The Suspended Music Tradition of the Zhou Dynasty

Apr 7 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA

Zhang Wenjie (Associate Professor, Department of History, Xiamen University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2019-20)

Chair/discussant: Rowan Flad (John E. Hudson Professor of Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University)

In ancient China, ritual served as the fundamental basis for structuring society. It is only through understanding the ritual system that we may come to have a nuanced appreciation for how society was structured during the Zhou Dynasty. Transmitted texts reveal that the Zhou ritual system was a means of demarcating social rank in order to distribute power and resolve disputes, with the ultimate goal of stabilizing society and moreover creating cosmic harmony.

Within this system, music was strictly regulated, with elite musical performances linked to the art of rulership. Thus, like bronze sacrificial vessels and other ritual paraphernalia, musical instruments (and performances with them) were among the most important expressions of ritual in early China, and constitute a material manifestation of Zhou social hierarchy. Numerous bronze bells have been unearthed in China, and many early texts describe musical performances and their significance. This talk will present a systematical analysis of these sources, to explicate how musical instruments and their performance uniquely signaled social status during the Zhou period.