Marquis Yi of Zeng Bells (interred 433 BCE), Hubei Provincial Museum
Project (2021)

Music and Transience in the Historiography of Six Dynasties China

Ephemerality and politics lie at the heart of this group project on early medieval China. We intend to analyze how elites coped with the destructive quality that time brings to all human activities and how such notions were reflected in practices of sound manipulation/music and perceptions of time. Focusing on a period of geopolitical fragmentation, social change, and religious-intellectual diversity, we wish to counterpoise a literature that has modelled dynastic unity and successions as the “normal/ideal” practices in China, and offer a view to developments in astronomy/calendrics and music/sound as a cosmic instrument or gauge. My own work within this larger project will focus on musical developments in Six Dynasties China as reflected in the historiography of the period, in particular the “Treatise on Music” of the History of the Jin—showing how the treatise reflects an extremely conservative approach to musical creation, and, insofar as it constitutes a response to the palpably transient nature of government and society during the period, its focus is almost entirely on seeking ways to recapture order by looking to both the successful models of the past and, thereby, bringing everything in tune with the essentially orderly framework of Heaven and Earth.