However, I actually have some doubts whether they were deserving of the description of

Download 85.12 Kb.
Size85.12 Kb.

During the Western Jin (西晋) dynasty, there exited a group of seven men who exhibited behaviours unrestrained by traditional and social conventions, often getting together to make music and drink wine in bamboo groves. Others gave the group a name Zhu Lin Qi Xian (竹林七贤), or literally, Seven Virtuous Men of the Bamboo Grove.
However, I actually have some doubts whether they were deserving of the description of Xian () or Virtuous Men. And given the stark differences in some of their personalities, I wonder how close their relationship really was.
Anyone knows when exactly was the period of their revelry in the bamboo grove?

Did Wang Rong's worldliness emerge only after that? I could not him being on intimate terms with the rest.
They were supposed to be widely respected as high-minded scholars, commanding prestige for their learnings and personal characters, but actively sought to evade the taint of the corruption of officialdom, which was partly stigmatised by the Sima (司马) clan treacherous usurping the throne from the Cao () clan (which of course had earlier usurped the throne from the Liu () clan). Ruan Ji and Shan Tao had served under Cao Shuang (曹爽), the main power behind the Wei Dynasty, before being outmanoeuvred by the Sima clan.
Philosophically, they were said to be follow the ideas of Zhuang Zi (庄子).
Their numbers included:
(1) 阮籍 Ruan Ji (AD 210-263) hailed from Chen Liu (陈留) in He Nan (河南). His father Ruan Yü (阮瑀) was one of the Seven Scholars of the Jian An reign (建安七子), i.e., the last emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty. Sima Zhao (司马昭) had wanted to propose a marriage between their families, but Ruan Ji managed to stay drunk for 60 days, denying Sima Zhao the opportunity to bring up the subject. Nonetheless, he found himself compelled to serve the Sima clan several times, including composing the "petition" for elevating Sima Zhao to be the Duke of Jin. For those reasons, the Sima clan tolerated his wild behaviours.
(2) 嵇康 Ji Kang (AD 223-262). A native of Qiao Guo (谯国) in An Hui (安徽). His family was related by marriage to ruling Cao clan of the Wei () Dynasty. He wrote an article to severe ties with another member, Shao Tao, when the latter accepted official appointment from the Sima regime. Ji Kang was later charged with sedition and executed. Most famous for being unable to pass on his music composition, Guang Ling Shan 《广陵散》.
(3) 山涛 Shan Tao from He Nei (河内), the oldest of the group who had established his own fame prior to the forming of the group. Despite his being close to Ji Kang and Ruan Ji, his real nature differed, he even nominated Ji Kang for officialdom, leading to their ties severed. Nevertheless, he was known for being thrifty. 20 years after Ji Kang's death, Shan Tao nominated Ji Kang's son, Ji Shao (嵇绍) to an official post as a means of livelihood, out of memory of his friendship to Ji Kang. It was said that he was meticulous about interacting with power factions, and had foresight with which he used to keep himself safe from becoming a casualty of power struggles.
(4) 刘伶 Liu Ling of Pei country (沛国) in An Hui was a former official at the end of the Wei dynasty. Most notorious for his love of drink ("天生刘伶,以酒为名,一饮一斛,五斗解酲"). He was said to travel with a spade, and gave instructions to be buried wherever he happen to fall dead. His Ode to Wine 《酒德颂》 reflected the sentiments of many scholars feeling the lack of orthodox legitimacy of the prevailing regime, coupled by the corrupt nature of the Imperial Court, using their drunkeness as an outlet of their emotions.
(5) 阮咸 Ruan Xian, nephew to Ruan Ji. Also another notorious drink lover who oft drank straight from the jar rather than drinking cups. Even drank with herd of swine once and make music at the same time. He had an affair with a maid of his aunt, and even went after the maid when the aunt was returning home. His setting up a family with the maid was smack against the customs and conventions.
(6) 向秀 Xiang Xiu of He Nan (河南). Compelled to accept official appointment after the death of Ji Kang. He was remembered for making extensive commentary on Zhuang Zi's works.
(7) 王戎 Wang Rong of Lang Ya (琅邪) in Shan Dong (山东) was a child prodigy and later, a major official in the Jin dynasty. He was the most worldly of the Seven. He and his wife could spend the entire night counting their coins using toothpicks as tokens. He dug the seeds out of the pears of his gardens before they were sold in the market, fearing others would plant those seeds.
By the account of the later poet Tao Yuanming, the period in which these men gathered in the Bamboo Grove of Shanyang (Henei prefecture) was about 248-254 - this was towards the end of the Wei dynasty. At that point in Chinese history, the climate was getting colder after a period of exceptionally warm climate during the Han dynasty. So while the extent of bamboo growth in the Han had reached the Yellow River area and beyond, by the time of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, the Shanyang area may have been one of the few surviving large stands of bamboo.
