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The rules of propriety serve as instruments to form men's characters, and they are therefore prepared on a great scale. Being so, the value of them is very high. They remove from a man all perversity, and increase what is beautiful in his nature. They make him correct, when employed in the ordering of himself; they ensure for him free course, when employed towards others. They are to him what their outer coating is to bamboos, and what its heart is to a pine or cypress 1. These two are the best of all the productions of the (vegetable) world. They endure through all the four seasons, without altering a branch or changing a leaf. The superior man observes these rules of propriety, so that all in a wider circle are harmonious with him, and those in his narrower circle have no dissatisfactions with him. Men acknowledge and are affected by his goodness, and spirits enjoy his virtue.

The rules as instituted by the ancient kings had their radical element and their outward and elegant form. A true heart and good faith are their radical element. The characteristics of each according to the idea of what is right in it are its outward and elegant form. Without the radical element, they could not have been established; without the elegant form, they could not have been put in practice 2.

(The things used in performing) the rites should be suitable to the season, taken from the resources supplied by the ground, in accordance with (the requirements of) the spirits 3, and agreeable to the minds of men;--according to the characteristics of all things. Thus each season has its productions, each soil its appropriate produce, each sense its peculiar power, and each thing its advantageousness. Therefore what any season does not produce, what any soil does not nourish, will not be used by a superior man in performing his rites, nor be enjoyed by the spirits. If mountaineers were to (seek to) use fish and turtles in their rites, or the dwellers near lakes, deer and pigs, the superior man would say of them that they did not know (the nature of) those usages.

Therefore it is necessary to take the established revenues of a state as the great rule for its ceremonial (expenditure). Important for the determination of this is the size of its territory. The amount of the offerings (also) should have regard to the character of the year as good or bad. In this way, though the harvest of a year may be very defective, the masses will not be afraid, and the ceremonies as appointed by the superiors will be economically regulated.

In (judging of) rites the time 4 should be the great consideration. (Their relation to) natural duties, their material substance, their appropriateness to circumstances, and their proportioning are all secondary.Yâo's resignation of the throne to Shun, and Shun's resignation of it to Yü; Thang's dethronement of Kieh; and the overthrow of Kâu by Wan and Wû:--all these are to be judged of by the time. As the Book of Poetry says,'It was not that he was in haste to gratify his wishes; It was to show the filial duty that had come down to him.' The sacrifices to heaven and earth; the services of the ancestral temple; the courses for father and son; and the righteousness between ruler and minister:--these are to be judged of as natural duties.The services at the altars of the land and grain and of the hills and streams; and the sacrifices to spirits:--these are to be judged of by the material substance of the offerings. The use of the funeral rites and sacrifices; and the reciprocities of host and guest:--these are to be judged of by their appropriateness to circumstances.Sacrificing with a lamb and a sucking pig, by the multitude of officers, when yet there was enough; and sacrificing with an ox, a ram, and a boar, when yet there was nothing to spare:--in these we have an instance of the proportioning.

The princes set great store by the tortoise, and consider their jade-tokens as the insignia of their rank, while the (chiefs of) clans have not the tortoises that are so precious, nor the jade-tokens to keep (by themselves), nor the towered gateways:--these (also) are instances of the proportioning.

In some ceremonial usages the multitude of things formed the mark of distinction. The son of Heaven had 7 shrines in his ancestral temple; the prince of a state, 5; Great officers, 3; and other officers, 1. The dishes of the son of Heaven on stands were 26; of a duke, 16; of another prince, 12; of a Great officer of the upper class, 8; of one of the lower class, 6. To a prince there were given 7 attendants and 7 oxen; and to a Great officer, 5 of each, The son of Heaven sat on 5 mats placed over one another; a prince, on 3; and a Great officer, on 2. When the son of Heaven died, he was buried after 7 months, in a fivefold coffin, with 8 plumes; a prince was buried after 5 months, in a threefold coffin, with 6 plumes; a Great officer after 3 months, in a twofold coffin, with 4 Plumes. In these cases, the multitude of things was the mark of distinction 5.

In other usages, the paucity of things formed the mark of distinction. To the son of Heaven there were given no attendants 6, and he sacrificed to Heaven with a single victim; when he visited the princes (on his tours of inspection), he was feasted with a single bullock. When princes went to the courts of one another, fragrant spirits were used in libations, and there were no dishes on stands, either of wood or bamboo. At friendly missions by Great officers, the ceremonial offerings were slices of dried meat and pickles. The son of Heaven declared himself satisfied after 1 dish; a prince, after 2; a Great officer and other officers, after 3; while no limit was set to the eating of people who lived by their labour. (The horses of) the Great carriage had 1 ornamental tassel at their breast-bands; those of the other carriages had 7 (pieces of) jade for rank-tokens; and libation cups were presented singly; as also the tiger-shaped and yellow cups. In sacrificing to spirits a single mat was used; when princes were giving audience to their ministers, they (bowed to) the Great officers one by one, but to all the other officers together. In these cases the fewness of the things formed the mark of distinction.

