Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI: CULTIVATION OF THE FINE ARTS - The Ethics of Confucius
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CHAPTER VI: CULTIVATION OF THE FINE ARTS - Confucius, The Ethics of Confucius 
The Ethics of Confucius. The Sayings of the Master and his Disciples upon the Conduct of “The Superior Man”, arranged according to the plan of Confucius with running commentary by Miles Menander Dawson, with a foreword by Wu Ting Fang (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915).
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CULTIVATION OF THE FINE ARTS
Confucius held that the encouragement of the fine arts was no less a duty of the state than the protection of the people from foreign foes and the suppression of internal disorder.
The Fine Arts in General. “When good government prevails in the empire, ceremonies, music, and punitive military expeditions proceed from the emperor.” (Analects, bk. xvi., c. ii., v. 1.)
This saying of Confucius, recorded in the “Analects” and suggesting that wise patronage and encouragement of art by the government which has distinguished the most enlightened governments of ancient and of modern times, was reenforced without ceasing by Mencius when he rebuked princes who indulged themselves, but failed to share their pleasures with the meanest citizen. Thus he said: “If the people are not able to enjoy themselves, they condemn them that are over them. Thus to condemn their superiors when they cannot enjoy themselves is wrong; but when they that are over the people do not make pleasure a thing common to all as to themselves, they also do wrong.” (Bk. i., pt. ii., c. iv., v. 1, 2.)
And again, speaking of beauty in woman: “If Your Majesty loves beauty, let the people be able to gratify the same feeling!” (Bk. i., pt. ii., c. v., v. 5.)
Confucius repeatedly emphasized the importance of the cultivation of the arts, as when he said of himself: “When I had no official employment, I acquired many arts.” (Analects, bk. ix., c. vi., v. 4.) Among these were, of course, letters in which he excelled all others, ceremonies in which he had no peer, and music in which he was also trained, both as a critic and as a performer.
To others he gave this counsel: “Let relaxation and enjoyment be found in the polite arts!” (Analects, bk. vii., c. vi., v. 4.) “It is by the Odes that the mind is aroused. It is by the rules of propriety that the character is established.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. viii., v. 1, 2.)
In the “Li Ki” is this admonition: “A scholar should constantly pursue what is virtuous and find recreation in the arts.” (Bk. xv., v. 22.)
His disciples related of him: “The Master’s frequent themes of discourse were: the Odes, History, and the maintenance of the rules of propriety.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xvii.) “There were four things which the Master taught: letters, ethics, devotion of soul, and truthfulness.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxiv.)
The following disjointed passages, apropos of nothing else in common, indicate the appreciation by the sage of æsthetic values of the most varied character: “I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty.” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xvii., and bk. xv., c. xii.) “The Master, standing by a stream, remarked: ‘It flows on like this, never ceasing, day and night!’ ” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xvi.) “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?” (Analects, bk. i., c. i., v. 2.) “The wise find pleasure in water, the virtuous find pleasure in hills.” (Analects, bk. vi., c. xxi.) “I hate the manner in which purple takes away the lustre of vermilion. I hate the way in which the songs of Ch‘ing confound the music of the Gna.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xviii.)
The foregoing reference to colour implies appreciation of painting which, however, is seldom, if ever, referred to and seems to have been in an undeveloped state, compared, for instance, with poetry or music. The following from the “Analects” appears to refer to it, however: “Tsze-hea asked, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the passage: “The pretty dimples of her artful smile! The well-defined black and white of her eye! The plain ground for the colours!”?’ The Master answered: ‘The business of laying on the colours follows the preparation of the plain ground.’ ” (Bk. iii., c. viii., v. 1, 2.)
The value of beauty for beauty’s sake, even though it be but the beauty of ornament or of accomplishments, was enforced by Tsze-kung, one of his disciples, in this colloquy: “Kih Tsze-shing asked: ‘In a superior man it is only the substantial qualities that are wanted; why should we seek for ornamental accomplishments?’ Tsze-kung replied: ‘Alas! your words, sir, show you to be a superior man; but four horses cannot overtake the tongue. Ornament is as substance; substance is as ornament. The hide of a tiger or leopard stripped of its hair is like the hide of a dog or goat stripped of its hair.’ ” (Analects, bk. xii., c. vii.)
That it will be beneficial for a state to encourage and foster the arts, because of their civilizing effect upon the people, these words from the “Li Ki” may be quoted to illustrate: “Confucius said: ‘When you enter a state you can know what subjects have been taught. If they show themselves men who are mild and gentle, sincere and good, they have been taught from the Book of Poetry. . . . If they be big-hearted and generous, bland and honest, they have been taught from the Book of Music.’ ” (Bk. xxiii., 1.)
