From Confucius to Chopin
THE SOURCE: “Why Chinese People Play Western Classical Music: Transcultural Roots of Music Philosophy” by Hao Huang, in International Journal of Music Education, Oct. 11, 2011 (online).
There may be no place in the world where the great works of the Western classical music tradition are so widely admired as in China. Some 36 million Chinese children are studying the piano, six times the number of American children. Government has poured money into majestic new music halls such as the Shanghai Opera House and the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. What one critic has called the “frenzy” for music training in China, writes Hao Huang, a professor of music at Scripps College, has an unexpected history.
Western classical music wasn’t introduced to the Chinese public until Christian missionaries came in the 19th century, but it quickly gained popularity and prestige as a symbol of the Western “culture of scientific progress and modernization.” The rigors of classical training fit the Confucian value of self-cultivation through self-discipline. Confucius believed that the study of music was “an indispensable way to train the mind,” Huang notes, and considered it more important than mathematics and writing. The great sage said that “one is roused by Songs [poetry], established by ritual, and perfected by Music.”
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