Project Canterbury

Chinese Ancestor Worship
A Study of Its Meaning and Its Relations with Christianity

By James Thayer Addison
Assistant Professor of Religion and Missions
in the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Published by the Church Literature Committee of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui
By the Help of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1925.

Chapter I. Classical Ancestor Worship

Ancestor worship appears in the earliest Chinese classics as a cultus already well established and presumably ancient. "The Books of Yü" in the "Shu King" record the events of a time about twenty-two hundred years before Christ, though their date of composition is probably early in the first millennium before Christ. In these documents we read of the sovereign's ancestral temple ["Shu King," Pt, II, Bk. I, Chs. 2-4; Bk. II, Ch. 2. References and quotations are derived from Legge's translations of "The Five Classics" and "The Four Books." The text of the former is that contained in "The Sacred Books of the East," edited by Max Müller.] and of the presence of the dead at sacrifices. [Id., Pt. II, Bk. IV, Ch. 2.] In the books of the Shang (or Yin) dynasty there are recorded the practice of royal ancestor worship and the custom of presenting the heir to the throne before the shrine of his deceased grandfather. [Id., Pt. IV, Bk. IV, Ch. 1; Bk. V, § 1, Ch. 1; § 2, Ch. 3.] The continued activity of the dead and their interest in the conduct of their descendants appears in such a passage as that in which the King Pan-kang (who reigned about 1400 B. C.) addresses a group of his people: "Now when I offer the great sacrifices to my predecessors, your forefathers are present to share in them. [They all observe] the happiness I confer and the sufferings I inflict." [Id., Pt. IV. Bk. VII, §1, Ch. 2.] A more striking instance of the concern of the deceased for the behavior of the living and their response to good or evil conduct may be found later in the same speech, where the king, in persuading the people that Heaven desires the capital to be moved, says: "Were I to err in my government and remain long here, my high sovereign [the founder of our dynasty], would send down on me great punishment for my crime, and say, 'Why do you oppress my people?' . . . You are the people whom I [wish to] cherish. But your conduct is injurious;--it is cherished in your hearts. Whereas my royal predecessors made your ancestors and fathers happy, they, your ancestors and fathers, will now cut you off and abandon you, and not save you from death. . . . They advise my high sovereign to send down great calamities. ["Shu King," Pt. IV, Bk. VII, § 2, Ch. 2.]

In view of the interest manifested by ancestors in the affairs of their descendants it is not surprising that communication should have been held with ancestors by means of divination. An example of this practice appears in one of the books of the Chou dynasty, which records the serious illness of King Wu. His brother builds altars to the three immediate ancestors and implores them to let him die in place of the king. To learn their decision he thereupon consults the tortoise shell (then used as a divining instrument) and learns that Wu will recover. [Id., Pt. V, Bk. VI, Ch. 1.]

[5] As to the forms used in the royal cult of ancestors, only slight indications appear in the "Shu King." That offerings of food and chink were made to them by the reigning king on stated occasions and with prescribed ceremonies is indicated by such passages as these: "On the day [called] Ting-wei, he [the King] sacrificed in the ancestral temple of Chou, when [the princes] of the royal domain, and of the Tien, Hou, and Wei domains, all hurried about, carrying the dishes." ["Shu King," Pt. V, Bk. III, Ch. 1.] "Thrice he [the King] slowly and reverently advanced with a cup of spirits; . . . thrice he sacrificed [to the spirit of his father]: and thrice he put the cup down. The Minister of Religion said, 'It is accepted.'" [Id., Pt. V, Bk. XXII, Ch. 2.] At this period of Chinese history it was the custom to have "personators" of the dead. Certain specially appointed members of the family impersonated the dead by receiving homage on their behalf and partaking of the offerings. An extreme degree of dignity was required of them; they must remain as nearly as possible without motion or expression--more figureheads. Hence they are familiarly referred to in several passages as a type of lifeless sham. Hsi and Ho, two unobservant ministers of the Board of Astronomy, "as if they were [mere] personators of the dead in their offices, heard nothing and know nothing." [Id., Pt. III, Bk. IV, Ch. 2.] And again, "Thai K'ang occupied the throne like a personator of the dead"; i. e., as Legge says, he was no better than a sham sovereign. [Id., Pt. III, Bk. III, Ch. 1.]

