What does music convey to people living within a culture? How is it understood? How should we approach the study of music when we want to attain a synthetic and comprehensive view of musical activities in human culture? This article explores the cultural interface of the traditional Chinese musical instrument, the guqin. It brings to light the interconnections of ideas and images of this instrument with the expressive resources of Chinese culture, and it studies the symbolism of this music in terms of its orientations toward cosmological views of life, human comportment, poetic values, and spiritual attainment. By tracing the networks of symbolic meaning throughout the cultural fields of Chinese life, one can arrive at a deeper understanding of the thoroughgoing resonance of musical performances in this part of the world.

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