Good Stories from China: Confucius Learned to Play the Harp
Good Stories from China: Confucius Learned to Play the Harp

Confucius, the most famous Chinese thinker and educator of the 5th Century BC, once took lessons on the harp with the musician Shi Xiangzi. One day, Shi Xiangzi gave him a new piece of music without mentioning its name. Confucius started to practice.

Several days later, Shi Xiangzi said, “You have learned the piece; now you can learn a new one.” Confucius said, “I have not commanded the musical expression yet.” So he continued to practice.

Several days passed, Shi Xiangzi said, “Now you have commanded the musical expression, so you can move on to a new piece.” Confucius said, “But I have not figured out its meaning yet.” So he continued to practice.

A few more days passed, Shi Xiangzi listened to Confucius's playing, and said, “I see you have understood the meaning of the music; you can change to a new piece.” Confucius said, “But I have not figured out the personality of the composer.”

Several days later, Shi Xiangzi came again. Confucius appeared to be in deep thought, with eyes gazing afar. He said, “I have figured out what kind of person the composer is. He was dark-faced and tall, his vision was far and his aspiration was high. Who else could it be other than the King of Wen [1]?”

Shi Xiangzi stood up and bowed to Confucius in great respect, “You are truly a sage. You are right, and the music has been called King of Wen's Aspiration.

Note [1]. King of Wen, the first emperor of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC).

Source: Adapted from “The Homilies of Confucius (Kongzi Jiayu).”

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