[6] The "Shih King," or "The Book of Odes," includes material ranging in age from about 1700 to 600 B.C. Many of the odes were composed especially for use in royal ancestor worship and many others contain references to the rites. They tell us much the same story as the "Book of History": but the information they afford both as to the form and as to the moaning of the cult is somewhat more detailed.

The elaborate ceremonies, conducted after due purification and with "careful and exact . . . deportment," [Shih King, Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. I, Ode IX; Pt. II, Bk. I, Ode VI.] include the use of dancing and of music--drums, flutes, bells, etc. [Id., Pt. IV, Bk. III, Ode I, and Legge's notes] The food presented to the ancestors is frequently noted--clear spirits and soups, fish and meat. [Id., Pt. IV, Bk. III, Ode II. Id., Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. II, Ode VI.] For meat a ram and a bull were often sacrificed; but the choicest offering of all was that of a red bull. [Id., Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. I, Ode VII; Pt. II, Bk. VI, Ode V. Id., Pt. II, Bk. VII; Pt. II, Bk. VI, Ode V.] Acting on behalf of the deceased, the personators were seated and invited to partake, and at the close were escorted out with music. [Id., Pt. II, Bk. VI, Ode V.] Afterwards the relatives of the deceased ate and drank to the full. [Id., Pt. II, Bk. VI, Ode V; Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. I, Ode IX.] The four great occasions in each year for this cult of ancestors were on appointed days in spring, summer, autumn, and winter. [Id., Pt. II, Bk. I, Ode VI. Besides the regular sacrifices, "announcements" were made by the king to his ancestors, or to some particular ancestor, upon the occasion of an important royal act. Vide Id., Pt. III, Bk. III, Ode VIII.] So many [6/7] of these details are included in one well-known ode, that we cite it here in full:

"Thick grew the tribulus [on the ground],
But they cleared away its thorny bushes.
Why did they this of old?
That we might plant our millet and sacrificial millet;
That our millet might be abundant,
And our sacrificial millet luxuriant.
When our barns are full,
And our stacks can be counted by tens of myriads,
We proceed to make spirits and prepared grain,
For offerings and sacrifice.
We seat the representatives of the dead, and urge them to eat:--
Thus seeking to increase our bright happiness.

"With correct and reverent deportment,
The bulls and rams all pure,
We proceed to the winter and autumnal sacrifices.
Some flay [the victims]; some cook [their flesh];
Some arrange [the meat]; some adjust [the pieces of it].
The officer of prayer sacrifices inside the temple gate,
And all the sacrificial service is complete and brilliant.
Grandly come our progenitors;
Their spirits happily enjoy the offerings;
Their filial descendant receives blessing:--
They will reward him with great happiness,
With myriads of years, life without end.

"They attend to the furnaces with reverence;
They prepare the trays, which are very large;--
Some for the roast meat, some for the broiled.
Wives presiding are still and reverent,
Preparing the numerous [smaller] dishes.

[8] The guests and visitors
Present the cup all round.
Every form is according to rule;
Every smile and word are as they should be.
The spirits quickly come,
And respond with great blessings,--
Myriads of years as the [fitting] reward.

"We are very much exhausted,
And have performed every ceremony without error.
The able officer of prayer announces [the will of the spirits],
And goes to the filial descendant to convey it:
'Fragrant has been your filial sacrifice,
And the spirits have enjoyed your spirits and viands.
They confer on you a hundred blessings;
Each as it is desired,
Each as sure as law.
You have been exact and expeditious;
You have been correct and careful;
They will ever confer on you the choicest favours,
In myriads and tons of myriads.'

"The ceremonies having been thus completed,
And the bells and drums having given their warning,
The filial descendant goes to his place,
And the able officer of prayer makes his announcement,
'The spirits have drunk to the full.'
The great representatives of the dead then rise,
And the bells and drums escort their withdrawal,
[On which] the spirits tranquilly return [to whence they came].
All the servants, and the presiding wives,
Remove [the trays and dishes] without delay,
The [sacrificer's] uncles and cousins
All repair to the private feast.