In 248, Ji Kang was 25 years old, Ruan Ji was 38 years old, Ruan Xian was 27, Xiang Xiu was about 21, Shan Tao was 43, and Wang Rong was only 14. Liu Ling was perhaps around 27 years old (we do not have the dates of his birth and death).
The main reason why they were drinking, making music, composing poetry, and talking about metaphysical philosophies in the Bamboo Grove was to avoid being pulled into Cao Shuang's political sphere of influence. At that time, He Yan, the acknowledged master of Qingtan (Pure Conversation, the form of Xuanxue metaphysical debate popular among literati), was serving Cao Shuang as State Secretary of Personnel, and was actively trying to recruit Xuanxue enthusiasts. However, the Seven Sages perceived that Cao Shuang's power would not last long. So both Ruan Ji and Shan Tao rejected offers of employment from Cao Shuang in 247 (correction to Snowybeagle's earlier statement).
Their prediction proved accurate, because in 249 Sima Yi launched his famous coup and overthrew Cao Shuang. Cao Shuang, He Yan and all their clan members and associates were executed. However, the Seven Sages remained wary of connections with the Sima faction. The reasons varied from person to person. Ji Kang was sincerely disgusted with the Sima faction, and furthermore he was married to a granddaughter or great-granddaughter of Cao Cao. But he also did not want to get involved in politics because his interest was in philosophy, music and Daoist longevity techniques. Ruan Ji was more willing to compromise - he accepted an official post of Operations Officer (Congshi Zhonglang) from Sima Yi in 249, and continued in that post under Sima Shi and Sima Zhao. But he avoided doing any serious work, as well as marriage connections with Sima Zhao, by being drunk all the time and remaining with his Bamboo Grove friends.
The Bamboo Grove period did not last more than five or six years, because some of the members of the group were only sitting out the political instability rather than truly interested in rejecting officialdom. Shan Tao went to see Sima Shi in 254, after Sima Shi had deposed Cao Fang and replaced him with Cao Mao. Sima Shi gave him a post, and the Bamboo Grove days were over.
It was only in 261 that Ji Kang wrote a letter severing ties with Shan Tao, because Shan Tao had been promoted to a State Undersecretary for Personnel and recommended Ji Kang to take over his previous position. In his letter, he also championed Daoist philosophy and dismissed the orthodox Confucianism endorsed by the Sima, incurring the wrath of Sima Zhao. Sima Zhao and Zhong Hui had been uneasy about Ji Kang's heroic stature as an antiestablishment figure for some time, and seized the opportunity of the Lu An incident to execute him.
Ji Kang had been friends with the brothers Lu Zhuan and Lu An, who were also interested in his philosophical theories. Lu Zhuan lusted after Lu An's beautiful wife, and one day he got his sister-in-law drunk and raped her. Ji Kang dissuaded Lu An from pressing charges against Lu Zhuan, but Lu Zhuan then tried to cover his tracks by framing Lu An as an unfilial son who had beaten their mother. Lu An was exiled for this 'crime', but on his way he wrote a letter to Ji Kang containing words criticising the government. He was then arrested and sentenced to death. Ji Kang spoke up to try and clear Lu An's name, but Sima Zhao conveniently had Ji Kang executed too.
The "Guangling San" tune was claimed by Ji Kang to have been received from an immortal whom he encountered. It supposedly depicted the story of the assassin Nie Zheng (from the Shiji). Contrary to popular myth, the tune has indeed survived in a few versions and is still performed on the guqin and guzheng zithers today. Ji Kang may only have been referring to his version of the tune, which he had declined to teach to his friend Yuan Xiaoni.
Wang Rong was only in his teens during the Bamboo Grove days, and his personality had not yet developed fully. He was already known as a child prodigy, however, and that was why the Bamboo Grove people were ready to accept him as a member. The miserly behaviour for which he later became known was a trend in the Western Jin that coexisted with another trend of extreme extravagance, and both may in fact have been a conscious rejection of the unworldly Bamboo Grove mentality.
Shan Tao may have angered Ji Kang with his compromise with the authorities, but Ji Kang perceived that Shan was skilled at keeping himself out of political trouble. That is why before his execution, he instructed his son Ji Shao to stick close to Uncle Shan, and to follow the conventions of society even though Ji Kang himself had not. Eventually, Ji Shao earned his own fame as a loyalist to the retarded emperor Sima Zhong (Sima Yan's son) in 304, during the Civil War of the Princes. When the Prince of Donghai Sima Yue brought Sima Zhong out on a campaign against his rival the Prince of Chengdu Sima Ying, and Sima Yue's army was badly defeated, Ji Shao protected Sima Zhong and was killed. Ironically, Shan Tao was the only minister, late in his life, to disagree with Sima Yan's policy of disbanding the provincial armies while letting the various princes raise their own military forces. Sima Yan ignored this advice, and thus set in motion the events leading up to the War of the Princes.