Poetry and Letters. “In the Book of Poetry are three hundred pieces, but the design of them all may be embraced in one sentence: ‘Have no depraved thoughts!’ ” (Analects, bk. ii., c. ii.)
The importance of poetry and of good literature in general was frequently emphasized as in this passage from the “Analects” by Confucius who on one occasion addressed his disciples, saying: “My children, why do you not study the Book of Poetry? The Odes serve to stimulate the mind. They may be used for purposes of self-contemplation. They teach the art of companionship. They show how to moderate feelings of resentment. From them you learn the more immediate duty of serving one’s father and the remoter duty of serving one’s prince.” (Bk. xvii., c. ix.)
Mencius seems to have been the earliest to make use of this metaphor in describing the delights and benefits of reading: “When a scholar feels that his friendship with all the virtuous scholars of the empire is not sufficient, he proceeds to ascend to consider the men of antiquity. He repeats their poems and reads their books and, as he does not know what they were as men, to ascertain this, he considers the conditions of their time. This is to ascend and make them his friends.” (Bk. v., pt. ii., c. viii., v. 2.)
The manner in which Confucius enjoined the study of poetry upon his eldest son is told in this conversation with Ch‘in K‘ang: “Ch‘in K‘ang asked Pih-yu, saying, ‘Have you had any lessons from your father different from what we have all heard?’ Pih-yu replied: ‘No. He was standing alone once, when I passed below the hall with hasty steps, and said to me: ‘Have you learned the Odes?” On my replying, “Not yet,” he added: “If you do not learn the Odes, you will not be fit to converse with.” I retired and studied the Odes.’ ” (Analects, bk. xvi., c. xiii., v. 1, 2.)
That learning should not be merely by rote, that the sentiments and thoughts of the poet must be made a part of a man’s self, and that all training should be with a view to use as well as ornament, Confucius set forth in these words: “Though a man may be able to recite the three hundred Odes, yet if, when intrusted with a governmental charge, he knows not how to act or if, when sent to any quarter on a mission, he cannot give his replies unassisted, then notwithstanding the extent of his learning, of what practical use is it?” (Analects, bk. xiii., c. v.)
The finely discriminating literary taste of Confucius was the marvel of his time and his canons are yet generally accepted. He is even represented as saying of himself, in all modesty: “In letters I am perhaps equal to other men.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxxii.) Still his views were of the simplest, the most naïve. Thus, for instance, he says, tersely: “Of language, it is sufficient that it convey the meaning.” (Analects, bk., xv., c. xl.)
Yet, well pondered, this saying is both true and discerning; for comprehensive and accurate conveyance of the precise meaning in its every shade and distinction is the office of the most consummate literary art.
When Confucius was in Wei and was asked, by Tsze-loo, his pupil, what he would consider the first thing to do in administering the government of Wei, he replied: “What is first necessary is to correct names,” i. e., the names of things, and said in explanation: “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. iii.)
The mischiefs which arise from miscomprehension, due to the inexact use of language, he painted in strong colours, and then said: “Therefore the superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be rightly spoken, so that what he says may be fulfilled to the letter. What the superior man requires is just that in his language there may be nothing inaccurate.” (Analects, bk. xiii., c. iii., v. 7.)
That a man’s diction should also be guarded against inelegance and coarseness, the disciple Tsang declares in this: “There are three principles of conduct which the man of high rank should consider especially important: that in his deportment and manner he keep from violence and heedlessness; that in regulating his countenance he keep near to sincerity; that in his words and tones he keep far from lowness and impropriety.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. iv., v. 3.)
The emphasis upon “far” is worthy of special note.
Certainly Confucius was so completely removed from ignoring the beauties and even the subtleties of style, that he was the most eminent of all the Chinese ancients for simplicity, purity, elegance, and exactitude of language, both spoken and written. He had, also, the conception that it is only he who can discriminate finely between expressions that can divine the thought from the spoken or written word or even from the act, fully, accurately, and clearly; and therefore he says: “Without knowing words, it is impossible to know men.” (Analects, bk. xx., c. iii., v. 3.)
In the “Li Ki” is thus described the accepted manner of elegant speech: “The style prized in conversation is that it should be grave and distinct.” (Bk. xv., 23.)
The usefulness of letters and of association with men of literary taste, in forming character and confirming it, the disciple Tsang set forth as follows: “The superior man on literary grounds meets with his friends and by their friendship helps his virtue.” (Analects, bk. xii., c. xxiii.)
