Content created: 2013-01-17
File last modified:
The following selection comes from a document called the Yí Lǐ 仪礼 "Book of Ritual" (Etiquette & Ceremonial), a part of the Confucian Canon. This work is traditionally attributed to Zhōu Gōng 周公, the "Duke of Zhōu" (died 1105 BC), although there is no evidence to support this. At one time three versions were in circulation, but the only one to survive was that preserved by Liú Xiàng 刘向 (80-9 BC), whose name is sometimes attached to it. (Link to background on the Confucian Canon.) Liú Xiàng lived a thousand years later than the Duke of Zhōu, in the Western Hàn 汉 dynasty (period 06b), when Confucianism was a reigning state doctrine, and we can imagine that the rites of the old Zhōu state may have been seen as rather quaint and taken as objects more for inspiration rather than for imitation.
The work represents the extreme interest of Confucians in the minutiae of etiquette, at least among the official classes. As seen in this "exemplary" text, what is involved is an etiquette that strikes people today as a lot of meaningless flourish devoid of any sincerity. But the Confucian school regarded etiquette as a critical link between the individual and social order. Confucius had no problem with the idea that different societies had different rules of etiquette. What interested him (we think) was that following the etiquette, whatever its content, was what made society work. A modern statement of the logic might be that, just as observing taboos demonstrates the individual's committment to society, so observing elaborate etiquette does as well, and the constant demonstration of one's loyalty to one's society's cultural norms is the basis of happy citizenship.
That said, the present passage has always struck me as more than a little funny, especially if one keeps an eye on the pheasant.
This reading is reproduced (minus endnotes) from:
- STEELE, John
- 1917 The I-li or Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial. London: Probsthain. Section 3, Chapter 5, pp. 42-50.
(a) The presents at such visits are in winter a freshly killed pheasant, and in summer one whose flesh has been dried. In both cases the bird is held up in both hands, the head being to the left.
(b) The visitor says: "I have desired an interview for some time, but have had no justification for asking for it ; but now his honour So-and-so orders me to an interview."
(c) The host replies: "The gentleman who introduces us has ordered me to grant you an interview. But you, sir, are demeaning yourself by coming. I pray your honour to return. home, and I shall hasten to present myself before you."
(d) The guest replies: "I cannot bring disgrace on you by obeying this command. Be good enough to end by granting me this interview."
(e) The host replies: "I do not dare to set an example as to how a reception of this kind should be conducted, and so I persist in asking your honour to return home, and I shall call on you without delay."
(f) The guest answers: "It is I who do not dare to show that example, and so I persist in asking you for an interview."
(g) The host replies: "As for me, as I have failed to receive permission to decline this honour, I shall not press it further; but I hear that your honour is offering me a present, and this I venture to decline."
(h) To this the guest replies: "Without a present I cannot venture to come into your presence."
(i) The host replies: "I am not sufficient for the conduct of these ceremonies, and so I venture to persist in declining."
(j) The guest answers: "If I cannot have the support of my gift, I dare not pay you this visit, so I persist in my request."
(k) The host replies: "I also am decided in declining; but as I cannot secure your consent that I should go to your house as aforesaid, how dare I not respectfully obey ?"
(l) Then the host goes to meet him outside the gate, and there bows twice, answered by two bows from the guest. Then the host, with a salute, invites him to enter, and himself goes in by the right side of the door, the guest holding up the present in both hands and entering by the left. When they enter the courtyard the host bows twice and accepts the present, the guest bowing twice as he hands it to him, and then going out.
(m) But the host sends the usher after him with an invitation to carry out the visit, and the guest returns and complies.
(n) When the guest is leaving the host escorts him outside the gate, and bows twice in taking leave of him.
(a) When the former host pays his return visit, he takes the other's present with him. Addressing the usher he says: "Recently when his honour demeaned himself by visiting me, he commanded me to an inter-view. I ask now permission to return his gift by the hands of the usher."
(b) The host replies: "Since I have already secured an interview, shall I now refuse to grant one ?"
(c) The guest answers: "I do not dare to ask for an interview ; I only presume to request permission to return the gift by the usher."
(d) The host replies : "Since I have already obtained an interview by the help of this gift, I venture to persist in declining to receive it back."
(e) The guest answers: "I dare not listen to such a speech, so I venture to press my request through the usher."
(f) Then the host replies: "Since I cannot secure your consent to my declining, I dare not but obey."
(g) Then the guest enters, carrying the present, and the host bows twice and receives it, the guest bowing twice as he gives it, and then going out, the host escorting him outside the gate and bowing twice.
Return to top.
When an ordinary officer visits a great officer, the latter declines altogether to receive his present.' At his entrance the host bows once, acknowledging his condescension. When the guest withdraws,, he escorts him and bows twice.
(a) In such a case the host formally declines the visitor's gift, saying : "As I have not been able to receive your consent to my declining, I dare not persist in it."
(b) Then the guest enters, and, laying down his gift, bows twice, the host replying with a single bow.
(c) When the guest leaves, the host sends the usher to return the gift outside the gate, saying: "So-and-so sends me to hand back your gift."
(d) The guest replies: "Since I have already obtained an interview, I venture to decline to receive back the gift."
(e) The usher then replies: "So-and-so has laid his commands on me, and I cannot myself set an example in this matter. I venture to press his request on you."
(f) The guest replies: "I am the humble servant of His Excellency, and am not capable of observing the ceremonies of a visitor with his host, so I venture to persist in declining."