Xiang Xiu was summoned by Sima Zhao after Ji Kang's death, and went out of fear. He then was forced to denigrate his friend's philosophies to the laughter of Sima Zhao. Xiang went on to hold official posts and also write a commentary of the Zhuangzi, which Guo Xiang later incorporated into his own more famous one. It seems that Xiang Xiu developed a philosophy based on the Zhuangzi that all political hierarchies and orthodoxies are 'ziran' (part of the natural order of the universe), rather than a violation of 'ziran', and hence one can be a minister and still be true to Zhuangzi's philosophy. It was a domestication of the Bamboo Grove spirit that would have made Ji Kang puke in disgust. However, according to one story, Xiang Xiu reminisced about the Bamboo Grove days with sorrow and nostalgia, and felt it a pity that things had changed so much.
Liu Ling was perhaps the most extreme of the group, and also the happiest. He simply drank and drank until the end of his days. He would sometimes take off all his clothes when drunk, and when people made fun of him, he would simply retort, "I see the universe as my home and my house as my clothes. So what are you doing in my underpants?" It was said that the sons of the other six Sages all made a name for themselves by their bearing and refinement, but Liu Ling's son was not known of at all.
Ruan Xian is probably my favourite character among the seven, because he was extremely gifted in both musical theory and playing the lute. The round-bodied type of lute that he played later became known as the ruanxian, then simply as the ruan. It is still played in Chinese orchestras today. While engaging in the same heavy drinking and unrestrained behaviour as his uncle Ruan Ji, he also showed quite a romantic streak. When his mother was dying, his aunt came to stay and he had an affair with his aunt's Xianbei slave girl. The girl probably got pregnant, and the aunt originally agreed to leave her with Ruan Xian, but changed her mind at the last minute and took the girl with her. This was right after Ruan Xian's mother's funeral, and he borrowed a donkey and, still wearing his mourning clothes, caught up with his aunt and came back with the Xianbei girl riding on the donkey with him. When asked to explain his behaviour, he said, "A man should not lose his own seed!" However, he was much castigated for it, because a man was not supposed to have sexual relations in the three years of mourning after his parent's death, and he did not show the customary sorrow for his mother. Furthermore, Ruan Xian was already close to 60 at the time, and had a wife and a son named Ruan Zhan. The son born to him by the Xianbei girl was named Ruan Fu. Both these sons became known for behaving even more eccentrically and drinking even more than their father.
Ruan Ji is a complex character - he clearly had aspirations of changing the world, as expressed in his early poetry. Once he visited the site of a famous battle between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, and remarked, "There were no great men at the time, and that's why mediocre fellows like them became heroes!" But he found himself caught between the Cao and Sima factions, and realised that he could not change anything after all. Rather than lose his life, he made himself an eccentric whom Sima Zhao would tolerate on account of his talent. After Ji Kang's death, he was ordered to write an essay urging Sima Zhao to accept the title of Duke of Jin. But he went and got himself drunk at Yuan Xiaoni's home, hoping to avoid the job. The officials found him there and made him write it while drunk anyway. This essay is still extant, and many have interpreted its words as containing a hidden sarcastic dig at Sima Zhao's ambitions. Ruan Ji died soon after.
Even when serving the Sima, Ruan Ji continued to subtly condemn the hypocrisy of politics and morality of the day in his poetry and essays. He never reconciled himself to conforming with conventional moral ethics, because he regarded them as superficial and limiting. When he went to say goodbye to his sister-in-law who had come to visit with his brother, he was criticised for breaking the rule against contact between relatives of opposite genders. He then exclaimed, "What makes you think the ethical rules were set up for people like me?" He had lost his father at an early age and was brought up by his mother, but when his mother died he continued drinking, eating meat, and playing weiqi. After drinking, eating, and playing, he would show how much his mother really meant to him by coughing up large amounts of blood. During the mourning period, he would lie drunk and with his hair in a mess, rather than weeping as was customary, but by the end of his mourning he was only skin and bones. Clearly Ruan Ji wished to mourn his mother in his own way, rather than following the formula set out by Confucian orthodoxy. This rebellion against empty shows of ethical behaviour was a major theme of the Bamboo Grove.
Here is the 劝进表 (quanjin biao, "Petition urging an acceptance of promotion") by Ruan Ji, written on behalf of the Supreme Censor (Sikong 司空) Zheng Chong 郑冲, who was leading the ministers in putting on the show of supporting Sima Zhao's enfeoffment while Sima humbly declined the honour. Its style is typically ornate, containing lots of historical allusions, and I myself took quite a while to interpret what it means.

