In 2012 it was estimated that approximately 36 million Chinese children studied piano. Compare this to 6 million in the USA. Another 50 million study violin. These figures – and much of the content below were obtained from a journal article of the same year by Hao Huang Why Chinese people play Western classical music: Transcultural roots of music philosophy. It would be interesting to know present participation figures, and I thank Hao Huang for this illuminating information.
In China, there is a widely held belief that music education forms good citizenship. Hence, Chinese parents urge their children to excel in music. This respect for music comes from the values espoused by Confucius. Like Pythagoras, he referred to the value of music in moral training and formation. Consider these verses from Confucius:
A man who is not good, what can he have to do with music?
To go to the very root of our feelings and know the changes which they undergo is the province of music.
Despite some hiccups along the way, the value afforded music education in China has endured today. Chinese parents reinforce music practice because they consider the resulting self-discipline as essential in itself, and applicable to other academic pursuits.
Interestingly, music and Joy share the same ancient Chinese calligraphic symbol.
Like in ancient Greek thought, the Chinese believe that good music creates good morals, and so Confucius conceived of music education as a way to address social and political problems. This involved integrating songs and music in curricula to develop students’ sensibility and ethical commitments.
“One is aroused by poetry, established by ritual, and perfected by music.” .
Chinese culture celebrates high performance and high achievement, and classical music fits beautifully with this culture. Cultural distinctions aside, East Asia countries share an intense commitment to Western classical music.
In the next post I’ll return to music’s relationship with the multiple intelligences, and in particular ‘Music and Picture Smart’.
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