Honours Thesis on Notions of Harmony in Classical Chinese Thought

I’ve decided I’ll start a new category on my blog to talk about my Honours thesis. Ever since I’ve been hospitalised, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate and write philosophical essays. However, I don’t seem to have this problem when it comes to blogging. I’m guessing blogging about my thesis might help me out a bit.

As an introduction to the whole project, here’s the abstract of what my paper is about:

Notions of Harmony in Classical Chinese Thought

Harmony is a concept that is central to Chinese thought both classical and modern. Ironically, harmony is a concept that has not been thoroughly studied. In fact, scholarship on this issue has been surprisingly few though more can be said about it. One key area lacking in present scholarship is the absence of a detailed study in  attempting to explain the specific details of harmony and what it entails. Often, such notions of harmony are defined as a process by which contrary or opposite elements/forces complete, complement, or mutually benefit one another. However, very little has been said in the existing works on what it means to complete, complement or even to mutually benefit these opposing forces. Moreover, the concept of harmony is often closely associated with Confucianism. Chinese thinkers, whom we traditionally regard as Confucians, such as Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi, are often grouped together as if they form a single train of thought on what harmony is. This, however, is a big problem as it assumes that the conception of harmony is homogeneous amongst these thinkers. As very little is said about harmony in the other philosophical schools apart from Confucianism, this has led people to a misconception that the concept of harmony in China has been homogeneous across time and across the various thinkers.

In this paper, I will study the various notions of harmony presented by classical Chinese thinkers and attempt to provide a detailed account of harmony – what constitutes as harmony; how does one conduct the process of harmony; and what does one aim for in the act of harmonising – while also highlighting the differences between these thinkers. I will begin by first studying the historical pre-beginnings of the concept of harmony, showing how this concept arose from two sources – culinary and music. Scholars, however, disagree on whether these two sources have developed into a single unified model or if these two sources have developed into two separate models of harmony. Therefore, as I survey the various philosophical texts, I will denote the two metaphors of harmony as harmony[culinary] and harmony[music], and from there, determine if these two metaphors of harmony as employed by classical thinkers do indeed converge into a single model or not. Having determined whether there is indeed a unified model or not, I will then proceed to highlight the differences between the various thinkers in my account of harmony.

If you’re interested, here’s the structure of my thesis (maximum word count – a strict 12,000 words):

1. Introduction [1000 words]

2. Chapter 1: The Two Sources Influencing the Pre-beginnings of Harmony [2500 words]

  • Harmony in a culinary context
  • Harmony in a musical context
  • The Disagreement – One Unified Model or Two Separate Models?

3. Chapter 2: A Survey of Harmony in classical Chinese Thought [4000 words]

  • Methodology
  • Harmony in the Analects
  • Harmony in the Daodejing and in the Zhuangzi
  • Harmony in the Mencius and in the Xunzi
  • Harmony in the Hanfeizi [note: only if time permits]
  • Harmony in the Zhongyong

4. Chapter 3: Analytic Discussion on the Notion of Harmony [3000 words]

  • Two models or one unified model?
  • Minimum requirements for something to be considered as harmony
  • Differences Between the Various Thinkers

5. Conclusion [1000 words]