I, Chong, and the others with me deserve death (a conventional way to start a letter to one's superior).

We see that commendation has been given to you, illustrious lord, but hear that you repeatedly decline it.

I, Chong, and the others, cannot bear to see this, and are truly foolish in our devotion.

We feel that when a sage-king is on the throne and sets things in order, becoming a model for a hundred generations, it is natural for him to praise the virtuous and reward the meritorious.

In ancient times, Yi Yin was a lowly minister of the Youshen tribe, but was rewarded with the title of A'heng for aiding Cheng Tang (founder of the Shang dynasty).

The Duke of Zhou maintained peace and order after the Zhou had already secured victory, and was enfeoffed in Qufu (founding the feudal state of Lu).

Lu Shang (Jiang Taigong), a fisherman at Panxi, became the chief general of the Zhou forces and was enfeoffed in Yingqiu.

Since their time, there have been countless subjects who were rewarded richly even though their achievements were not so impressive.

And yet, the worthy and wise still recount these stories as models for emulation.

Besides, since the late Prime Minister (Sima Yi), the Sima have had illustrious virtues in every generation, supporting the house of Wei and pacifying all under heaven. There have been no flaws in the government, and no complaints by the people.

Before this, my illustrious lord, you campaigned west into Lingzhou and north into the desert, and west of Yuzhong the Qiang and Rong fled eastwards in fear at your prowess, and then turned back and pledged allegiance.

You slew the traitors in the east, leading the army to total victory by capturing the generals of King Helu (a reference to the state of Wu) and killing the enemy infantry by the tens of thousands. Your prestige is as great as the waters of the southern sea, and your fame strikes fear into the three Yue kingdoms (i.e. the Minyue, Nanyue and Luoyue kingdoms of the early Han).

The whole universe is at peace, and there is no tyranny or evil.

Therefore those who have differen customs from ours are in awe of us, and the Eastern Barbarians perform their dances for us.

For this reason, His Majesty has consulted the rituals and traditions of the past and enfeoffed you with a duchy in Taiyuan (the ancient capital of the state of Jin).

You, illustrious lord, should receive the imperial blessings of the edict before both Heaven and Man.
元功盛勋,光光如彼; 国土嘉祚,巍巍如此; 内外协同,靡愆靡违。

With shining accomplishments like yours, with magnificent conquests for the empire like yours, there is no disagreement at all that you should neither delay nor disobey in accepting this honour.

With you leading the campaigns, we can conquer Wu in a day; we can plant our forts at the source of the Changjiang and make our sacrifices on Mount Min (in Sichuan).

With you in command under heaven, crushing all rebellions, there will be no distant place that does not submit, no nearby place that is not respectful.

The virtue of the Great Wei will outshine that of Yao and Shun, and your accomplishments, illustrious lord, will exceed those of Duke Huan (of Qi) and Duke Wen (of Jin).

Then you could visit Cangzhou and pay your respects to Zhibo, and ascend Mount Ji and bow to Xu You (both were legendary Daoist sages who declined an offer to become ruler of the empire) - would that not be grand!

This is all as fair as fair can be, and no one is your equal, so why fastidiously decline the offer?

I, Chong, and the others are not versed in etiquette, but boldly venture to express our views.
An essay on Ji Kang, probably the most admirable of the Seven Sages, that I wrote in 2002. Footnotes not included. Enjoy!

