Natural and Eternal Music from Heaven

Shi Kuang, from today's Dongshi Village, Shanxi Province, was a musician in the Jin State during the Spring and Autumn Period. He was very accomplished at many different types of Chinese musical instruments. He was one of the most celebrated musicians in Chinese history and was revered as "a saint of music." Many stories illustrating Shi Kuang's respect for Heaven, his compassion for mankind, and his divinely beautiful music are well documented.

Shi Kuang adopted Confucianism's principle of music, which maintains that music must be created to encourage people to use proper etiquette and to cultivate their hearts. He believed in the traditional rites, the music and culture established by the Duke of Zhou in the West Zhou Dynasty, and advocated the theory that music must adhere to the way of Heaven, follow the course of nature, and steer its audience toward morality through its content. This is what's known as "the harmony between heaven and people through music." Music with rhythm and tempo does not ensure it will resonate in the listeners' hearts. Only music that comes from a harmonious heart will reach Heaven, speak to the heart of the listeners, and attain a higher realm where the musician's and the listeners' hearts will be purified and enlightened as to the way of Heaven.

According to Shi Kuang, there are three categories of ancient Chinese music, including Qing Shang, Qing Zheng, and Qing Jiao. Qing Shang is the music of doom, Qing Zheng is the music of harmony, and Qing Jiao is the music of prosperity. It was alleged that horses would stop grazing and raise their heads to listen to Shi Kuang when he played. Hunting birds would land and stop hunting to sing with Shi Kuang.

One day Duke Ping of the Jin State and the duke of the Wei State were listening to a musical performance by Shi Juan, the court musician of the Wei State. Shortly after the performance began, Shi Kuang hurried to the scene and stopped Shi Juan. "Please stop! This is the music of doom created by corrupt court officials for the tyrannous King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty," exclaimed Shi Kuang. "The Shang Dynasty was terminated by King Wu of the Zhou State because King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty was immoral. Good, kind music will benefit its audience and steer them toward morality. Bad music will cause its audience to lose self-control and steer them toward degeneration. Music must be created to spread morality. One must never perform bad music that will ruin people's morality!"

The duke of Jin State asked Shi Kuang, "What do you call the music Shi Juan has played?" Shi Kuang replied, "This is Qing Shang, the music of doom." The duke of Jin State said, "Then you must play the music of harmony for us." Shi Kuang played Qing Zheng music for the two rulers, a music of harmony.

Shi Kuang displayed the most marvelous technique when he played the Chinese zither. After the first chord, 16 red cranes landed from the southern sky. At the second chord, the cranes lined up in a row. At the third chord, the cranes sang and danced in a row. As Shi Kuang continued, colorful clouds appeared in the sky and the singing of the cranes harmonized with the music of the zither. The music echoed in the sky for a long time. The audience members felt the music of Heaven inspired by nature and felt their hearts expand and become peaceful. Everyone marveled at the music and congratulated Shi Kuang for his musical achievement. The story spawned the Chinese idiom, "Red cranes and colorful clouds," which is used to describe delightful, heavenly music.

Shi Kuang pointed out that music must be created to steer people toward kindness and to spread morality. Shi Kuang created White Snow, Sunny Spring and many elevated and harmonious musical pieces. In Sunny Spring, Shi Kuang vividly portrayed the growing, reviving nature of springtime. He also portrayed the image of a lofty gentleman who guards his morality and aspires toward a beautiful future. Ancient Chinese people believed that elevated music can reach Heaven and deliver truth, profoundity, and eternity to its audience. Steering people toward kindness and spreading goodness far and wide is a way to show one's affinity and concern for mankind. It is also a way to show one's appreciation for the grace of Heaven.

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