Huainan honglie jijie, 754–55.

91. This story also exists in the Lüshi chunqiu 14.8.837 “Bi ji” 必己, but lacks the final musical moral, which is unique to the Huainanzi.

92. Hanfeizi, 19.1092–96 “Wu du” 五蠹. In fact, it is not completely clear whether it was Shun or Yu who danced the war dance. The Huainanzi mentions this story on another occasion (11.432 “Qi su”), with Shun, rather than Yu, performing the dance.

93. For a recent discussion on the figure of the general in the Huainanzi (not regarding musical issues), see Gao Xu 高旭. “ Huainanzi ‘jiang’ lun xi yi: Jian yu Sunzi Bingfa Sunbin Bingfa de sixiang bijiao” 《淮南子》“将” 论析议: 兼与 《孙子兵法》 《孙膑兵法》 的思想比较, Journal of Nanchang Hangkong University: Social Sciences 17.1 (2015), 4148 .

94. Huainanzi, 15.596 “Bing lüe.”

95. Interesting, in this sense, is the fact that the expression “to destroy the drums and snap the drumsticks” (破/毀/敗鼓折枹) appears three times in the Huainanzi (12.496 “Dao ying”; 20.836 “Tai zu”; 21.862 “Yao lüe”) as a symbol for giving up warfare. It appears nowhere else but in the Huainanzi.

96. The two characters tang 鏜 and ge 鞈 (medieval Chinese pronunciations thop and thang respectively) are both onomatopoeias, the second also meaning “drum roll”—which fits according to the parallelism with the previous set of characters, i.e., sound (result) to an echo (stimulus) vs. booming (result) to the drum roll (stimulus). Major et al. (595) translate it as “like a gong to the drum.”

97. Several different terms denote the concept of “common people.” Most common in the Huainanzi is probably bai xing 百姓 (the hundred names), but in the musical context, biren 鄙人 (rustic people) or just bi 鄙 is also commonly used. An additional term is zhong 眾 or zhong shu 眾庶“the masses.”

98. “Yue ji” 19.982; “Yue shu” 24.114.

99. For more on the transformative power of music, within both the human and natural world, see Sterckx Roel, “Transforming the Beasts: Animal and Music in Early China”, T’oung Pao 86.1 (2000), 146 .

100. On the perception of “vulgar Ru” in Early China, by the Xunzi as well as by other texts, see Cheng Ann, “What Did It Mean to Be a Ru in Han Times?”, Asia Major (3rd ser.) 14.2 (2001), 103–5.

101. Li Qi, according to Tao Fangqi’s 陶方琦 commentary found in the Liu Wendian edition (797), was a skilful musician of the state of Zhao.

102. Picken Laurence, “The Music of Far Eastern Asia: China”, in The New Oxford History of Music, vol. 1 (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), 87.

103. See, e.g., the articles and books by Cook, Brindley, and DeWoskin cited above.

104. Most prominently, Major’s Heaven and Earth and his “Celestial Cycles and Mathematical Harmonies in the Huainanzi.”

I am sincerely grateful to John S. Major for his support that led me into publishing this research; also to Noa Hegesh for her insights and lengthy, patient conversations that helped me put my thoughts into words; to Roel Sterckx for his great help in overseeing this article from its very early stages; and to all the people who read this article or parts of it throughout its different stages of writing, and provided useful professional, grammatical, and even technical-acoustical comments and suggestions: Imre Galamos and Bernhard Fuehrer, Hajnalka Elias, Hugo Macey, John Moffet, Diane Leblond, Ronen Eldan, and the two anonymous reviewers of Early China. Lastly, I wish to thank Yoav Ariel, for inspiring me to read the Huainanzi and discover the richness of this text during my time as his student in Tel-Aviv University.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Early China
  • ISSN: 0362-5028
  • EISSN: 2325-2324
  • URL: /core/journals/early-china
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 43 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 173 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 19th April 2017 - 24th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.