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Mo Tzu

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Name Chao Yang
Professor Mark D Meritt
Class RHET 120
Date April 25 2013
Mo Tzu’s Against Music is not against Music: How Mo Tzu critiques early Chinese Class based society in their Musical Practices Music in Mo Tzu’s China was a historical and religiously based event. Music has always been a form of expression in Chinese cultural history, whether it is among the musical festivals of the common people, or the extravagant operas held in the courts of the ruling class aristocracy. Other than these forms of musical entertainment, more critical were the “rites” often closely associated with the “music” of the time. In fact, “rites-music” is a more general term often used to describe these early practices of playing and performing ritualistic forms of music. These forms of music asserted how the upper class was inherently more spiritual, nobler, and better individual beings than the common man. For Mo Tzu, whose fundamental notion is a theme of “universal love” between all men, this notion of ranked relationships just because of the different ways people played and enjoyed music was hypocrisy. In contrast to the Confucian notion of ranking the relationships of kinship and blood relations, Mo Tzu felt that individual births were more like random events, and all men has a responsibility to love himself and others. Mo Tzu’s notions of universal love was not only threatening to the Confucian way of thought, it also threatened the very basic clan-tribal relationship early Chinese governments were formed under. These tribal clans emphasized the superiority of their bloodline, in contrast to the commoners, to justify their heavy taxation and other unequal practices. When Mo Tzu criticizes Music in “Against Music,” he is criticizing the musical practices that have already become synonymous with materialist luxury and class distinction. The fundamental beginning of Chinese musical arts cannot be separated from forms of religious expression. Like the early medieval Church hymns and songs, an early beginning for Chinese musical arts were in the religious and ritual practices of Chinese society. For Endymion Porter Wilkinson in Chinese History: A Manual, the aesthetic arts are a fundamental part of Chinese history: “It goes without saying that the arts also provide vital evidence for other fields, such as the history of religion” (686). Religion and music go hand and hand in Chinese culture, and history can also be seen through these perspectives. In fact, according to Yonghua Liu, in “Daoist Priests and Imperial Sacrifices in Late Imperial China,” the most important Daoist Priests in charge of the traditional religious rites and rituals began their careers in the court as either dancers or musicians, or sometimes both: “According to principles of appointment mentioned above, the certified Daoits priests […] were first promoted to chief musicians” (61). This reflects how musicians often held critical positions in the religious rites and rituals. Furthermore, this underlines how music and religion cannot be separated during Mo Tzu’s time. While the earliest music concerned solely religion and the expression of holy sacrifices, music and ritual gradually became a practice mainly held by the ruling and governing class. Due to the expensive materialistic quality of the earliest bronze instruments associated with Chinese rituals, musical rites was a form of expression exclusively monopolized by the ruling and wealthy upper class. In Suspended Music: Chime Bells in the Culture of Bronze Age China, Lothar Von Falkenhausen traces the significance of Bells in Chinese history. For Falkenhausen, bells were fundamentally important in the formation of Chinese class societies: “More reliably than other kinds of musical instruments, bells can serve as an indicator of the social context of musical activity, for many bear inscriptions documenting important historical details about their owners” (14). Interestingly, Falkenhausen pinpoints how “Zheng...