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The rules of propriety may be compared to the human body. When the parts of one's body are not complete, the beholder 1 will call him 'An imperfect man;' and so a rule which has been made unsuitably may be denominated 'incomplete.'Some ceremonies are great, and some small; some are manifest, and some minute. The great should not be diminished, nor the small increased. The manifest should not be hidden, nor the minute made great. But while the important rules are 300, and the smaller rules 3000, the result to which they all lead is one and the same 2. No one can enter an apartment but by the door.

A superior man in his observance of the rules, where he does his utmost and uses the greatest care, is extreme in his reverence and the manifestation of sincerity. Where they excite admiration and an elegant attractiveness, there is (still) that manifestation of sincerity.

A superior man, in his consideration of the rules, finds those which are carried directly into practice; those in which one has to bend and make some modification; those which are regular and the same for all classes; those which are diminished in a certain order; those in which (a kind of) transplantation takes place, and (the ceremony) is distributed; those in which individuals are pushed forward and take part in the rules of a higher grade; those in which there are ornamental imitations (of natural objects); those in which the ornamental imitations are not carried out so fully; and those where appropriation (of higher observances) is not deemed usurpation 3.

The usages of the three dynasties had one and the same object, and the people all observed them. In such matters as colour, whether it should be white or dark, Hsiâ instituted and Yin adopted (its choice, or did not do So) 4.

Under the Kâu dynasty the representatives of the dead sat. Their monitors and cup-suppliers observed no regular rules, The usages were the same (as those of Yin), and the underlying principle was one. Under the Hsiâ dynasty, the personators had stood till the sacrifice was ended, (whereas) under Yin they sat. Under Kâu, when the cup went round among all, there were six personators 5. Zang-dze said, 'The usages of Kâu might be compared to those of a subscription club 6.'

A superior man will say, 'The usages of ceremony that come closest to our human feelings are not those of the highest sacrifices; (as may be seen in) the blood of the border sacrifice; the raw flesh in the great offering (to all the royal ancestors) of the ancestral temple; the sodden flesh, where the spirits are presented thrice; and the roast meat, where they are presented once 7.'

And so those usages were not devised by superior men in order to give expression to their feelings. There was a beginning of them from (the oldest times); as when (two princes) have an interview, there are seven attendants to wait on them and direct them. Without these the interview would be too plain and dull. They reach (the ancestral temple) after the visitor has thrice declined the welcome of the host, and the host has thrice tried to give precedence to the other. Without these courtesies the interview would be too hurried and abrupt.In the same way, when in Lû they were about to perform the service to God (in the suburb), they felt it necessary first to have a service in the college with its semicircular pool. When they were about in Zin to sacrifice to the Ho, they would first do so to the pool of Wû. When in Khî they were about to sacrifice to mount Thâi, they would do so first in the forest of Phei.Moreover, the keeping the victims (for the altar of Heaven) for three months (in the stable); the abstinence (of the worshippers) for seven days; and the vigil of three days:--all showed the extreme degree of (preparatory) care (for the service).The ritual arrangements, further, of the reception (of guests) and communication between them and the host, and for assisting and guiding the steps of the (blind) musicians, showed the extreme degree of kindly (provision) 8.

In ceremonial usages we should go back to the root of them (in the mind), and maintain the old (arrangements of them), not forgetting what they were at first. Hence there is no (need to be) calling attention to the demonstrations expressive of grief 9; and those which (more particularly) belong to the court are accompanied by music. There is the use of sweet spirits, and the value set on water; there is the use of the (ordinary) knife, and the honour expressed by that furnished with (small) bells; there is the comfort afforded by the rush and fine bamboo mats, and the (special) employment of those which are made of straw. Therefore the ancient kings in their institution of the rules of propriety had a ruling idea, and thus it is that they were capable of being transmitted, and might be learned, however many they were.

The superior man will say, 'If a man do not have in himself the distinctions (embodied in ceremonies), he will contemplate that embodiment without any intelligent discrimination; if he wish to exercise that discrimination, and not follow the guidance of the rules, he will not succeed in his object. Hence if his practice of ceremonies be not according to the rules, men will not respect them; and if his words be not according to those rules, men will not believe them. Accordingly it is said, "The rules of ceremony are the highest expression of (the truth of) things."'