[9] The musicians all go in to perform,
And give their soothing aid at the second blessing.
Your viands are set forth;
There is no dissatisfaction, but all feel happy.
They drink to the full and eat to the full;
Great and small, they bow their heads, [saying,]
'The spirits enjoyed your spirits and viands,
And will cause you to live long.
Your sacrifices, all in their seasons,
Are completely discharged by you.
May your sons and your grandsons
Never fail to perpetuate these services!'"
["Shih King," Pt. II, Bk. VI, Ode V.]

This ode not only summarizes the ritual upon which we have already commented but indicates also the significance of the sacrifice. We learn here and elsewhere that the ancestors, outwardly represented by the personators, are truly present in spirit and enjoy the offerings. [Cf. Id., Pt. IV, Bk. III, Ode II; Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. I, Ode VII.] Responding to the filial piety of their descendants, they are said to bestow long life, prosperity, and happiness without limit. [Cf. Id., Pt. IV, Bk. III, Ode II; Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. I. Ode IX; Dec. II, Odes VI, VII, and VIII; Pt, IV, Bk. II, Ode IV.]

The problem of the meaning and motive of classical ancestor worship cannot, of course, be solved by casual reference to certain passages. If the solution were as easy as that the question would not have been under debate for the past three centuries. Yet several facts are clear from the beginning and can hardly be disputed. [9/10] The dead are undoubtedly regarded as actually present at the sacrificial feasts and able to enjoy them. The rites are thus based upon a genuine objective reality. And it is equally plain that the sacrifices are regarded as a supremely important duty, the neglect of which results in misfortune and the observance of which brings happiness. Beyond these points it is difficult to go without entering the field of controversy. Within that field the two crucial questions are (a) With what purpose are the sacrifices to ancestors performed? and (b) are the ancestors themselves supposed to send rewards and punishments directly? In other words, how seriously is the worshiper influenced by the expectation of a definite quid pro quo? How far are the ancestors treated like gods?

Judging from the "Shu King" and "Shih-King" alone, we infer that the main purpose of the sacrificer is to honor his ancestors by the performance of a duty prompted by filial piety and sanctioned by the tradition of centuries. ["In worshipping your ancestors, think how you can prove your filial piety," "Shu King," Pt. IV. Bk. V, °Ï 2, Ch. 3.] Back of the ceremonies lies a feeling that the ancestors need or demand the offerings and that the living are under heavy obligation to present them. The very fact that the cult of ancestors is regarded as an example of filial piety indicates that its rites were regarded as performed primarily for the benefit of the ancestors. Another inference easily made but less easily defended is [10/11] that definite ancestors deliberately reward or punish specific instances of tendance or neglect. Such, at least, is the most obvious meaning of numerous passages already cited. "Your ancestors will now abandon you and not save you from death," "Permanent are the blessings coming from our meritorious ancestor," "He will bless us with the eyebrows of longevity," "O great Father, condescend to preserve and enlighten me," "The spirits confer on you a hundred blessings"--lines like those seem to indicate that ancestors themselves are able to bless or injure their descendants. But while this may well have been a popular belief (as it has remained to this day) it is unlikely that it represents the true classical theory. We are easily misled if we isolate these passages from their literary and religious context; we can rightly interpret them only within their total setting.

The controlling religious conception of "The Book of History" and "The Book of Odes" is the supremacy of Heaven. Tien or Shang Ti (Supreme Ruler) originated and sustains both the natural and the moral order of the universe. All-wise and all-powerful in his providential activity, he remains the guardian of that moral order. Nothing is more plainly fundamental in classical thinking than this belief that Nature operates according to law and that man's duty is to be in harmony with that law. The law itself (the Tao, or Way) is decreed and executed by Heaven.

It is only when we have this enveloping idea clear in mind that we can give a reliable account of the [11/12] activity attributed to ancestors. From many classical sayings it looks as if each ancestor were an independent little god dealing out favors and penalties with an eye to the sort of treatment he has received. This conception, however, is probably un-Chinese and certainly unclassical. No man, even though a king, and no king, even though deceased, has any power to tamper with the moral laws of the universe ordained by Heaven. Thanks to this overruling providence, blessings inevitably attend the virtuous, especially those who display filial piety, and disaster inevitably overtakes the unworthy, especially those who neglect their filial duties. Whatever power to reward or punish may be attributed to ancestors must therefore be secondary, for it can be operative only within the limits of the Tao of Heaven. The maximum of power which (according to the classical theory) can properly be ascribed to ancestors is to espouse the cause of their descendants or to execute upon them, for good or ill, the decrees of Shang Ti. Ancestors may perhaps watch over their descendants and champion their interests before Shang Ti; but they cannot change the moral law of cause and effect. In other words, the rewards and punishments that follow tendance or neglect are not due to ancestral feelings of pleasure or irritation, but to the fact that the world is so ordered by Heaven that the dutiful prosper and the undutiful suffer.

