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Musical Thought in the Zhuangzi: A Criticism of the Confucian Discourse on Ritual and Music


Musical thought in the Chinese tradition is frequently discussed in terms of the Confucian discourse on “ritual and music (lǐyuè 禮樂),” but how this Confucian discourse has been viewed by its critics has seldom been addressed. This paper aims to explore musical thought in the Zhuangzi as a serious critique of Confucian musical discourse. Zhuangzian thinkers doubt whether Confucian ritual music can avoid restricting music within a specific musical tradition, impeding the freedom to enjoy music, and distorting the nature of music. Unlike Confucian discourse, which emphasizes music’s external effects, Zhuangzian musical thought ultimately leads us to focus on the essential questions: how to cultivate one’s own sensibility toward musical harmony, how to open one’s mind to comprehend different musical sources, and how to eventually reach musical Dao.

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Correspondence to So Jeong Park.

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Park, S.J. Musical Thought in the Zhuangzi: A Criticism of the Confucian Discourse on Ritual and Music. Dao 12, 331–350 (2013).

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  • Zhuangzi
  • Musical thought
  • Ritual and music (liyue)
  • Chinese philosophy