In others, greatness of size formed the mark. The dimensions of palaces and apartments; the measurements of dishes and (other) articles; the thickness of the inner and outer coffins; the greatness of eminences and mounds 7:--these were cases in which the greatness of size was the mark.

In others, smallness of size formed the mark. At the sacrifices of the ancestral temple, the highest in rank presented a cup (of spirits to the representative of the dead), and the low, a san (containing five times as much): (at some other sacrifices), the honourable took a khih (containing 3 cups), and the low a horn (containing 4). (At the feasts of viscounts and barons), when the vase went round 5 times, outside the door was the earthenware fâu (of supply), and inside, the hû; while the ruler's vase was an earthenware wu:--these were cases in which the smallness of size was the mark of distinction 8.

In others, the height formed the mark of distinction. The hall of the son of Heaven was ascended by 9 steps 9; that of a prince, by 7; that of a Great officer, by 5; and that of an ordinary officer, by 3. The son of Heaven and the princes had (also) the towered gateway. In these cases height was the mark.

In others, the lowness formed the mark. In sacrificing, the highest reverence was not shown on the raised altar, but on the ground beneath, which had been swept. The vases of the son of Heaven and the princes were set on a tray without feet 10; those of Great and other officers on one with feet (3 inches high). In these cases the lowness was the mark of distinction.

In others, ornament formed the mark. The son of Heaven wore his upper robe with the dragons figured on it; princes, the lower robe with the axes embroidered on it; Great officers, their lower robe with the symbol of distinction; and other officers, the dark-coloured upper robe, and the lower one red. The cap of the soil of Heaven had 12 pendents of jade beads set on strings hanging down of red and green silk; that of princes, 9; that of Great officers of the highest grade, 7; and if they were of the lowest grade, 5; and that of other officers, 3. In these cases the ornament was the mark of distinction.

In others, plainness formed the mark. Acts of the greatest reverence admit of no ornament. The relatives of a father do not put themselves into postures (like other visitors). The Grand jade-token has no engraving on it. The Grand soup has no condiments. The Grand carriage is plain, and the mats in it are of rushes. The goblet with the victim-ox carved on it is covered with a plain white cloth. The ladle is made of white-veined wood. These are cases in which plainness is the mark.

Confucius said, 'Ceremonial usages should be most carefully considered.' This is the meaning of the remark that 'while usages are different, the relations between them as many or few should be maintained 11.' His words had reference to the proportioning of rites.

That in the (instituting of) rites the multitude of things was considered a mark of distinction, arose from the minds (of the framers) being directed outwards. The energy (of nature) shoots forth and is displayed everywhere in all things, with a great discriminating control over their vast multitude. In such a case, how could they keep from making multitude a mark of distinction in rites? Hence the superior men, (the framers), rejoiced in displaying (their discrimination).But that in (the instituting of) rites the paucity of things was (also) considered a mark of distinction, arose from the minds (of the framers) being directed inwards. Extreme as is the energy (of nature) in production, it is exquisite and minute. When we look at all the things under the sky, they do not seem to be in proportion to that energy. In such a case, how could they keep from considering paucity a mark of distinction? Hence the superior men, (the framers), watched carefully over the solitude (of their own thoughts) 12.

The ancient sages (thus) gave honour to what was internal, and sought pleasure in what was external; found a mark of distinction in paucity, and one of what was admirable in multitude; and therefore in the ceremonial usages instituted by the ancient kings we should look neither for multitude nor for paucity, but for the due relative proportion.

Therefore, when a man of rank uses a large victim in sacrifice, we say he acts according to propriety, but when an ordinary officer does so, we say he commits an act of usurpation.

Kwan Kung had his sacrificial dishes of grain carved, and red bands to his cap; fashioned hills on the capitals of his pillars, and pondweed on the small pillars above the beams 13:--the superior man considered it wild extravagance.

An Phing-kung, in sacrificing to his father, used a sucking-pig which did not fill the dish, and went to court in an (old) washed robe and cap:--the superior man considered it was niggardliness 14.

Therefore the superior man thinks it necessary to use the utmost care in his practice of ceremonies. They are the bond that holds the multitudes together; and if the bond be removed, those multitudes fall into confusion. Confucius said, 'If I fight, I overcome; when I sacrifice, I receive blessing 15.' He said so, because he had the right way (of doing everything).

