Many important figures and their writings have come down to the modern era from the ancient Chinese world, but what of those who were clearly well-regarded in contemporary sources but whose writings do not survive? Juanzi was just such a thinker, and Jao Tsung-i pieces together the evidence that remains regarding his philosophy and relationship with the qin, the instrument he used to work out his ideas. The journey spans a rich tapestry of excavated artifact and bamboo slip and passes through numerological classification to later citation. At its heart is a search for a definition of that most elusive of concepts ‘harmoniousness’ that underpinned so much of early China’s intellectual landscape.
A paper about Buddhist chants rather than the instrument the qin, it takes as its starting point a stray mention of these intoning practices buried deep in Buddhist bibliography. The journey is both musical and etymological and delves into Indian, Central Asian, and Chinese melodies and modes as well as equivalent linguistic transmission. The focus is on the interregnum between the Han and Tang dynasties when Buddhism first exerted its influence in China and seminal translations of Sanskrit scripture into Chinese were made, many of which Jao Tsung-i cites. For the musician, the key question that emerges is whether there is evidence of an early relationship between Chinese pentatonicism and Indian scales.
Written with Jao Tsung-i’s characteristic flair for critical insight, this paper explores the relationship between the earliest Chinese archaeological finds of musical artifacts and later modal theory and concludes that both belong to the same cultural continuum. The instruments in question are bone flutes and the distance between their holes and the pitches they produce serve as the basis for the discussion. Dangers of assuming too many connections with later epochs are freely admitted, and instead the argument is scientific and taut. As with much of Jao’s thinking, pan-cultural references readily surface—Pythagoras and the Babylonian Enuma-elis epic—though such relationships are only cautiously observed.
This paper is a brave and largely successful effort to make sense of bamboo slips unearthed from ancient Chinese tombs and the astrological texts written on them, and especially their relationship to music. Jao Tsung-i then relates these primary texts to near-contemporary and other passages on the subject that survive only in later redactions and establishes clear linkage between the two. The picture that emerges is a complex web of interconnection between musical mode, notes, wind direction, climate, human health, harvest, and military action. Ancient China was clearly a world where the significance of phenomena and event was paramount.
Jao Tsung-i’s celebrated essay on the philosophy of the qin comes to its climax in the ground-breaking notion that only when the qin is played without strings or making a sound is its purpose and matter truly understood. The circuitous and detailed route to this destination takes the reader in turn through the social context of qin performance, its moral content, ancient pedigree, repertory organisation, timbral characteristics, and spiritual dimensions. A subject clearly close to his heart, these are where the essence of the qin lies, and citations spill forth in close and persuasive succession, juxtaposing a close mesh of intertwining strands.
This essay explains in detail ancient calculations performed in relation to bell tunings and the views of different authorities on them. Scientific and mathematical in its layout, it illustrates common features and recognises anomalies. Starting with the inscriptions on the bells in the Marquis Yi of Zeng’s tomb and their particular Chu nomenclature, the discussion moves swiftly into more familiar citational territory. The key Han dynasty scholarly triumvirate of Liu An 劉安, Jing Fang 京房, and Liu Xin 劉歆 emerges, but Qin bamboo slips excavated at Fangmatan and Ming dynasty Zhu Zaiyu 朱載堉 lend verve and veracity to both ends of the chronology. Later portions of the essay list seminal texts, glossed with critical analysis of their location in the canon.
Bronze drums are occasionally met in East Asian temples and museums, but their dark colour and imposing appearance can cause the casual scholar to pass them blithely by. Not so the intrepid Jao Tsung-i, who uses them instead to take the reader on a delightful journey through the historic, political, ethnic, and literary currents of south China and the Chinese diaspora of South-East Asia. Their ancient origins are explored, the complexity of their imagery explained, and the rationale behind their dispersal defined: a wealth of primary source material, both artifact and text, is assembled into a tightly knit narrative thread.
With its multiplicity of short-lived states, the political history of the period between the Tang and Song dynasties in the tenth century is both confusing and convoluted. This essay makes sense of this background in order to give a context to the pipa scores found in Dunhuang that constitute some of the most important early musical notations that survive. The principal sources that Jao Tsung-i deploys are the Dunhuang manuscripts themselves with which he was evidently intimately familiar. To add contemporary drama to his narrative, a strong subtext is acerbic dissection of opinions on the topic put forward by fellow scholar He Changlin 何昌林.
Deciphering Dunhuang manuscripts is a recurring theme in Jao Tsung-i’s work, and this essay concentrates on dance notations and their relationship to music. To give a context, included here are also three introductions, the third of which is a moving account of the death of former student Kuang Qinghuan 鄺慶歡. Jao’s research methodology is to lay out all the relevant sections of text and then to proceed through detailed critical comparisons of lexical repetition and organisation to extract data. This he puts into a framework of citations from related material, and without falling into the trap of over-interpreting, comes to a finely-honed explanation of what these notations mean.