Suggestions needed for ‘harmony’ in Confucian thought

I’m seeking suggestions for scenarios, accounts or conversations where ‘harmony’ between self and elements of social/political life may be detected. I’m looking at texts associated with the Confucian tradition, including the histories, from Han and before. I am aware this is an interpretive matter and, at this stage, I’m keen to keep the casting net as wide as possible. One quick example that comes to mind is the Lunyu‘s 和而不同 or the Zuozhuan‘s soup (左传·昭公二十年). But there will be much more beyond quips like this. I’m also keen to look at accounts where terms like 和 (or ones that suggest it, e.g. 由 (A1.12) or 從 (A4.18)) are not present but where the idea of harmony – and its implications – emerges from the turn of events described in the passage.

Any ideas would be much appreciated! Thanks in advance.

Karyn Lai

16 replies on “Suggestions needed for ‘harmony’ in Confucian thought”

  1. Hi Karyn,
    In case you don’t already know of it, there is Chenyang Li’s book “The Confucian Philosophy of Harmony”; for a shorter account, his earlier paper on harmony “The Confucian Ideal of Harmony” (Philosophy East and West, V.56, N.4, Oct 2006) includes some informative passages from the Shijing.

  2. If I remember correctly, Steve takes up the soup metaphor in Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy.

    Of course, there are also all the references to music that abound in the classical texts. A good resource taking up this connection is Erica Brindley’s Music, Cosmology, and the Poltics of Harmony in Early China.

    Johanna Liu’s “Art and Aesthetics of Music in Classical Confucianism” in the Dao Companion to Classical Confucianism could also be useful.

  3. Thanks v much, Andrew and Mat. I do know some of these analyses; I will look at them again and the others you’ve each suggested.

    Apart from analyses and studies, if any one has references from the primary texts, I’d be very grateful too.

  4. 9.19 of the *Xunzi* looks pretty appropriate:

    “Water and fire have qì but have no life. Grass and trees have life but have no knowledge (consciousness?). Birds and beasts have knowledge but no yì (righteousness/duty). People have qì, life, knowledge, and they also have yì, which is why they are the most valuable in the world. They are not as strong as the ox, nor are they as fast as the horse, but the ox and horse work for them. Why? It is because people can flock together and those others cannot. How can people flock together? It is because they have divisions. How can they make divisions? It is because of yì. *If you usu yì to divide up [the people], there will be harmony (和), and from harmony comes unity, and from unity comes much strength.* From much strength comes power, and from power comes excelling beyond things. And so people build houses to live in. The four seasons proceed, the myriad things are used, and benefit is united under Heaven. It is for no other reason than having social divisions and yì.” (My very quick translation. Here on ctext:

    Xunzi’s got some other uses of harmony along these lines: 4.12, 10.6, 10.10, 10.11, 10.13, 10.17, 20.2, 23.1, and 23.2 ( numbers).

    Interestingly, Xunzi mostly uses the concept of harmony (I’m only looking at 和) in book 10 as grounds for criticizing Mohist frugality, since harmony relies upon prominent displays of wealth and grand ritual and musical ceremonies.

  5. Karyn, you’re asking not so much about harmony as a state of society, but rather about harmony as a relation between (a) one person and (b) others or (some aspect of) society — as when Confucius says the junzi harmonizes?

  6. I’m sorry that I don’t know enough ancient material to offer much help. I suppose one could just do a machine search for 和 and then focus on those cases where it seems probable or possible that the 和ing party is only one of those among whom the presumably resulting和 obtains (and not just because he is their ruler making them be in harmony with each other). The examples I know of are Analects 7.32 and 13.23 (but not on A&R’s readings). And once a unifying core picture emerges from all those passages, one would then know what kinds of passages without “和” would be illuminating about the conceptual field around that picture.

