Six Arts


Six Arts

Six Arts refer to the six practices in ancient Chinese culture. During the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC - 256 BC), students were required to master the "liù yì" (六艺) ("Six Arts", English). They are: Rites, Music, Archery, Charioteering, Calligraphy, and Mathematics. Men who excelled in these six arts were thought to have reached the state of perfection, a perfect gentleman. Six Arts have their roots in the Confucian philosophy.

Modern day interpretation of Six Arts

The requirement of students to master the six arts is the equivalent of the Western concept of the Rennaissance man. This tradition gave much vigor to the Chinese culture until the post Yuan dynasty. The emphasis on the six arts also bred Confucian gentlemen who knew more than just the four books and the analects. The requirement for a gentleman to know mathematics gave vigor to Chinese mathematics, astronomy, and science up to the Song dynasty. There were sporadic emergence of great mathematicians, astronomers, and scientists during the pre-Yuan era.

Examples of these were Zu Chongzhi (429-500) who lived in the North and South dynasty. Zu calculated the value of pi to six significant figures, the value of the Jupiter year to four significant figures, and the lunar year accurately, plus many more. Many of his feats were not repeated in the West until about a thousand years later.

Another scientist of note is Shen Kuo (1031-1095), a renaissance man who documented many scientific findings many years before the West. Other scientists of note are Liu Hui (3rd century), Yang Hui (1238-1298), Zhu Shijie (13th century).

This knowledge was however lost by the Ming and Qing dynasties in China. One can trace the disastrous lost of this knowledge to the rise of neo-Confucianism, as emphasized by Zhu Xi.Neo-confucianism underscored the importance of the four books and the analects over the other arts. Also, many books that were written in the pre-Yuan era were lost due to war and destruction.

By the Qing dynasty, the Chinese court was not able to manage the lunar calendar accurately, andthe calendar was going out of phase with nature. This was a great embarrassment to the Chinese court, as the adherenece to the lunar calendars by the vassal states was a recognition of the sovereignity of the Chinese court over them. The Qing emperors brought in Western jesuits to help fix the Chinese calendar, even though more than a thousand years ago, the knowledge existed in China.

See also

* Confucianism
* Neo-Confucianism
* Chinese culture


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