Confucian ritual music


Confucian ritual music
The Confucian ritual maintained in Taiwan is one of the few surviving symbols of traditional Chinese government and ideology. The accompanying music, however, with its ponderously slow melodies, openly ideological texts and ancient ritual instruments, has the most minimal entertainment value in today’s world and is not well known outside a small circle of government functionaries and traditionally educated literati.
Confucius (551–479 BC) is remembered and worshipped for his high educational and philosophical ideals. While performances in his honour are mentioned in texts dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), it was not until about the thirteenth century that Confucianism became firmly established as official state ideology. Subsequently, Confucian shrines were located in every district of the empire, and rituals were scheduled during the spring and autumn of each year. With the fall of the imperial system in 1911, the ritual and its music slowly disappeared on the Chinese mainland. Many shrines were destroyed before and during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), but there has been some resumption of ritual activity at the shrine in Qufu (the birthplace of Confucius) and elsewhere, though a large part of this activity has been oriented towards the entertainment of tourists. In Taiwan, the ritual has been maintained, though with early twentieth-century war-time interruptions and later revisions. Known in Taiwan as the ‘Confucian sacrificial ceremony’ (jikong dianli), it is held only once a year on 28 September, which is named ‘Teacher’s Day’ in honour of the legacy of Confucianism and its educational ideals.
In Taiwan there are several active shrines, the largest being the Taipei Kongmiao. The Taipei shrine is a cluster of buildings and courtyards enclosed by a wall. Attached to the front of the main temple is a broad platform on which the very large sets of bells and stone chimes are positioned. Extending out from this platform is a performance terrace on which ceremonial dancers and other musicians perform. The Taipei ritual begins at dawn. Consecration officers, dignitaries, musicians and dancers march into position in the central courtyard and onto the raised performance terrace. They are accompanied by drum rolls sounded on the jingu (large barrel drum) and strokes on the very large yongzhong (bell). Following the offering of sacrificial animals, the ceremony continues with a performance of the first of six hymns, ‘Welcoming the Spirit’ (yingshen), in which the ‘spirit’ of Confucius is invited to descend into the shrine for recognition. As with all hymns, the ancient text promotes Confucian ideology, notably virtuous behaviour, welfare for the country and performance of the proper rituals.
Each hymn is organized in eight phrases, four words per phrase, each held four beats. It is introduced by three-stroke consecutive patterns on the paiban (wooden clapper), zhu (resonant wooden box) and taogu (small pole-mounted drum), and a single stroke on the bozhong (medium bell). The hymn is sung by a chorus of (usually) six male voices in unison, accompanied heterophonically by an ensemble consisting of wind instruments, zithers and struck idiophones. The wind instruments are traditionally of six types: xun (globular flute of clay), chi (transverse flute), dizi (transverse flute with membrane), xiao (vertical notched flute), paixiao (panpipes) and sheng (mouth-organ)—normally with several or more performers on each part. The zithers employed are of two types: the qin (seven-string bridgeless zither) and the se (twenty-five-string bridged zither), the popular zheng zither not traditionally employed in ritual music. Bells and stone chimes punctuate the melody at fixed time intervals, the bianzhong (frame of clapperless bells) alternating with the bianqing (frame of resonant stones).
Particularly characteristic of the Taipei ritual is the employment of percussion interludes between phrases, patterns of alternating strokes between jiangu and yinggu (large barrel drums mounted on poles), together with strokes on the teqing (single stone chime) and bozhong (medium bell). The end of the hymn is signalled by three strokes on the back of an instrument called yu, a wooden idiophone in the shape of a crouching tiger. The symbolic implications of this act are powerful, for the tiger was traditionally the most feared of all animals in China. Stroking its back is believed to represent the subjugation of the beast and conquering of evil.
See also: Confucius (recent interpretations); New Confucianism
Kishibe, Shigeo (1980). ‘China: II. Court Traditions’. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 6th edn, vol. 4. London: Macmillan: 250–3.
Lam, Joseph (1998). State Sacrifices and Music in Ming China: Orthodoxy, Creativity, and Expressiveness. Albany: State University of New York.
Moule, G.E. (1901). ‘Notes on the Ting-Chi, or Half Yearly Sacrifice to Confucius’. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, North China Branch 33: 120–56.
Thrasher, Alan (2000). Chinese Musical Instruments. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
ALAN R.THRASHER

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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