A superior man will say 16, 'The object in sacrifices is not to pray; the time of them should not be hastened on; a great apparatus is not required at them; ornamental matters are not to be approved; the victims need not be fat and large; a profusion of the other offerings is not to be admired.'

Confucius said, 'How can it be said that Zang Wan-kung was acquainted with the rules of propriety? When Hsiâ Fû-khî went right in the teeth of sacrificial order 17, he did not stop him, (nor could he prevent) his burning a pile of firewood in sacrificing to the spirit of the furnace. Now that sacrifice is paid to an old wife. The materials for it might be contained in a tub, and the vase is the (common) wine-jar.'


1. The author evidently knew the different conditions of their structure on which the growth and vigour of Endogens (the monocotyledonous plants) and Exogens (dicotyledons) respectively depend.

2. Callery gives for this short paragraph--'Les rites établis par les anciens rois ont leur essence intimé et leur dehors; la droiture est l'essence des rites; leur accord patent avec la raison en est le dehors. Sans essence, ils ne peuvent exister; sans dehors ils ne peuvent fonctionner.' He appends a long note on the difficulty of translation occasioned by the character 文 (wan), which he renders by 'le dehors,' and I by 'the outward, elegant form;' and concludes by saying, 'Traduise mieux qui pourra.' I can only say that I have done the best I could (at the time) with this and every other paragraph.

3. Khung Ying-tâ says here that 'the spirits were men who, when alive, had done good service, and were therefore sacrificed to when dead. From which it follows that what was agreeable to the minds of men would be in accordance with (the requirements of) the spirits.'

4. 'The time' comes about by the ordering of heaven. The instances given of it are all great events in the changing of dynasties. But such changes can hardly be regarded as rites. Perhaps the writer thought that the abdication in some cases, and the violent dethroning in others, were precedents, which might be regarded as having that character. For the quotation from the Shih, which is not very happy, see Part III, ode 10, 2.

5. The different views in attempting to verify all the numbers and other points in the specifications here are endless.

6. The attendants waited on the visitors. But the son of Heaven was lord of all under the sky. He was at home everywhere; and could not be received as a visitor.

7. Both these names refer, probably, to mounds raised over the dead. Those over the emperors of the Ming dynasty, about midway between Peking and the Great Wall, and that over Confucius at Khü-fû in Shan-tung, are the best specimens of these which I have seen.

8. It is difficult to explain fully and verify all the statements in this paragraph, for want of evidence. The unit in them is the shang (升), or 'pint,' now = 1.031 litre; the cup, (zio, 爵) contained one shang; the khih (觶), three; the kio (角), four; and the san (散), five. The hû (壺) contained one 'stone' (石), = 10.310 litre; and the wû (甒) 51.55. The size of the fâu (缶) is unknown.

9. This literally is 'nine cubits;' each step, it is said, was a cubit high.

10. This tray was four cubits long, two cubits four inches wide, and five inches deep.

11. See page 392, paragraph 15. We may conclude that the Lî Yun was compiled and published before the Lî Khî; or it may be that the sentences common to them both had long been in use.

12. Callery thinks that the theory about rites underlying this paragraph is 'éminemment obscure.' One difficulty with me is to discover any connection between its parts and what is said in paragraphs 7 and 8 about the 'multitude and paucity of rites.'

13. See the Analects, V, xvii, and the note there. In that passage the extravagance is charged on the Zang Wan-kung of paragraph 23.

14. An Phing-kung was a Great officer of Khî, and ought not to have been so niggardly.

15. It is understood that the 'I' is not used by Confucius of himself, but as personating one who knew the true nature of ceremonial usages. See the language again in the next Book, Sect. i, 22; it is found also in the 'Narratives of the School.'

16. Khan Hâo remarks that the compiler of the Book intends himself by 'the superior man.' Thus the compiler delivers his own judgment in an indirect way. Most of what he says will be admitted. It is to the general effect that simple offerings and sincere worship are acceptable, more acceptable than rich offerings and a formal service. But is he right in saying that in sacrificing we should not 'pray?' So long as men feel their own weakness and needs, they will not fail to pray at their religious services. So it has been in China in all the past as much as elsewhere.

17. Hsiâ Fû-khî was the keeper, or minister in charge, of the ancestral temple of Lû, and contemporary with Zang Wan-kung during the marquisates of Kwang, Wan, and Hsî. He introduced at least one great irregularity in the ancestral temple, placing the tablet of Hsî above that of Wan; and Wan-kung made no protest. Of the other irregularity mentioned in the text we have not much information; and I need not try to explain it. It seems to me that it must have been greater than the other.

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia