I don't understand what is the role of music in their lives and what is the relevance between sacrifices and music?

As a historical ethnomusicologist, I wish I could do fieldwork in the Ming court, observing the court citizens and asking them why state sacrifices and music played such a central role in their public and private lives. The emperors and scholar-officials cannot be reached now, but they have left a wealth of evidence that they found their state sacrifices and music expressive.

"State Sacrifices and Music in Ming China" - Joseph S.C. Lam

"Methodologies for historical ethnomusicology in the twenty-first century" by David G.Hebert and Jonathan McCollum in

  • 1
    If you are quoting a passage, you need to provide a link or credit to the author or source.
    – justCal
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 14:05
  • The source is Methodologies for historical ethnomusicology in the twenty-first century by David G.Hebert and Jonathan McCollum and this sentence is a quotation from Joseph Lam.
    – Maryam
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 14:33
  • Actually the original source is: sunypress.edu/p-2735-state-sacrifices-and-music-in-m.aspx
    – Maryam
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


Ceremony, even today, often integrates music into the process. Think of the

  • customary playing of 'Pomp and Circumstance' during a graduation ceremony

  • the National Anthem to begin a sporting event

  • 'Hail to the Chief' announcing the entry of the President of the United States

  • various national anthems to salute the medal winners at the Olympic games

  • the Wedding March during a marriage

  • or 'Amazing Grace' played on bagpipes during some funeral processions

. This music is all integrated into our understanding of these events, and has become part of many of our current(american) ceremonies.

The Ming Dynasty was no different. Several rituals were performed on a regular basis, and they had accompanying ritual music and dance performances. From AsianArt.org:

Many of the rituals were seasonal, and by the Ming dynasty there was at least one every month; these rituals took on prescribed forms with carefully determined and properly performed dance, movement, and sacrifices.

Two of the larger rituals, were the Sacrifice to Heaven, and the Sacrifices to Imperial Ancestors. These were ritual type events, with very specific forms and procedures to be followed.

from wiki on the Temple of Heaven:

In ancient China, the Emperor of China was regarded as the Son of Heaven, who administered earthly matters on behalf of, and representing, heavenly authority. To be seen to be showing respect to the source of his authority, in the form of sacrifices to heaven, was extremely important. The temple was built for these ceremonies, mostly comprising prayers for good harvests.

Twice a year the Emperor and all his retinue would move from the Forbidden City through Beijing to encamp within the complex, wearing special robes and abstaining from eating meat. No ordinary Chinese was allowed to view this procession or the following ceremony. In the temple complex the Emperor would personally pray to Heaven for good harvests. The highpoint of the ceremony at the winter solstice was performed by the Emperor on the Earthly Mount. The ceremony had to be perfectly completed; it was widely held that the smallest of mistakes would constitute a bad omen for the whole nation in the coming year.

Ritual music forms in China are discussed in more detail, including intruements used and a sample audio file, under the heading Yayue.

Yayue (Chinese: 雅樂; literally: "elegant music") was originally a form of classical music and dance performed at the royal court in ancient China. The basic conventions of yayue were established in the Western Zhou. Together with law and rites, it formed the formal representation of aristocratic political power.


The music of the Ming Dynasty was a "throwback" to ancient Kun Qu music that went back roughly two millennia, to before the Birth of Christ. It was a deeper, sadder kind of music that the lively music favored by the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty. It harkened to a time when people lived barely on the edge of subsistence (most of China had advanced beyond that by the mid first Millennium, or what the Europeans call the Dark Ages), except that the Ming Dynasty was one of the more tragic dynasties in relatively modern Chinese histories. The idea of needing sacrifices to appease the gods was an element of Ming music, and notably absent from culture of other modern Chinese dynasties, while being a "staple" of the ancient ones, as well as many other non-Chinese cultures from before the birth of Christ.

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