The lecture argues, firstly, that there is no consistent and unified idea of harmony in early Chinese texts. Current discussions about harmony in China, whether Western or Chinese, in most cases follow three fallacious assumptions: that Chinese terms connected to the semantic field of harmony are all referring to similar concepts of harmony, that therefore the Western term “harmony” is a good translation for most of these terms and, because the character he 和 is the most representative of these terms, he should be consistently translated as “harmony”. Secondly, 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 1930s. The connection between China and “harmony” originated not from engagement with the Chinese tradition but instead 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 20thcentury in which this term was applied to Asian philosophies and religions.

Joachim Gentz is Chair of Chinese Philosophy & Religion and Head of Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His main research interests lie in the fields of Chinese philosophy and religions, text and commentary, ritual and divination, and theories of cultural and religious studies. Further interests include conceptions of space and body, Chinese histories of thought, and Chinese literary composition (artistic prose).