- An Analysis of Neo-Daoist Concepts in Ji Kang’s Philosophy of Music
The poet-philosopher Ji Kang (223-262) has, in the 20th century, attracted the interest of scholars in both China and the Western world - for Chinese, mainly because his scepticism about the value of Confucian traditions seems to foreshadow their own recent experiences of Marxism and modernisation; for Westerners, because his liberal and unconventional approach to life represents a road not taken in ancient Chinese society, one made all the more tragic by the fact that his beliefs ultimately cost him his life.
However, these scholars have generally been less comfortable with placing Ji Kang within the context of the xuanxue (“School of Profundities”, usually called Neo-Daoism in the West) philosophy that flourished among intellectuals of his time, not to mention identifying his contributions to that philosophy. According to Robert Henricks, for example, Tang Yongtong – one of the leading experts on Neo-Daoism in the 1940s and 50s – “defines hsuan-hsueh (xuanxue) in such a way – as a move to the wu-yu (wu-you) cosmology and abandonment of interest in Yin-Yang and the Five Elements – as to exclude thinkers like Hsi K’ang”. Neo-Daoist philosophy has come to be characterised by the emphasis on Non-being (wu) and Non-action (wuwei) in the writings of Wang Bi and Guo Xiang. In contrast, Ji Kang’s interest in immortality and aesthetic beauty, as well as the antics of his friends among the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, are often seen as little more than a transitory diversion from the continuity of Wang and Guo, bearing a closer similarity to religious Daoism than to Neo-Daoist metaphysics.
My essay, then, is an attempt to relate Ji Kang’s philosophy to the larger framework of Neo-Daoism, and to do so through what is probably his most famous and most original piece of writing, the essay “Music Has Neither Sorrow Nor Joy” (Sheng wu ai’le lun). In this essay, Ji Kang takes the persona of “The Host of Dongye (the Eastern Wilds)” to engage in a debate with a “Guest from the West (literally from Qin, the western region around Chang’an)”. Using the then-popular debating style of Pure Conversation (Qingtan), the Guest puts forward the traditional, Confucian view of music: that it carries the emotions of both the composer and the musician, and then instils these same emotions in the listener to various degrees depending on the listener’s skill or sensitivity. Ji Kang, as the Host, argues instead that music does not carry any emotional meaning in itself, nor does it cause emotions in others. Rather, music stimulates and releases emotions that were already present in the listener; there is therefore no such thing as intrinsically “happy” or “sad” music, “morally-proper” or “morally-corrupting” music.
This thesis had far-reaching implications for the Confucian orthodoxy of the time, and central to much of its impact is the Neo-Daoist concept of ziran (naturalness). Aptly enough, Ji Kang’s most famous line, written at the beginning of the essay “On Dispelling Self-interest” (Shi si lun), is “transcend orthodoxy and give freedom to spontaneous nature” (yue mingjiao er ren ziran). Ji Kang, himself a gifted musician, was keen to emphasise that music has a spontaneous nature of its own that transcends political or ethical considerations, unlike the Confucian position that music is justified only by how well it performs the function of moral education for the people. But there is a far deeper dimension to the term ziran (literally “that which is so by itself”) when he asserts: “Heaven and Earth united their virtues and the ten thousand things by this were born. Cold and hot succeeded one another, and the five elements as a result came to be. These became manifest as the five colours and issued forth as the five tones. The arising of musical sounds is like the presence of odours in the air; they are either good or bad. And though they get mixed in with other things, they remain in essence what they are and don’t change. How could love and hate change the melody, grief and joy alter the beat?”
Ji Kang is, in effect, arguing that music is an unchanging part of the natural world that has always existed, and not (as Xunzi believed) a component of the man-made construct called “culture”. The Confucians had always taken music and ritual to together constitute “culture”, but Neo-Daoists like Ji Kang generally de-emphasised ritual as extraneous “branches” and re-located music at the “root” of either wu or ziran. Ironically, the explanation that Ji Kang offers for this is still too rooted in Han Confucian cosmology to qualify as ‘pure’ Neo-Daoism. In fact, the early Han “Book of Music” (Yue Ji) has very similar words on the subject: “With Heaven high and the earth below, the myriad things dispersed and differentiated, rituals were formed and put into practice. Flowing without stopping, combining together and transforming, music was made to arise therein.”
However, we should recognise that none of the Neo-Daoist philosophers ever completely discarded the cosmology of Yin-Yang and the five elements in theorising on the origin of the ten thousand things; they sought rather to determine the one underlying principle behind this multiplicity of factors. For Wang Bi, influenced primarily by his study of the Laozi, that principle was the original Non-being. For Ji Kang’s friend Ruan Ji, writing his own “Treatise on Music” (Yue Lun), it was Harmony (he): “What we call Music contains the spirit of Heaven and Earth and the nature of the ten thousand things. If we adhere to this spirit and this nature, then music is harmonious and harmonises all other things; if we diverge from this spirit and this nature, then music is disharmonious and throws other things into disharmony.” In “Music contains the spirit of Heaven and Earth” (fu yuezhe tiandi zhi ti), we find clear echoes of another famous line from the Yue Ji: “Music is the harmony of Heaven and Earth” (yuezhe tiandi zhi he ye), suggesting that Ruan Ji also took that classic work as a reference point.
Where Ji Kang differs from Ruan Ji, though, is in his argument that Harmony is naturally intrinsic to all music and cannot be taken out of it by man: “though music may be fierce or tranquil, fierce and tranquil both have the same harmony. And whatever [emotion] is moved by harmony is spontaneously released.” Certainly Ji Kang recognises that music can sound good or bad in aesthetic terms, but he believes that despite this, all music is inherently tuneful and harmonious, otherwise it would not be considered music (one wonders what Ji Kang would think were he to attend a modern trash metal concert!). Furthermore, he acknowledges (and being a musician definitely considers it a good thing) that musical pieces differ in style, tone, pitch and rhythm, as well as according to the kind of instrument they are played on. “However,” he continues, “In all of these cases, the essential factor is that the music is simple or complex, high or low, or good or bad, and the emotions respond by being restless or tranquil, concentrated or scattered… the essential thing in music is that it is simply either relaxed or intense; the response of the emotions to music is also limited to restlessness or tranquillity.”
Since Ji Kang emphasises the natural nature of music, it should not seem strange that he also uses rather prosaic analogies of tears, sweat, food and wine to demonstrate that music is a part of the natural world and not man-made: “The tissues secrete water and it beads up in the flesh; when pressure is applied it comes out. It is not controlled by grief or joy. It is just like the process of straining wine through a cloth sack. Although the device used to press it through may differ, the flavour of the wine is unchanged. Musical sounds are all produced by one and the same source. Why must they alone contain the principles of grief and joy?” “The flavours each have a different beauty but the mouth in each case knows it. The five flavours are completely different, but they find their great union in beauty; song variations though many also find their great union in harmony… But the feelings that change with songs are cut off from the domain of harmony, and the mouth that responds to sweetness is severed from the realm of beauty.”