Hence it was that in old times, when the ancient kings instituted ceremonies, they conveyed their idea by means of the qualities of the articles and observances which they employed. In their great undertakings, they were sure to act in accordance with the seasons; in their doings morning and evening, they imitated the sun and moon; in what required a high situation, they took advantage of mounds and hillocks, and in what required a low situation, of the (banks of the) rivers and lakes. Hence each season has its rains and benefits, and those wise men sought to make use of them with intelligence with all the earnestness they could command 10.

The ancient kings valued (men's) possession of virtue, honoured those who pursued the right course, and employed those who displayed ability. They selected men of talents and virtue, and appointed them. They assembled the whole of them and solemnly addressed them 11.

Then in accordance with (the height of) heaven they did service to Heaven, in accordance with (the lower position of) earth they did service to Earth; taking advantage of the famous hills they ascended them, and announced to Heaven the good government (of the princes). When thus at the felicitous spot (chosen for their capitals) they presented their offerings to God in the suburb and announced to Heaven (the general good government from the famous hills), the phoenix descended, and tortoises and dragons made their appearance 12. When they presented their offerings to God in the suburb the winds and rains were duly regulated, and the cold and heat came each in its proper time, so that the sage (king) had only to stand with his face to the south, and order prevailed all under the sky.

The courses of the heavenly (bodies) supply the most perfect lessons, and the sages possessed the highest degree of virtue. Above, in the hall of the ancestral temple, there was the jar, with clouds and hills represented on it on the east, and that with the victim represented on it on the west. Below the hall the larger drums were suspended on the west, and the smaller drums answering to them on the east. The ruler appeared at the (top of the) steps on the east; his wife was in the apartment on the west. The great luminary makes his appearance in the east; the moon makes her appearance in the west. Such are the different ways in which the processes of darkness and light are distributed in nature, and such are the arrangements for the positions (corresponding thereto) of husband and wife. The ruler fills his cup from the jar with an elephant represented on it; his wife fills hers from that with clouds and hills. With such reciprocation do the ceremonies proceed above, while the music responds in the same way below;--there is the perfection of harmony.

It is the object of ceremonies to go back to the circumstances from which they sprang, and of music to express pleasure in the results which first gave occasion to it. Thus it was that the ancient kings, in their institution of ceremonies, sought to express their regulation of circumstances, and, in their cultivation of music, to express the aims they had in mind. Hence by an examination of their ceremonies and music, the conditions of order and disorder in which they originated can be known. Kü Po-yü 13 said, 'A wise man, by his intelligence, from the sight of any article, knows the skill of the artificer, and from the contemplation of an action knows the wisdom of its performer.' Hence there is the saying, 'The superior man watches over the manner in which he maintains his intercourse with other men.'

Within the ancestral temple reverence prevailed. The ruler himself led the victim forward, while the Great officers assisted and followed, bearing the offerings of silk. The ruler himself cut out (the liver) for (the preliminary) offering, while his wife bore the dish in which it should be presented. The ruler himself cut up the victim, while his wife presented the spirits.The high ministers and Great officers followed the ruler; their wives followed his wife. How grave and still was their reverence! How were they absorbed in their sincerity! How earnest was their wish that their offerings should be accepted! The arrival of the victim was announced (to the spirits) in the courtyard; on the presentation of the blood and the flesh with the hair on it, announcement was made in the chamber; on the presentation of the soup and boiled meat, in the hall. The announcement was made thrice, each time in a different place; indicating how they were seeking for the spirits, and had not yet found them. When the sacrifice was set forth in the hall, it was repeated next day outside (the gate of the temple); and hence arose the saying, 'Are they there? Are they here?'

One offering of the cup showed the simplicity of the service; three offerings served to ornament it; five, to mark discriminating care; and seven, to show (the reverence for) the spirits 14.

