Go to contents

Music of Confucius

Posted February. 01, 2023 07:50,   

Updated February. 01, 2023 07:50


Even the wisest can become imprudent once they think they can never be wrong. Confucius was one of those lacking in judgment when it came to music. He was a master of music who could sing, write songs, and even play various musical instruments. But he had a very stubborn taste for music.

There is an anecdote about how dogmatic he was about music in the ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian. At the age of 51, Confucius was temporarily serving as the prime minister of the state of Lu. Officials of the neighboring regional state of Qi were threatened by the fact that Lu had such a competent strategist as Confucius, so they preemptively sent a delegation to reaffirm their friendship.

When the lords of the two states met, the delegation from Qi started playing the music to celebrate the occasion. It was a piece of regional music featuring the loud sound of drums and dances with spears, swords, and shields. Confucius was upset that they played such barbaric music for the occasion for which the two state leaders sought friendship. Musicians from the Qi State had to stop playing midway the music they had prepared with much effort. To make amends, they suggested playing court music. This time, clowns and circus dwarfs came onto the stage to entertain the audience. Confucius was furious and said that those who attempted to infatuate the lords should be killed. The entertainers on stage were beheaded in the instant. The lord of the state of Qi returned home lamenting their lack of morals and courtesy.

The incident elevated the reputation of Confucius even further. But it was saddening and tragic from the perspective of the victims. He stopped the music midway and even killed the clowns and dwarfs who intended to entertain the lord. Confucius arrogantly thought he could do that because their music was vulgar to him. It was as if one would only insist on listening to classical music while dismissing that other genres, such as rock or trot, are not music at all. Mozi, a rival philosopher to Confucius, may seem much warmer and more humane because he criticized and went as far as banning music loved by the upper class because it can be rather detrimental to the livelihood of the common people. Music is yet another field where morality toward other people is required.