Cai Zhongde finds unconvincing such an equation of music (a “product of consciousness” ) with bodily functions, but he fails to understand the Neo-Daoist belief that the Way and its virtues are reflected in all things, even the most base and lowly. This drew its inspiration from the Zhuangzi, as did Ji Kang’s direct allusion to the Music of Heaven in its diversity, “blowing differently through the ten thousand things”. The important thing to note about physical processes and the natural flavours of food is that they are neither dependent on human effort for their existence, nor subject to human control, which ties in with the important Daoist (and Neo-Daoist) concept of wuwei. Even wine is not created or produced by man, but only ‘transformed’ through the natural process of fermentation. In the same way, Ji Kang seems to be saying, just because music is Natural does not mean there is anything mystical about it – like beauty, it exists even without any action on our part, that is all. However Ji Kang did not believe, as Wang Bi did, that the value of wuwei was rooted in wu (Non-Being). Nor did he agree with Ruan Ji that Harmony is all that is needed for music to truly reflect the Way. For Ji Kang, the ideal for music (and also for life itself) lay in what he termed Balance (pinghe).
Ruan Ji does use the phrase pinghe a few times in his “Treatise on Music”, but nearly always as a synonym for he – referring to the social harmony facilitated by harmonious music, where each is happy and content with his place in life. Furthermore, to Ruan Ji, sorrowful music is the antithesis of Harmony and not true music at all, while pinghe as a state of mind must be nurtured by joyful, harmonious music. His argument was made especially pointed by the fact that since the Han Dynasty, there had been a strong penchant in popular culture for “sad” (bei) music. Ruan Ji was, of course, not alone in believing that music should instil positive emotions – the Confucians had been teaching that for a long time. The Yue Ji carried the pun to extremes by stating repeatedly that “Music is Joy” (yue, le ye), but the author was also careful not to be seen as endorsing “wantonness” in the enjoyment of music , probably taking as a guide Confucius’ famous comment in praise of the first song in the “Book of Poetry” (Shi Jing): “There is joy without wantonness, and sorrow without self-injury” (le er bu yin, ai er bu shang). The Confucian aversion to any excess of pleasure or grief as being morally corrupting for both the individual and the state is seen in their frequent condemnation of music in the “Zheng-Wei” style (i.e. that traditional to the ancient states of Zheng and Wei) as wanton and decadent, and in the other famous comment in the Preface to the “Book of Poetry” that “the songs of a well-ordered age are peaceful and happy, but the songs of a doomed state are sad and melancholy.” Ji Kang alludes to these Confucian sayings in his essay, but does not directly oppose their validity. Instead, he steps out of that entire frame of reference by suggesting that the best kind of music (zhi yue) need not affect the emotions at all, and correspondingly the best kind of person (zhi ren) is not emotionally affected by any kind of music. This absolute equanimity is to him the essence of Balance, and “Balance is the essence of music” (shengyin yi pinghe wei ti).
How does the concept of Balance support Ji Kang’s thesis that music has neither sorrow nor joy? “If one has achieved Balance, then sorrow and joy will be one and the same, and there will be no original emotions to be released from within. Thus, all that one feels is restlessness or tranquillity. If, however, emotions are released, then one was already inclined within towards a certain emotion and had lost one’s Balance. Speaking from this perspective, restlessness and tranquillity are the effects of music, but sorrow and joy are an inclination already existing among one’s emotions.” For Ji Kang, that music carries no emotion of its own is proven by the fact that not only may different people have very different emotional responses to the same piece of music, but there are also some exceptional people in whom music does not produce any emotional response at all.
This may remind us of the earlier debate between Wang Bi and his mentor He Yan, in which the latter believed that the sage has no emotions, while the former argued that the sage does (and must) have emotions, but is not tied to or controlled by them. The terms of the debate were actually classically Confucian, recalling the sagely qualities of “Equilibrium and Harmony” (zhong he) defined in the “Book of Rites” (Li Ji): “When there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow or joy, we call it the State of Equilibrium (zhong). When those feelings have been stirred, and all in their due measure and degree, we call it the State of Harmony.” He Yan seems to have believed that constant Equilibrium was necessary for sagehood, while Wang Bi argued that Harmony was sufficient. We may infer that Ji Kang would have inclined towards He Yan’s position, but his advocacy of Balance, a modification of Equilibrium in which sorrow and joy are not so much absent as indistinguishable, is arguably based more on a concept that lay outside both Confucian and Neo-Daoist philosophy. This was the concept of “the Nourishing of Life” (yangsheng), which drew more from religious Daoism than from the Zhuangzi, but was very influential among intellectuals like the Seven Sages – and it is on this practical prescriptive level, and not his philosophy of music per se, that Ji Kang does move away from the metaphysical questions that occupied Wang Bi and Guo Xiang.
