Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Joyce Lindorff (Temple University, USA)

Tomás Pereira and the Lülü Zhengyi: transcultural exchange in the Chinese court

A Portuguese Jesuit missionary, Tomás Pereira (1645-1708) was invited to Beijing by the Emperor Kangxi in  1672 because of his accomplishment in music, mathematics and  diplomacy. Jesuit records and  Pereira’s correspondence attest to the multitude of skills he employed during his 36-year residence in China.  In addition to serving as music master to the emperor, composing Chinese hymns and building several organs in Beijing, at Kangxi’s request  Pereira was  instrumental in negotiating the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk between Russia and China, the  first such agreement between Asia and Europe.

But it was his work as music theorist that produced a far-reaching cultural exchange.  At his first appearance before Kangxi, Pereira astounded him with a demonstration of western musical notation,  repeating Chinese melodies flawlessly after one hearing. This inspired Kangxi to created a Music Academy to write about and reform  ancient Chinese music and instruments; he ordered those with ability, including one of his sons, to study music. The academy ultimately produced the four-volume Lülü Zhengyi (The True Doctrine of Music), which became an important treatise on Chinese music theory.    A fifth volume on Western music theory was  begun by Pereira; after his death it was completed by Teodorico Pedrini, his successor as court musician.

The presence of a western music treatise within the context of a Chinese theoretical study embodies a unique east-west collaboration. While the contents of the western volume provide documentary evidence of the   transmittal of western music theory to China by the late seventeenth century, the Lülü Zhengyi owes its very existence to the musical and theoretical exchange between Pereira and Kangxi.

Last updated on 10 May 2004