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  • Les Danses rituelles chinoises d’après Joseph-Marie Amiot: Aux sources de l’ethnochorégraphie
  • Dorothee Schaab-Hanke (bio)
Yves Lenoir and Nicolas Standaert, editors. Les Danses rituelles chinoises d’après Joseph-Marie Amiot: Aux sources de l’ethnochorégraphie. Collection Histoire, Art et Archéologie 6. Namur: Éditions Lessius and Presses Univérsitaires de Namur, 2005. 326 pp. Paperback, €36.00. ISBN 2–87299–135–2.

Thanks to the joint editorial efforts of Yves Lenoir, professor of musicology at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve (d. 2003), and Nicolas Standaert, professor of sinology at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, it is now possible to take a fresh look at the life and work of the French Jesuit missionary Joseph-Marie Amiot (1718–1793), with the Chinese name of Qian Deming , and especially his contributions in the realm of ancient Chinese ritual dance. In this volume, three texts written by Amiot, two of which are manuscripts that have never been published before, are presented in carefully made critical editions and combined with four essays by specialists in the field.

The titles of the two manuscripts, which are closely related to each other, are “Mémoire sur les danses religieuses des anciens Chinois” (Record of the religious dances of the ancient Chinese), dated 1788, and “Suite du Mémoire sur les danses religieuses des anciens Chinois” (Supplement to the record of the religious dances of the ancient Chinese), dated 1789. The first was rediscovered by Yves Lenoir in the Palace Library of Madrid, and the other by Nicolas Standaert in the National Library of Paris. Critical editions of these texts have been provided by Brigitte Van Wymeersch (pp. 181–216) and Michel Brix (pp. 243–286), respectively. Whereas the first manuscript is about “grandes danses” (perhaps rendered best as “dances [End Page 162] performed at the occasion of the great state sacrifices”), the second concentrates on “petites danses” (denoting dances performed at sacrifices of minor importance). Under both headings, a variety of dances are described. Added to the theoretical introduction is a series of plates illustrating how these dances were performed, the attributes the dancers hold in their hands, and the position of their feet, all with explanations in French.

The third text included in this volume consists of two parts, the first titled “Des danses Chinoises” (Chinese Dances), the second “Des anciennes danses Chinoises” (Ancient Chinese Dances, pp. 293–315). Although it was formerly published as part of an article under the name of abbot Francois Arnaud (1721–1784) in Journal Étranger in 1761, it can safely be ascribed to Amiot as well (pp. 287–321). The article is divided into two parts, the first discussing ancient Chinese dance in comparison with the ancient Greek dance tradition, and the second dedicated to Chinese dances and mainly quotes from one Chinese source titled “Commentary to the Classic of Ancient Music” (Guyue jingzhuan ), a book written by Li Guangdi (1642–1718), grand secretary at the court of the Kangxi emperor and a specialist of court music.

To facilitate the identification of Amiot’s transcriptions of Chinese words, tables with the corresponding transcriptions in pinyin and the Chinese characters have been provided by Nicolas Standaert for all three texts (pp. 218–220, 260, 360–317). Additionally, references to the page numbers of the originals are inserted into the newly edited text, which is very helpful, since the analyses in the essay frequently refer to the pages in the originals. Needless to say, the critical edition of these texts will be of high value for any further research on Amiot’s work, but even more stimulating than having the authentic materials at one’s disposal for further studies are the related studies, which enable the reader to view Amiot’s efforts within a broader perspective.

In the first essay (pp. 11–77), Michel Hermans conveys a vivid picture of Amiot the man and his early inclination toward music. Basing himself mainly on letters Amiot had sent to others, he reports that already in his youth he had learned to play the traverse flute and the clavecin (cembalo) and that he once said about himself that he had a “passable...