An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Shaowu jiucheng yuebu 韶舞九成樂補

Nov 22, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Shaowu jiucheng yuebu 韶舞九成樂補 "Ninefold perfected music of the dances of Emperor Shun" is a book on dancing compiled during the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) by Yu Zai 余載, courtesy name ache 大車, style Sanshan buyi 三山布衣. He hailed from Fujian, lived during the reign of Emperor Renzong 元仁宗 (r. 1311-1320), and gave up his official post to take care of his parents.

The short book is listed in the bibliography Wenyuange shumu 文淵閣書目, but no copy has survived so far, apart from a few fragments quoted in the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典. These include the chapters Jiude zhi geyin tu 九德之歌音圖, Jiude zhi geyitu 九德之歌義圖, Jiushao zhi wuzhui zhaotu 九磬之舞綴兆圖 and Jiushao zhi wu caizhang tu 九磬之舞采章圖.

Figure 1. Score of ceremonial music
Score of the music to the words of the "Counsels of Yu the Great" (Da Yu mo 大禹謨) of the Classic Shangshu 尚書. The horizontal lines of the grid represent different tones (with a register change after syllable 16, and a further one later), the vertical ones each syllable of the text. After the register change, an annotation explains a correction of an error the original score concerning the tone of the word 允. Siku quanshu 四庫全書 edition.

According to legend, the art of dancing was invented by a certain minister called Kui 夔, who liked to express the virtue of Emperor Shun 舜 by the performance of dances. No illustrations or descriptions of ancient dances have survived. Yu Zai's book was the first book that contains such illustrations. The various steps and formations of the dances are said to be based on the figures of the "River Map" (Hetu 河圖 and the "Inscription of the River Luo" (Luoshu 洛書) and the sequence of Yin 陰 and Yang 陽 movements and odd and even numbers. A combination of these numbers and aspects results in dancing figures (to be seen in the chapter Jiushao zhi wuzhui zhaotu).

The dances are performed by eight teams (yi 佾) à 8 persons. The chapter Jiushao zhi wu caizhang tu explains the nine colours of the robes worn by the dancers. Yellow is worn by the 16 persons dancing in the middle of the circle, and the colours blue-green, vermillion, white and black correspond to the cardinal directions and the seasons, each of which are represented by 8 persons. The intermediate colours red, purple, green and jade-green, worn by 4 people each, occupy the four ordinal directions. Additional illustrations in this chapter show round formations, square formations, and various combinations of figures.

Yu Zai compares the movements of the dancers' feet (as an expression of the River Chart) and arms (expressing the Inscription of the Luo) with musical instruments. The various musical modes inspire their spirits and limbs, so that they can express harmony and propriety with the help of their bodies, and in accord with music.

Unfortuntely the text is full of clerical errors. Because of its rareness it was nevertheless included in the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, and is also to be found in the series Mohai jinhu 墨海金壺 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 622.
Luo Yifeng 羅藝峰 (2007). "Cong Shaowu jiucheng yue bu de shuli yunyan kann gudai yinyue sixiang de fanshi tezheng 從《韶舞九成樂補》的數理運演看古代音樂思想的范式特徵", Zhongguo yinyuexue 中國音樂學, 2007 (7).
Peng Song 彭松 (1989). "Shaowu jiucheng yue bu 韶舞九成樂補", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Vol. Yinyue wudao 音樂•舞蹈 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 573.