Chinese he 和 in many keys, harmonised in Europe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The paper argues, first, that there is no consistent and unified idea of harmony in early Chinese texts. Talking about harmony in China in most cases follows two fallacious assumptions, first, that identical terms refer to similar concepts and, second, that the Western term “harmony” is a good translation for most of these terms or should consistently be used when translating the character he 和. Second, I will discuss when, how and why the Western term “harmony” came to be used to cover all these aspects. The notion of “harmony” did not play any significant role in Western or Eastern discussions of Chinese culture before the 1920s. The connection between China and “harmony” originated not from engagement with Chinese tradition but emerged from two mutually independent movements that had their roots in concerns about European culture. First, in Pietistic, Hermetic and Mesmeric movements in the late 18th and early 19th century from where it advanced to become widely used as a vogue expression in intellectual and artistic circles in the late 19th and early 20th century. Second, in the revival of Western interests in Asian philosophies and religions in the late 19th and early 20th century in which this term was applied to Asian philosophies and religions. Chinese discourses on China took it over from there.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKeywords in Chinese Culture
EditorsWai-yee Li, Yuri Pines
PublisherChinese University Press of The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Number of pages48
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Chinese he 和 in many keys, harmonised in Europe'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this