(g) The usher answers: "So-and-so has commissioned me, so I dare not take upon myself to act on my own initiative in the matter, but persist in this request."
(h) Then the visitor replies: "I have persistently declined, and have not received his honour's per-mission to do so ; how then dare I not obey ?" Whereupon he bows twice and receives it back.
(a) The lower order of great officers, in visiting one another, use a living wild goose as a present, wrapping it in a coloured cloth with its feet bound with a cord, and carried as one holds a pheasant, with its head to the left.
(b) In visits among the upper grades of officers, a living lamb is presented wrapped in a coloured cloth, with the four legs bound, the tying being in front, and the head to the left, the animal being held as one holds a fawn.
(c) The ceremonial is the same as that observed in visits exchanged between ordinary officers.
(a) At their first interview with the Prince, ordinary officers and others above these in rank carry with them a gift, holding it on a level with the girdle, and de-porting themselves so as to show a respectful uneasiness.
(b) When commoners have an interview with their Prince, they do not assume any ceremonious carriage, but hurry along both in advancing and retreating.
(c) Ordinary and great officers lay down their present and kowtow twice. To this the Prince responds with one bow.
If the visitor be a person from another State, the usher is sent to hand him back his gift, saying : "My unworthy Prince has sent me to hand back your present." The visitor replies: "A Prince has no ministers beyond his own borders, and so I dare not decline to do as he commands." Then, kowtowing twice, as if he were in the Prince's presence, he receives it back.
(a) Whoever interviews his Prince on business stands directly in front of him as he faces south. If that is impossible, because the Prince is facing otherwise, then the minister faces squarely east or west, and does not slant in the direction in which the Prince happens to be.
(b) If the Prince be in the hall, the minister, without regard to the distinction between the steps, goes up those nearest the Prince.
(a) Whoever comes to speak with the Prince, first of all puts himself at his ease, thus settling his mind, and then speaks. This does not apply to one answering the Prince's questions.
(b) In speaking with the Prince, one talks of one's official business ; with an official, of one's service of ' his Prince ; with older men, of the control of children ; with young people, of their filial and brotherly duties; with the common man, of geniality and goodness; with those in minor offices, of loyalty and sincerity.
(c) In speaking to an official, one begins by looking him in the face to gauge one's chances of a favourable reception; towards the middle of the interview one looks at his breast as an indication of one's trust in him, and also respect, indicated by the lowering of the eyes; and at the end of the interview one's eyes are again directed to his face, to see how he is impressed. The order is never changed, and is used in all cases.
(d) In the case of a father, the son's eyes are allowed to wander, but not higher than the face, so as not to seem too proud, nor lower than the girdle.
(e) If one is not speaking, then, when the other is standing, one looks at his feet, and, if he sits, at his knees, in sign of humility.
Return to top.
(a) When one is sitting in attendance on a great man, if he should yawn or stretch himself, or ask the time of day, or tell the attendants what he wants for dinner, or change his place, then it is allowable to ask permission to retire.
(b) If it be night-time when one is sitting in attendance, and he should ask the time of night, or start eating pungent things as leeks or garlic, as a preventative of sleepiness, it is allowable to ask permission to retire.
(a) If the Prince gives one a dinner, he makes an offering, and then the guest begins the eating by first tasting all the foods, if the food-taster be not present. He then drinks, and waits the Prince's pleasure. He does not, however, actually eat until the Prince commands him to do so.
(b) If there be anyone bringing in the food who is entitled to taste it for the Prince, then the guest waits until the Prince has eaten, and afterwards eats.
(c) If the Prince gives him a cup of wine, he gets off his mat, and, kowtowing twice, receives the cup. Thereafter he ascends his mat, and, sitting down, pours a libation. When he has emptied the cup, he waits until the Prince has emptied his, after which he hands back his empty cup.
(d) When he is withdrawing he sits down at the bottom of the west steps, and, taking his shoes, goes quietly to one side and puts them on.
(e) If the Prince rises on his account, the gentleman leaving says: "There is no reason why you, Prince, should get up, but your servant does not dare presume to decline the honour." If by any chance the Prince should escort him to the gate, the minister does not dare to look at him, but goes away immediately after taking his leave.
(f) If it is a great officer, he declines the honour of being escorted ; and when he gets down the steps, and the Prince comes down also, he declines again ; and when he reaches the door, being escorted, he declines for the third time.
If it should happen that a retired official of different rank call on an ordinary officer, and ask to see him, he requests permission to decline ; but not receiving it, he says : " I am not in a position to be visited by his honour, but not being able to secure permission to decline the honour, I hurry to wait on his honour." So he anticipates the visitor by going out and bowing to him first.
If a man be not sent on a mission by his Prince, he does not name his Prince in speaking of himself. If he be a great or ordinary officer, he calls himself " The Ancient of my unworthy Prince."
(a) The bearer of a present of silk does not walk with great strides. In his deportment he makes it a rule to preserve an anxious uneasiness.
(b) A person carrying jade steps carefully, lifting his toes and dragging his heels.
When a man speaks of himself to his Prince, if he be an ordinary or great officer, he calls himself " The servant under you." If the speaker be residing with his family and not in office, should his home be in the city, he calls himself "Your servant in the market-place, and by the well"; and if in the country, "Your servant in the grass and undergrowth." If a commoner, he calls himself "Your servant the grass-cutter." If the man reside somewhere in the State outside the capital, he calls himself "Your servant at a distance."
Return to top.