    I have always assumed that at 1.12 Youzi was talking about harmony as a condition of a community, resulting from the community’s adherence to ritual; I think “小大” means all parties, emphasizing 上下. But in the latter part of the passage he could conceivably be talking about an individual’s action. Here two passages that may have some authority as to how people understood Youzi’s discussion of harmony at 1.12—what other ideas and terms they associated with it:

  7. I have no further suggestion about the primary source, although I do believe the subtlest thought of 和 in the Ru tradition is in the ‘Ten Wings’ of The Book of Change. Traditional Ru commentaries follow the tradition that interprets the third character in the Statement of Hexagram Qian, 利, as 和, and this is of tremendous influence upon the entire Ru tradition. From here, all kinds of primary sources can be connected with each other, although these resources may not necessarily mention the term 和. Besides, ‘harmony’ is not a good translation of 和, because in the Analects, it is taught that harmony cannot establish itself just for the sake of harmony. It must be restrained by ritual-priority. In this sense, the ideal of 和 in the Ru tradition reaches beyond ‘being-together’. It is actually a justified, principled, and dynamic status of being-and-becoming together. So I suggest ‘dynamic harmony’ to translate 和. I also once wrote a short essay to argue that in this sense, ‘dynamic harmony’ is a political principle for civil disobedience. Hope this is helpful. Thanks!

    • Hi Bin Song, I like that HuffPo essay. Your account of Chinese musical harmony there reminds me of jazz – which an old blogfriend who went by “Peony” once really helpfully proposed as a model for I forget what, saying that such open-ended jamming was a traditional Japanese practice. Jazz jamming could easily be mistaken for “知和而和,不以禮節之”—but of course it does respect some rules and principles.

      I don’t understand your Youzian argument against “harmony” rather than “dynamic harmony” as a translation of 和. You write,

      Besides, ‘harmony’ is not a good translation of 和, because in the Analects, it is taught that harmony cannot establish itself just for the sake of harmony. It must be restrained by ritual-priority.

      You’re saying “和” can’t mean (mere) “harmony,” because (mere) “harmony” isn’t self-sustaining? But if that’s a paraphrase of Youzi’s “知和而和,不以禮節之” then you’re reading “和” as (mere) “harmony” in that line?

      Or maybe your point is that “harmony” just means coexistence, and one could not say of mere coexistence what Youzi says of “和” in that line, so “和” can’t simply be “harmony”?

    • Bill, thanks for the comment. First, I have to correct my spelling. I should say ‘restrained by ritual-propriety’. This blog doesn’t allow to edit as Facebook does, so sometimes it causes spelling mishaps. I am sorry about this.
      Second, my account of musical harmony should be partially credited to Prof. Li Chen-yang’s book. I benefited a lot from reading his book in order to figure out what the Ru idea of ‘harmony’ means.
      Third, about your confusion, in my understanding, Youzi’s words about ‘harmony’ in the Analects remind us that 和, understood as ‘sheer coexitence’, is not the genuine Ru ideal of 和. The genuine Ru ideal of 和 should include ‘ritual-propriety’ and other features that are nicely characterized by Li Chen-yang’s book based up his analysis of multiple primary resources. Therefore, I submit that according to this more sufficient understanding of the Ru ideal of 和, we should translate it as ‘dynamic harmony’, rather than ‘harmony’, since in the English vocabulary, ‘harmony’ can be static, meaning ‘sheer coexistence’.

  8. In addition to the “Ten Wings” (good suggestion there!), you’ll find LOTS of references to 和 in Xunzi–surely enough material for a specialized article.

    You might also want to consider the phrase zhonghe 中和, which is related but not identical. The most famous usage is in Zhongyong 中庸, but you’ll find it in other texts too (including Xunzi).

    Finally, there’s “夫和實生物,同則不繼” in 國語‧鄭語. Interesting discussion.

  9. Joachim Gentz has written a piece on this topic, see his “Chinese he 和 in many keys, harmonised in Europe”, in: “Keywords in Chinese Thought and Literature”, ed. by Yuri Pines, Andrew Plaks, and Lu Zhao, to appear in 2017

  10. Dear Paul, I don’t know, sorry. But you could ask him directly for a copy, I am sure he will send you one. Best, Kai

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.