And the inadequacy of both the written and the spoken word to express the highest, noblest, and sublimest thought, is set forth in this saying of Confucius, taken from the “Yi King” (appendix iii., sect. i., c. xii., 76): “The written characters are not the full exponent of speech and speech is not the full expression of ideas.”
Music. “Music produces pleasure which human nature cannot be without.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. iii.) “Virtue is the strong stem of human nature and music is the blossoming of virtue.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. ii., 21.)
These eloquent tributes to both the charm and the usefulness of music are from the “Li Ki,” in which much attention is given to this fascinating art, which seems to have been developed in ancient China far beyond any other of the fine arts.
This is the more remarkable since in these days Chinese music is rightly regarded of a poor sort. The disappearance of the old, worthy, classical music is ascribed, singularly enough, to the Chinese scholastics. The work of Confucius, “The Book of Music,” was wholly lost during the Han dynasty together with the old operas, choruses, songs, and instrumental pieces. Later, the antiquarian scholars found it impossible to discover and restore these; and, influenced by the word but not by the spirit of Confucius, they ignored the music of the common people which, accordingly, became and continues degraded. This is the tradition offered to explain the absence of noble melodies and harmonies in a country where, by the testimony of one of the world’s greatest, it was in full development more than two thousand years ago.
In the “Analects,” also, Confucius has said: “If a man be without the virtues proper to humanity, what has he to do with music?” (Analects, bk. iii., c. iii.)
Its development was already ancient in his day; and, according to the “Li Ki,” the tradition ran: “It was by music that the ancient kings gave appropriate expression to their joy.” (Bk. xvii., sect. iii., 30.) It was also said in this book of the olden days: “He [the emperor] had music at his meals.” But the most significant of the traditions there found was this: “In music the sages found pleasure and that it could be used to make the hearts of the people good. Because of the deep influence which it exerts on a man and the change which it produces in manners and customs, the ancient kings appointed it as one of the subjects of instruction.” (Bk. xvii., sect. ii., 7.)
Of singing it was there said: “All the modulations of the voice arise from the mind, and the various affections of the mind are produced by things external to it. . . . Music is the production of the modulations of the voice and its source is in the affections of the mind as it is influenced by external things.” (Bk. xvii., sect. i., 1, 2.)
That music is not merely an expression of what may be in the mind, be it good or bad, but also a powerful influence upon it, for weal or ill, is affirmed by Tsze-hsia in the “Li Ki” in these words: “The airs of Kang go to wild excess and debauch the mind; those of Sung speak of slothful indulgence and of women, and submerge the mind; those of Wei are strenuous and fast and perplex the mind; and those of Khi are violent and depraved and make the mind arrogant. The airs of these four states all stimulate libidinous desire and are injurious to virtue.” (Bk. xvii., sect. iii., 11.) That such may be is accounted for by ascribing to music the property of universal speech open to all the intelligences of the universe, as follows: “Whenever notes that are evil and depraved affect men, a corresponding evil spirit responds to them; and when this evil spirit accomplishes its manifestations, licentious music is the result. Whenever notes that are correct affect men, a corresponding good spirit responds to them; and when this good spirit accomplishes its manifestations, sublime music is the result.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. ii., 14.)
The labours of Confucius in editing, pruning, and perfecting the poetry and music extant in his day were among his most celebrated feats. Of it he himself says: “I returned from Wei to Loo, and then the music was reformed and the pieces in the Imperial Songs and Songs of Praise all found their proper places.” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xiv.)
In the “Li Ki” it is also said: “In an age of disorder, ceremonies and music are forgotten and neglected, and music becomes licentious.” (Bk. xvii., sect. ii., 12.)
But this need for reform did not apply to all music. “The Shaou” was famous in his day as a noble piece of music, and “The Woo” scarcely second to it. Between these he is said to have distinguished, discriminatingly, thus: “The Master said of ‘The Shaou’ that it was perfectly beautiful and also perfectly good. He said of ‘The Woo’ that it was perfectly beautiful but not perfectly good.” (Analects, bk. iii., c. xxv.)
Of his appreciation of “The Shaou” this is related: “When the Master was in Ts‘e, he heard ‘The Shaou’; and for three months he did not know the taste of flesh. ‘I did not think,’ he said, ‘that music could have been made so excellent as this!’ ” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xiii.)
Of the performance of another piece, “The Kwan Ts‘eu,” he said: “When the music-master, Che, first entered upon his office, the finish of ‘The Kwan Ts‘eu’ was magnificent. How it filled the ears!” (Analects, bk. viii., c. xv.)
Of this piece he elsewhere said: “The Kwan Ts‘eu is expressive of enjoyment without being licentious and of grief without being hurtfully excessive.” (Analects, bk. iii., c. xx.)