This interpretation of classical doctrine may seem hard to justify in the face of much evidence supplied by [12/13] the "History" and especially by the "Odes"; but its acceptance becomes easier in the light of the following considerations. In the first place, the "Shu King" and the "Shih King" represent an official organization and codification of current beliefs and practices undertaken for purposes of state. They provide us with an expurgation or revision rather than a reflection of the religion of the time. They are the result of conscious reformation from above, carried out, during a long period, with the aim to make the ritual of official religion more dignified and uniform. We may reasonably expect, therefore, to find interpretations of religious and political beliefs above the average level of the period. Furthermore, the classics, from their very nature, are almost entirely concerned with the religion of the court, and the ancestor worship which they describe is royal. Hence, the language used in addressing ancestors and the powers ascribed to the deceased are appropriate to kings. The king, in his lifetime, was the Son of Heaven, with power of life and death over his subjects. Since his rank in the next world is certainly not diminished and his special relationship to Shang Ti is presumably maintained, we may naturally expect greater powers to be assigned to him than to any ordinary ancestor as such. If his power to influence the fortunes of his descendants seems almost divine, it is duo to his divinity as a monarch and not as an ancestor. He is still a vicegerent of Heaven, through whom Heaven can speak and act.

[14] Again, it is necessary to use caution in drawing logical conclusions from the language of Oriental poets. A court poet addressing a departed sovereign cannot be taken too literally if he is to furnish data for the history of religion. The attributes assigned to royal ancestors in the "Odes" and the language in which their powers are described are partly the result of the singer's poetry and partly of his flattery. But in spite of the tendency of the courtier and the poet to overemphasize the divine prerogatives of the deceased monarch, it is noteworthy that many of the odes prophesy blessings upon the sacrificer without any mention of an agent or giver. ["Shih King," Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. I, Ode IX; Dec. II, Odes VI and VIII.] Indeed, in several odes the translation by Legge inserts the idea of ancestors as given in passages where the Chinese text makes no reference to the source of the gifts. [E. g., Pt. II, Bk. VI, Odes V and VI; Pt. IV, Bk. II, Ode IV.]

If we pay duo regard, then, to the character and purpose of "The Book of History" and "The Book of Odes" and to the style of the documents they contain, we are justified in saying that the classical interpretation of the ancient and popular cult of ancestors magnifies the importance of the rites as a manifestation of filial piety certain to bring rich rewards but minimizes their religious aspect as a means of obtaining goods from higher powers. This classical emphasis is still more marked in the last [14/15] of the Five Classics to be canonized--the "Li Ki," or "The Book of Rites." [The "Yih King" (or "The Book of Changes"), being a manual of divination, contains little or nothing of value for a study of ancestor worship.]

Since the "Li Ki" is concerned with the subject (if rites and ceremonies and since ancestor worship was the most universally important of nil ceremonies, a large part of this classic is devoted to the explanation of its forms and their significance. As in the other classics, chief consideration is given to royal ancestor worship.

The worship of the family ancestors, however, is an obligation prescribed for all classes of society from the king to the common man. Indeed, it is the only form of worship required of the lower officers of government. ["Li Ki," Bk. I, §II, Pt. III, 4.] The importance attached to ancestor worship may be inferred not only from its universality but also from the sanctity attaching to the ancestral temple. "When a superior man, [high in rank,] is about to engage in building, the ancestral temple should have his first attention, the stables and arsenal the next, and the residences the last." [Id., Bk. I, § 11, Pt. I, 9. Cf. "Shih King," Pt. III, Bk. J, Ode III, and Legge's note, S.B.E., Vol. III, p. 384.] Confucius is quoted as naming "the grand ancestral temple taking fire" as one among several major catastrophes (such as an eclipse or the death of the king) which would justify breaking off the rites of audience or of sacrifice. [Id., Bk. V, § II, 1-3.] This sacredness of the ancestral temple was [15/16] emphasized by an elaborate ceremony of consecration, during which the blood of the victim was poured not only upon the temple itself, but also upon all the more important sacrificial vessels. ["Li Ki," Bk. XVIII, §11, Pt. II, 33.] Only the king, nobles, and higher officers, however, possessed ancestral temples. The lower officers and the common people presented their sacrifices at a shrine placed in some room of the house. [Id., Bk. XX, 5. It was only the king who enjoyed the services of a "grand-minister of the ancestral temple." Vide "Li Ki," Bk. I, § II, Pt. II, 2. Cf. references to a similar official in "Shu King," Pt. V, Bk. XX, Ch. III; Pt. II, Bk. I, Ch. V.]

