chapter  8
42 Pages

Confucian and Western Aesthetics: A Brief Comparative Study

ByHsin Kwan-chue

Confucius, one of the greatest thinkers of theworld, has long been the idol of the Chinese people. The position and influence of Confucius may be ascribed to four factors: first, his aesthetic sensibility and artistic temperament; second, the intrinsic appeal of his ideas to the Chinese way of thinking; third, his enormous historical learning and scholarship heaped up and virtually monopolized by him and his immediate disciples, in contrast to other schools of thought in his time which did not bother with historical learning; and fourth, the gentility of his character. The national and the personal were thus combined in him, each in its highest degree of excellence. While other schools of thought speculated on one subject or another, Confucius and his followers dealt with China as one single entity. The Five Classics and the Four Books, being the monuments of antiquity, are in fact a testament of the experiences, achievements, art concepts and ethical teachings of theChinese race. Theywere to theChinesewhat theOld Testament was to the Hebrew People. The latter testifies to the religious experiences of the Jews, the former records the social experiments of the Chinese. Confucius typified the Chinese. He was represented as, as all now believe him to have been, the beau ideal of humanity in its best and noblest estate. It is no wonder that in preference to others, Confucianism has become the standard creed and that it maintained supremacy for ages. The aesthetic sensibility and artistic temperament of Confucius can be seen

from the following facts. He is said to have edited the Shih Ching (that is, the

Book of Poetry or the Book of Odes).1 It is recorded that he personally sang all the three hundred and five odes and poems contained in it and played the music on a stringed instrument in order to make sure that each of them fitted in with the musical score.2 In reply to one of his disciples who proposed to abolish the winter sacrifices of lambs, Confucius said, ‘You love the lamb, but I love the li’ (that is 礼, the ritual).3 It was also recorded that when he heard the music of Shao (韶, said to be composed by Emperor Shun), he did not know the taste of meat for three months. ‘I did not think’, he said, ‘that music could be so beautiful’.4 When Confucius was singing with others and liked the song sung, he always asked for an encore and then would join in the chorus.5

In his discourse with his disciples, the nature-lover in him made him give approval to one of them who said he liked to go with several grown-ups and younger ones to bathe in the river and to air and cool themselves in the gentle breeze in the woody terrace and sang on their way home.6