ca - 500 BC __ The concept of Chhi in relation to Acoustics
‣ Comment : The concept of Chhi in relation to Acoustics, then, had two main sources. It could go up from earth to ancestors, and it could come down from heaven with the ancestors to earth. A third but very important source was in man himself, in his breath (pneuma). [...] Naturally any attemps to trace the development of this idea must be rather hypothetical, but some form of hypothesis is necessary if Chinese acoustic thinking is to be understood. [...] [We] suggest a connection which is immortant for early Chinese acoustic theories, for if chhi is something which can be canalised or piped off (Ssuma Chêng in the 8th century, commenting on the "Shih Chi" ["Records of the Historian" or, to be more exact, "the Astrologer", the first general history of the Chinese cecumene], says indeed that a pitch-pipe is that by which one canalises chhi), the obvious instrument for the purpose would be a bamboo tube, such as is used in China for irrigation. Consequently, it is not surprising to find early references to the shaman-musician piping off his own chhi through bamboo tubed in an attemps to alter the processes of Nature. — of heaven's chhi. — by sympathetic magic. Should we not see rather late echo of this practice in the story of Tsou Yen (- 4th century) blowing on his pitch-pipes for the benefit of the crops. To call these magical tubes pitch-pipes, however, is probably an anticipation of subsequent developments [...]. Probably "humming tubes" would be more appropriate. [...] Moreover, [...] acoustic examples were frequently adduced by naturalist thinkers in ancient China to support their characteristic conception of a universal continuum and the reality of action at a distance by wave transmission therein. [...] There can be little doubt that the Chinese of these early centuries believed they knew a way of divining the outcome of a batlle by some peculiar process of blowing or humming through tubes. « On seeing the enemy from afar it is possible to know in advance what the outcome of a battle will be, for better or for worse. On hearing the sound it is possible to know whether there will be victory or defeat. Such is the method which has not varied under a hundred kings » (Ssuma Chhienà). The use of hollow tubes, bones or branches as speaking trumpets for disguising or amplifying the voice of the shaman is widespread among primitive peoples. [...] The "Book of War" [« Ping Fa »] states how the five qualities of sound my be interpreted : « Violent winds in summer correspond with the note ‘chio’ ... crashing peals of thunder in autumn correspond with the note ‘shang’ ... autumn lightning flashes correspond with the note ‘chih’ ... cloudbursts of rain in spring and summer correspond with the note ‘ÿu’ ... rumbling thunder in autumn corresponds to the note ‘kung’ » [The five notes of the pentatonic scale, or their relative intervals, were called kung, shang, chio, chih, and yu. Each of these five notes corresponds to one of the Five Phases]. « The Great Instructor blows the tubes, uniting the sounds. If it is ‘shang’ there will be victory in the fight; the soldiers of the army are strong. If it is ‘chio’ the army is troubled; many vacillate, and lose their martial courage. If it is ‘kung’ the army is in good accord; officers and men are of one mind. If it is ‘chih’ there is restlessness and much irritation; the soldiers are tired. If it is ‘ÿu’ the soldiers are soft, and little glory will be gained. » The diviner was apparently able to learn the morale of his own troops by blowing the pipes on the first day of the campaign, and of the enemy by blowing them before battle was joined. [...] We are forced then to conclude that, as a development of the pseudo-science of divination, ‘kung’, ‘shang’, ‘chio’, ‘chih’, and ‘ÿu’ were at one time names connoting qualities describing the volume of timbre of certain sounds. (Ling Wang & Joseph Needham.)
‣ Source : Wang, Ling and Needham, Joseph (1962), “Science and Civilization in China: Physics and Physical Technology : Physics”, Vol. IV, Cambridge University Press, pp. 135-141.
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