Was not the great quinquennial sacrifice a service belonging to the king? The three animal victims, the fish, and flesh, were the richest tributes for the palate from all within the four seas and the nine provinces. The fruits and grain presented in the high dishes of wood and bamboo were the product of the harmonious influences of the four seasons, The tribute of metal showed the harmonious submission (of the princes). The rolls of silk with the round pieces of jade placed on them showed the honour they rendered to virtue. The tortoise was placed in front of all the other offerings, because of its knowledge of the future; the tribute of metal succeeded to it, showing the (hold it has on) human feelings. The vermilion, the varnish, the silk, the floss, the large bamboos and the smaller for arrows--the articles which all the states contribute; with the other uncommon articles, which each state contributed according to its resources, even to those from the remote regions:--(these followed the former). When the Visitors left they were escorted with the music of the Sze Hsiâ 15. All these things showed how important was the sacrifice.

In the sacrifice to God in the suburb, we have the utmost expression of reverence. In the sacrifices of the ancestral temple, we have the utmost expression of humanity. In the rites of mourning, we have the utmost expression of leal-heartedness. In the preparation of the robes and vessels for the dead, we have the utmost expression of affection. In the use of gifts and offerings between host and guest, we have the utmost expression of what is right. Therefore when the superior man would see the ways of humanity and righteousness, he finds them rooted in these ceremonial usages.

A superior man has said, 'What is sweet may be tempered; what is white may be coloured. So the man who is right in heart and sincere can learn the (meaning of the) rites.' The rites should not be perfunctorily performed by the man who is not right in heart and sincere. Hence it is all important (in the performance of them) to get the proper men.

Confucius said, 'One may repeat the three hundred odes, and not be fit to offer the sacrifice where there is (but) one offering of the cup. He may offer that sacrifice, and not be fit to join in a great sacrifice. He may join in such a sacrifice, and not be fit to offer a great sacrifice to the hills. He may perform that fully, and yet not be able to join in the sacrifice to God. Let no one lightly discuss the subject of rites 16.'

When Dze-lû was steward to the House of Kî, its chief had been accustomed to commence his sacrifices before it was light, and when the day was insufficient for them, to continue them by torchlight. All engaged in them, however strong they might appear, and however reverent they might be, were worn out and tired. The officers limped and leaned, wherever they could, in performing their parts, and the want of reverence was great. Afterwards, when Dze-lû took the direction of them, the sacrifices proceeded differently. For the services in the chamber, he had parties communicating outside and inside the door; and for those in the hall, he had parties communicating at the steps. As soon as it was light, the services began, and by the time of the evening audience all were ready to retire. When Confucius heard of this management, he said, 'Who will say that this Yû does not understand ceremonies 17?'


1. The text has here 'the superior man,' for which Callery has 'au dire du sage.'

2. See Book XXVIII, ii, paragraph 38. What the 300 and 3000 rules are is very much disputed. The 'one and the same result' is, according to most, 'reverence and sincerity;' according to some, 'suitability.'

3. Nine peculiarities in ceremonial usages are here indicated. It would be possible to illustrate them fully after the most approved commentators; but there would be little advantage in thus recalling the past which has for the most part passed away,--even in China.

4. Callery takes a different view of the second sentence in this paragraph, and translates it:--'(Si quelque chose a subi des modifications, ce n'a été que) la couleur blanche ou la couleur verte (caractéristique de telle ou telle autre dynastie; en dehors de ces choses peu importantes, pour tout ce qui est essentiel) la dynastie des Yin s'est scrupuleusement conformée à ce qui a été établi par les Hsiâ.' His view of the whole paragraph, however, comes to much the same as mine.

5. This would be on occasion of the united sacrifice to all the ancestors; the personator of Hâu Kî being left out of the enumeration, as more honourable than the others.

6. That is, all stand equally as if each had paid his contribution to the expenses.

7. The greatest of all sacrifices was that to Heaven in a suburb of the capital; the next was the great triennial or quinquennial sacrifice in the ancestral temple; the third was that at the altars of the land and grain, and of the hills and rivers, which is supposed to be described here as that at which 'the cup' was thrice presented; and the last in order and importance were small sacrifices to individual spirits. The four offerings in the text were presented at the first three; but not in the same order. That to Heaven began with blood; that in the ancestral temple with raw flesh. Those farthest from our human feelings had the place of honour in the greatest services. We must seek for a higher and deeper origin of them than our ordinary feelings.


