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Appendix I. The Custom of Mourning to the Third Year

The custom of mourning for parents to the third year was urged by Confucius, 1 seemingly because it reinforced the virtue of filial piety. 2 It was vehemently attacked by Moh-tzu, 3 and defended by Mencius 4 and Hsün-tzu. 5 However, even in the state of Lu at the time of Mencius, it was still an uncommon practise. When he urged it upon the Duke of T'eng, after the death of Duke T'ing, the court advisors memorialized the Duke saying, "None of the former princes of Lu, which kingdom we honor, observed [this practise of mourning to the third year], neither have any of our own former princes observed it." 6 In its extreme form, when the son spent his time weeping and in partial fasting, cutting himself off from his usual pursuits, this custom could only have originated among aristocrats, for no one else had the leisure to devote two years and more to such a practise.

This custom of mourning to the third year seems to have remained a specifically Confucian practise. Emperor Wen, in his posthumous edict of 157 B.C., condemned it and limited mourning for an emperor to the thirty-sixth day after his burial. 7 That period was thereafter adopted by officials in mourning for their own parents. 8 Even the famous Confucian bibliophile, Liu Tê, King Hsien of Ho-chien (d. 130 B.C.), seems not to have followed the custom of mourning to the third year. We have the citation of his deeds by his Commandant of the Capital, 9 and it says nothing about his having mourned to the third year, even though he is said to have cultivated Confucian practises in his rites and robes. Thus the attack of Moh-tzu upon the Confucian mourning rites and Emperor Wen's condemnation of this practise seems to have led the Confucians themselves to dispense with this practise until their doctrine secured an unchallenged hold upon official China. It remained quite uncommon to the end of the first century B.C., for in 7 B.C. Emperor Ai considered this practise unusual and so meritorious that he rewarded King Hui of Ho-chien, Liu Liang, a descendant of King Hsien, by a complimentary edict and an increase by ten thousand households in the size of his kingdom, for having mourned to the third year for his mother, the Queen Dowager. 10 In the same year Erudits and their Discileave,who were the teachers in the Confucian Imperial University, were allowed to take leave to the third year to mourn for their parents. 11 The practise of mourning to the third year seems thus to have first been propagated widely during the latter part of the first century B.C.

The Han dynasty stressed filial piety in many ways. The Classic of Filial Piety was a textbook studied by all; the Han Emperors (except the first) were all given the word "hsiao 孝, filially pious" as the first part of their posthumous names. They made occasional grants to Filially Pious people and had persons recommended for the bureaucracy because of their filial piety. Emperor Ai considered a lack of filial conduct as sufficient grounds for dismissing even the highest official. 12 Hence it is quite natural, when Confucianism came to be well established and an attempt was made to fulfil all its requirements, that the practise of mourning to the third year should have been revived and adopted by those who were careful in their Confucianism and the leisure to follow this custom.

Yet the practise was slow in spreading. It was not until Jan. 1, 117 A.D. that the Empress nee Teng, while ruling for Emperor An, "for the first time permitted high officials, [those ranking at] two thousand piculs, and Inspectors to perform the mourning to the third year," 13 at the end of which time they were returned to their former posts. This provision was confirmed by later emperors. At the suggestion of Ch'en Chung, 14 on Dec. 25, 120, Emperor An "again decided that high officials [and those ranking at] two thousand piculs and over should wear mourning to the third year." 15 The actual period was twenty-five months. 16 In 154, Emperor Huan "again permitted Inspectors [and officials ranking at] two thousand piculs to perform the mourning to the third year," 17 and in Apr./May 159 he "again decided that Inspectors [and officials ranking at] two thousand piculs should perform the mourning to the third year." 18 Thus only at the end of the Later Han period was the mourning to the third year performed by the high officials as an example to the empire.


1. Analects XVII, xxi.

2. Dubs, Hsüntze, the Moulder, p. 148 ff.

3. Y. P. Mei, The Works of Motse, ch. 25.

4. Mencius, III, I, ii, 2 (Legge, p. 236).

5. Dubs, The Works of Hsüntze, p. 239 ff.

6. Mencius, III, I, ii, 3 (Legge, p. 237).

7. HS 4: 20a; HFHD I, 270, n. 3.

8. HS 84: 4b.

9. HS 53: 2a, b.

10. HS 11: 2b.

11. HS 11:3b.

12. Cf. Glossary, sub Ho Wu.

13. HHS, An. 5: 12b.

14. HHS, Mem. 36: 13b.

15. HHS, An. 5: 16a.

16. HHS, Mem. 36: 13a.

17. HHS, An. 7: 6b.

18. Ibid., 8b.

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