Obviously there were already performances of the oratorio or even the opera type, for in the “Li Ki” this is found: “Poetry gives the thought expression; singing prolongs the notes of the voice; pantomime puts the body into action. These three spring from the mind and musical instruments accompany them.” (Bk. xvii., sect. ii., 21.)
“The Shaou” was evidently something akin to opera. Confucius indicates as much when he speaks its praise in the following, commingled with dispraise of certain other songs: “Let the music be Shaou with its pantomimes! Banish the songs of Ch‘ing and keep aloof from specious orators! The songs of Ch‘ing are licentious; specious orators are dangerous.” (Analects, bk. xv., c. x., v. 5, 6.)
That “The Woo” was operatic is plainly shown by this description of it, given in the “Li Ki”: “Regarding the music of Woo, in the first scene, the pantomimes proceed towards the north to imitate the marching of Wu Wang against Shang (or the Yin dynasty). In the second scene, they show the extinction of Shang. In the third scene, they exhibit the victorious return to the south. In the fourth scene, they play the annexation of the southern states. In the fifth scene, they manifest the division of labour of the dukes of Chou and Shao, one on the left and the other on the right, in charge of the empire. In the sixth scene, they return to the point of starting to show that the work of the emperor is complete and that the whole empire recognizes him as the supreme ruler.” (Bk. xvii., sect. iii., 18.)
The condemnation of the sage was visited in action as well as in words upon the following occasion: “The people of Ts‘e sent to Loo a present of female musicians, which Ke Hwan Tze accepted; and for three days no court was held. Confucius took his departure.” (Analects, bk. xviii., c. iv.)
Loo, it is to be recalled, was the very state where Confucius afterwards revised and harmonized the music of the realm. Of mere jingle, he spoke disparagingly, thus: “ ‘It is music!’ they say, ‘It is music!’ Are bells and drums all that is meant by music?” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xi.)
In the “Li Ki” it is said, likewise: “What you ask about is music, what you like is sound. Now music and sound are akin but they are not the same.” (Bk. xvii., sect. iii., 9.)
And yet greater purity of taste is indicated by this saying from the same book: “In music, more than aught else, there should be nothing showy or false.” (Bk. xvii., sect. ii., 22.)
To his eldest son, Pih-yu, he said: “Give yourself to the Chow-nan and the Chaou-nan. The man who has not studied the Chow-nan and the Chaou-nan is like one who stands with his face against a wall.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. x.)
Confucius was himself a musical performer upon many instruments, according to tradition. In the “Analects” is found this account of his skill upon “the musical stone”: “The Master was playing one day on a musical stone in Wei, when a man carrying a straw basket passed the door of the house where Confucius was and said, ‘His heart is full who beats the musical stone!’ ” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xlii., v. 1.)
That he had comprehensive knowledge of the art is obvious, not merely from what he did for the music of Loo but also from the fact that this saying of his was deemed worthy to be handed down: “How to play music may be known. At the commencement of the piece, all the parts should sound together. As it proceeds, they should be in harmony, severally distinct and flowing, without break, and thus on to the conclusion.” (Analects, bk. iii., c. xxiii.)
That Chinese music had already progressed far beyond mere melodies is sufficiently plain, no doubt, from what has already been said. Yet it is germane to quote this from the “Li Ki”: “Harmony is the thing principally sought in music.” (Bk. xvii., sect. i., 29.)
The following also indicates the reverence and respect in which Confucius was held even by the most accomplished singers of his time, both as a man and an expert on matters of taste, and perhaps as a musician also: “When the Master was in company with a person who was singing, if he sang well, he would make him repeat the song while he accompanied it with his own voice.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxxi.)
His preference for classical music is voiced in this saying: “The men of former times, in the matters of ceremonies and music, were rustics, it is said, while the men of these later times, in ceremonies and music, are accomplished artists. If I have occasion to use those things, I follow the men of former times!” (Analects, bk. xi., c. i.)
He included among the “three things men find enjoyment in, which are advantageous,” this: “The discriminating study of ceremonies and music.” (Analects, bk. xvi., c. v.)
The method by which music is conceived of, as profoundly affecting the moral nature of man, is thus circumstantially and persuasively delineated in the “Li Ki”: “Hence the superior man returns to the good affections proper to his nature, in order to bring his will into harmony with them, and compares the different qualities of actions in order to perfect his conduct. Notes that are evil and depraved and sights leading to disorder and licentiousness are not allowed to affect his ears and eyes. Licentious music and corrupted ceremonies are not admitted into the mind to affect its powers. The spirit of idleness, indifference, depravity, and perversity finds no exhibition in his person.” (Bk. xvii., sect. ii., 15.)