It is not easy to construe this paragraph, nor to discover and indicate the connexion between its different parts. Generally we may say that it illustrates the previous statement about the rites as not simply the expression of natural feeling, but of that feeling wisely guided and embodied so as to be most beneficial to the individual and society, The auxiliary services in the first part of it were all preparatory to the great services that followed. That in the great college of Lû was concerned with Hâu Kî, the ancestor of the House of Kâu and all its branches, and preliminary to the place he was to occupy at the great sacrifice to Heaven.

It is not easy to construe this paragraph, nor to discover and indicate the connexion between its different parts. Generally we may say that it illustrates the previous statement about the rites as not simply the expression of natural feeling, but of that feeling wisely guided and embodied so as to be most beneficial to the individual and society, The auxiliary services in the first part of it were all preparatory to the great services that followed. That in the great college of Lû was concerned with Hâu Kî, the ancestor of the House of Kâu and all its branches, and preliminary to the place he was to occupy at the great sacrifice to Heaven.

The remaining two paragraphs show how the natural feeling was quietly nourished, guided, and modified.

The remaining two paragraphs show how the natural feeling was quietly nourished, guided, and modified.

9. Yet much is said in the Than Kung about those demonstrations of grief in the mourning rites.

10. See Callery's translation of this paragraph. He says on it:--'Cette période offre, par son incohérence, des difficultés sérieuses qui me font supposer une grave altération du texte primitif;' and justifies his own version by the remark, 'Je me suis dit qu'après tout il vaut mieux embellir que défigurer.' He takes the whole, like Kang, as referring to the ceremonies of different sacrifices. Ying Yung (Sung dynasty; earlier than Kû Hsî) understood it more generally of other royal and imperial doings. The Khien-lung editors say that the two views must be united. They remark on the last sentence that, as 'every season has its appropriate productions and every situation its own suitabilities, we must examine them in order to use things appropriately.'

11. The 'selection' here, it is understood, was of the functionaries to take part in the sacrificial ceremonies, and the solemn address was on the duties they had to perform.

12. See pp. 392, 393, paragraph 16.

13. A friend, and perhaps a disciple of Confucius, an officer of the state of Wei. He is mentioned in the Confucian Analects and in Mencius.

14. The sacrifices where only one cup was presented were, it is said, the smallest; three cups belonged to the altars of the land and grain; five, to those of the hills and rivers; and seven, to those in the ancestral temple. All this is quite uncertain.

15. We are told in the Kâu Lî, Book XXIII, art. 32, that the bell master, with bells and drums, performed the nine Hsiâ pieces, on the occasions appropriate to them. The second of them was 'the Sze Hsiâ,' as here, but the occasion for it in the text would be inappropriate. The eighth, or Kâi Hsiâ, would be appropriate here, and hence Kang said that sze was a mistake for kâi (陔).

16. It is not easy to trace satisfactorily the progress of thought here from one sacrificial service to another. 'The great sacrifice' is understood to be the triennial or quinquennial sacrifice to all the ancestors of the ruling House. It is a great step to that from a small sacrifice where only one cup was presented. What 'the great sacrifice to the hills was' is uncertain. It is in the text Tâ Lü (大旅). The meaning of Lü as a sacrifice to the spirit of a hill is well established from the Analects III, 6. Once the phrase Tâ Lü appears as used in the Kâu Lî, Book V, 91, of the royal sacrifice to God ('Lorsque 1'empereur offre un grand sacrifice au Seigneur Suprême,' Biot); but it cannot have that meaning here, because the text goes on to speak of that sacrifice as superior to this. Kang Hsüan made Tâ Lü to be the sacrifice to the 'five Tîs,' or the five Planetary Gods, which view, as the Khien-lung editors point out, cannot be adopted. And how any sacrifice to the hills, however great, could be represented as greater than the quinquennial sacrifice in the ancestral temple, I cannot understand. I must leave the paragraph in the obscurity that belongs to it.

17. The Khien-lung editors say:--'Dze-lû was a leal-hearted and sincere man, and the Book ends with this account of him. From the mention of the preparation of the rites on a great scale and of their high value at the beginning of the Book down to this tribute to Dze-lû as understanding ceremonies, its whole contents show that what is valuable in the rites is the combination of the idea of what is right with the elegant and outward form as sufficient to remove from a man all perversity and increase what is good in his nature, without a multiplicity of forms which would injure the natural goodness and sincerity, and lead their practiser to a crooked perversity. Deep and far-reaching is the idea of it!'

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