Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Customs and Rituals

How important is music in Confucian and CIT ritual?

Celebrations like that of the Master’s birthday are filled with the sound of music. Confucius had always insisted that training in both music appreciation and instrumental proficiency were essential ingredients in a proper education. Many Confucian temples keep the principal musical instruments on display in the main memorial hall flanking the tablet of Confucius. Important stringed instruments include plucked cousins of the Japanese koto called the jin and se, which are not typically found in Daoist instrumental repertoires. Percussion pieces include a variety of bells, both individual large ones and sets of tuned smaller ones, and similar sets of metal chimes. Wind instruments include multitube flutes, similar to European panpipes, as well as wooden transverse flutes. A category of decorative motifs called the “Eight Musical Instruments” appear on all sorts of fine wares, suggesting the importance of music in Chinese tradition. The eight include the musical stone, a large bell, a lute, a flute, a metal percussion instrument, a drum, a reed organ, and an ocarina. CIT rituals always included large musical ensembles that played during lengthy segments of the ceremonies, especially for the entrance and exit of the emperor and while the royal subjects were paying homage to him.


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