These most desirable results, however, by no means exhaust the conception of Confucius, of the benefits to the heart and mind which a full knowledge and appreciation of music can impart. The highest possibilities are set forth in these words of most enthusiastic eloquence, also in the pages of the “Li Ki”: “When one has mastered music completely and regulates his heart and mind accordingly, the natural, correct, gentle, and sincere heart is easily developed and joy attends its development. This joy proceeds into a feeling of calm. This calm continues long. In this unbroken calm the man is Heaven within himself. Like unto Heaven, he is spiritual. Like unto Heaven, though he speak not, he is accepted. Spiritual, he commands awe, without displaying anger.” (Bk. xvii., sect. iii., 23.)
Ceremonies. “Ceremonies and music should not for a moment be neglected by any one.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. iii., v. 23.)
In this passage from the “Li Ki” and in many other sayings of Confucius and his followers, music and ceremonies are mentioned together. This is particularly true in the “Li Ki” in which both subjects are most discussed and from which all the quotations under this head have been taken.
It is partly explained, as follows: “The sphere in which music manifests, is within; the sphere of ceremonies is without.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. iii., v. 25.)
This is repeated in another place with emphasis and with apposite deductions therefrom, thus: “Music springs from the inner motions of the soul; ceremonies are the outward motions of the body. Therefore do men make ceremonies as few and short as possible but give free range to music.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. iii., v. 26.)
That Chinese ceremonies are, or were, few and short, none will perhaps credit, especially after looking through the portions relating to them in the works of Confucius. But it must be recalled—and it requires a distinct effort for the Occidental mind to conceive and to realize the thought—that ceremonies constitute a language,—a language, also, very erudite, richly expressive, ornate and comprehensive when developed as in China. This language, indeed, in its difficulties, as in many other respects, no doubt, is comparable only with a written language such as the ideographs of China constitute; and perhaps, like them, has within it the possibilities of a universal means of symbolical communication as by a printed text, entirely independent of the speech of men.
It must have been with somewhat of this sentiment that the ancient sage viewed ceremonies, else his praise would be extravagant, indeed. It is said of those whose work was even then traditional: “The sages made music in response to Heaven and framed ceremonies in correspondence with Earth.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. i., v. 29.)
Of good taste in manners as in music, the “Li Ki” well says: “The highest style of music is sure to be distinguished by its ease; the highest style of elegance, by its undemonstrativeness.” (Bk. xvii., sect. i., v. 17.)
And it unites them with the real things of character and of life in these words: “Benevolence is akin to music and righteousness to ceremonies.” (Bk. xvii., sect. i., v. 28.)
This also, is not a mere commonplace or abstraction in the mind of this wisest of the Orientals; for the book returns to it as follows: “He who has understood both ceremonies and music may be pronounced to be a possessor of virtue; virtue means self-realization.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. i., v. 8.)
This work even indicates the method by which these practical results may flow from an art so simple and apparently so void of deep significance: “Perform ceremonies and music perfectly in all their outward manifestation and application, and all else under heaven will be easy.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. iii., v. 25.)
This is more definitely and clearly said in the following: “The instructive and transforming power of ceremonies is subtle. They check depravity before it has taken form, causing men daily to move toward what is good and to keep themselves far from wrong-doing, without being conscious of it. It was on this account that the ancient kings set so high a value on them.” (Li Ki, bk. xxiii., 9.)
Confucius, however, does not think of music as merely a human art, but also as the common speech of all intelligences of the universe; and he desires that ceremonies become and be to the eyes of men just such a delicate, graceful, and expressive mode of communication. Therefore their interrelationship with the seen and the unseen is asserted in the “Li Ki” in these terms, in no respect uncertain: “In music of the grandest style there is the same harmony that prevails between Heaven and Earth; in ceremonies of the grandest form there is the same graduation that exists between Heaven and Earth.” (Bk. xvii., sect. i., v. 19.)
Yet more explicit is this language, all the more significant in that Confucius did not often discuss, or even refer to, spiritual beings: “In the visible there are ceremonies and music; in the invisible, the spiritual agencies.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. i., v. 19.)
And in the same book he even asserted the psychical power of ceremonies, as of music,—of both of these, united—to summon the intelligences of the universe for communion with minds imprisoned in human bodies, in these burning phrases: “Ceremonies and music in their nature resemble Heaven and Earth, penetrate the virtues of the spiritual intelligences, bring down spirits from above and lift the souls that are abased.” (Bk. xvii., sect. iii., v. 2.)