The aim of yangsheng was not, as with most religious asceticism, to bring one closer to the next world, but rather to cultivate the physical and emotional health that would lengthen one’s life in this world. Such ‘worldly’ priorities made complete sense for religious Daoists to whom physical immortality was the ultimate afterlife, and also for Neo-Daoists to whom union with the Way made an afterlife unnecessary and irrelevant. In an essay on this subject (Yangsheng lun), Ji Kang emphasised three means of nourishing life: dispassion; avoidance of wealth and rank; and correct diet. The latter two were rooted in wuwei and religious Daoism respectively, but dispassion was probably the most important factor to Ji Kang. The main reason was that strong emotions consume energy and thus damage the body: “thoughts and apprehensions diminish the refined spirit, and sorrow and joy (ai’le) injure the calm essence.” Ji Kang expressed his approach to nourishing life as not “to suppress the emotions and endure the desires”, but to transcend ordinary emotions and desires, to cultivate supreme disinterest in them.
In Ji Kang’s view, music that produces feelings of tranquillity, and thus does not stir up any strong emotions, is clearly more conducive to nourishing life than music that produces restlessness. It is only in this light that one can understand the last section of his essay, where the Guest asks whether Confucius’ statement that “For improving customs and bettering traditions there is nothing better than music”, or his condemnation of Zheng-Wei music as morally-corrupting, are invalidated by the Host’s argument that music has neither emotional nor moral content. Ji Kang does not take this opportunity to assert that there is nothing wrong with Zheng-Wei music, that it is the Confucians who are at fault for hijacking music for moral education without seeing any purely aesthetic value in it. He argues instead that the problem with Zheng-Wei music lies not in any wanton emotions that it embodies, but in its extreme aesthetic beauty and richness that triggers the wanton release of emotions in its listeners. Ji Kang had earlier argued that “the stimulation of men’s hearts by harmony is in fact like the uninhibiting effect that wine has on their natures” – a drunken man may exhibit extremes of delight and anger, but one cannot say that these emotions were instilled by the wine. He now returns to this analogy to argue that Zheng-Wei music, as “the most exquisite music of all”, is like wine or female beauty in having the power to make people lose their self-control.
In modern terms, the songs of Zheng and Wei would be the musical equivalent of an Ecstasy pill: as a stimulant that releases huge amounts of energy in the user, it brings great pleasure but is very bad for health in the long term. Music can have a healthy, cathartic effect on the emotions, but if that catharsis is too exhilarating, there is a danger of becoming addicted to it. According to Ji Kang, the sage-kings of old understood that with such “lovely and alluring” music, the world would get lost in pleasure and never return to the Way of Balance and nourishing life. Thus “they cut off [music’s] greatest harmony and did not fully explore its potential transformations” , and the result was music that was more like bland meat-broth than the peony blend, which was said to contain a perfect mix of the five flavours. By such measures were people made “joyful without being licentious”, but Ji Kang makes it clear that Balance does not equal Blandness, it is only the weakness of ordinary human character that forces it to be so.
Thus Ji Kang does not believe, like Wang Bi did, in a Great Music (dayin) that lies beyond any differentiation into the five tones. Drawing on the Laozi for his concepts of Non-being and One, Wang Bi postulated an original Music that was essentially soundless. While Ji Kang does allude to Confucius’ words in the Li Ji: “music that has no sound is the father and mother of the people”, this actually refers to an inner harmony (i.e. Balance) that is not adequately expressed by music , at least not by the aesthetically-diluted kind that is suitable for normal people. There is a closer similarity with Wang Bi’s other theory that “words do not fully express meaning”, and Tang Yongtong indeed suggested that this theory provides the “backbone” for Ji Kang’s philosophy of music. But on a deeper level, Ji Kang maintains a faith in the ability of the Perfect Man (zhi ren) to appreciate the most exquisite music without getting emotionally carried away. In his own life (and death), Ji Kang evidently tried to exemplify this ideal: on the day of his execution he played for the last time on his zither the Guangling San, a moving melody of “extraordinary beauty” , but unlike his audience he displayed no sign of emotion at all and preserved his Balance to the last.

1. Cai Zhongde, Zhongguo Yinyue Meixue Shi (“A History of Chinese Musical Aesthetics”). Beijing: Renmin Yinyue Chubanshe, 1995
2. Cai Zhongde, Zhongguo Yinyue Meixue Shi Ziliao Zhuyi (“Annotated Translation of Historical Sources for ‘A History of Chinese Musical Aesthetics’”). Beijing: Renmin Yinyue Chubanshe, 1995
3. Ronald Egan, “The Controversy over Music and ‘Sadness’ and Changing Conceptions of the Qin in Middle Period China”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 57 No. 1 (June 1997)
4. Gao Chenyang, Ruan Ji Pingzhuan (“A Critical Biography of Ruan Ji”). Nanjing: Nanjing Daxue Chubanshe, 1994
5. Robert G. Henricks, Hsi K’ang: His Life, Literature and Thought. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1976
6. Robert G. Henricks, Philosophy and Argumentation in Third-Century China – The Essays of Hsi K’ang. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983
7. James Legge (trans.) Li Chi, Book of Rites. New York: University Books, 1967
8. Michael Puett, “Nature and Artifice: Debates in Late Warring States China concerning the Creation of Culture”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 57 No. 2 (December 1997)
9. Tian Wentang, Ruan Ji Pingzhuan: Kangkai renqi de yisheng (“A Critical Biography of Ruan Ji: The life of an unrestrained liberal”). Nanning: Guangxi Jiaoyu Chibanshe, 1994
10. R.H. van Gulik, Hsi K’ang and his Poetical Essay on the Lute. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1941

Download 85.12 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2023
send message

    Main page