Of fundamental importance in the performance of the rites were the personators and the tablets, both of which were used to represent the ancestors. The general character of personators has already been explained by reference to the earlier classics. But the "Li Ki" gives fuller details as to their selection and behavior.

The son of the sacrificer was normally chosen to impersonate the deceased father of the sacrificer--i. e., "a grandson acted as the representative of his grandfather." ["Li Ki," Bk. XXII, 10; Bk. I, °Ï I, Pt. IV, 4.] If there was no grandson, some one of the same surname acted in his place. [Id., Bk. V. °ÏII, 20.] Seated in impassive dignity, ho received the libations and the offerings of food. After the personator had drunk several cups, the cup was then passed to the others present in order of rank. [Id., Bk. XXII, 17.] At the [16/17] close of the sacrifice he pronounced a blessing upon those present, speaking through the officer of prayer who was "the medium of communication between him and the sacrificer." ["Li Ki," Bk. IX, §III, 20.] "The blessing [pronounced by him] was for long continuance, and comprehensive." [Id., Bk. IX, §III, 19.] It is clear, as the "Li Ki" explains, that "the presence [of the representative] was that the spirit might enjoy [the offerings]. . . . The personator [seemed] to display [the departed]." Though the presentation of the libation was the central point of the sacrifice; [Id., Bk. XXII, 9.] it was accompanied, at least at court, by other and more elaborate ceremonies, which included music, dancing, and the subsequent feasting of personators." [Id., Bk. XXII, 9, 10; Bk. XXI, § 1, 8. For further ritual details, see "Li Ki," Bks. XXI and XXII, and "Shih King," Pt. II. Bk. VI, Ode V, quoted above.] In essence, however, "the ancestral sacrifices were family feasts for the living and the dead." [G. F. Moore, "History of Religions," Vol. 1, p. 15 f.]

But the dead were not only represented by the personators. They were also regarded as present in the ancestral tablets, which were kept enshrined and displayed at the time of sacrifice. [Cf. Legge's note, S. B. E., Vol. XXVII, p. 224 f.] Before the burial of the dead, a temporary tablet was set up over the coffin. ["Li Ki" Bk. XVIII, § I, Pt. II, 18.] After the interment came the "sacrifice of repose." The temporary tablet was then buried or burned and a permanent tablet set up in the ancestral temple. "At [17/18] midday the sacrifice of repose is offered ... on the day of interment; they cannot bear that the departed should be loft a single day [without a place to rest in]. . . . The next day the service of placing the spirit tablet of the departed next to that of his grandfather; was performed." ["Li Ki," Bk. II, § II, Pt. I, 26, 36-38. Cf. Legge's notes, S. B. E., Vol. XXVII, pp. 168, 171, and XXVIII, p. 48.] "The spirit tablet was a rectangular piece of wood, in the case of a king, a cubit and two inches long." [S. B. E., Vol. XXVII, p. 108, note.] These tablets were housed according to the following scheme: "[The Ancestral temple of] the Son of Heaven embraced seven fanes [or smaller temples]; three on the left and three on the right, and that of his great ancestor. . . . [The temple of] the prince in a state embraced five such fanes: those of two on the left and two on the right, and that of his great ancestor. . . . Great officers had three fanes:--one on the left, one on the right, and that of his great ancestor. . . . Other officers had [only] one. The common people presented their offerings in their [principal] apartment." ["LiKi," Bk. Ill, §III, 4] The seven shrines of the king were those in which reposed the soul tablets of the "grand ancestor," to whom his family line was ultimately traced, the kings Wan and Wu, founders of his dynasty (the Chou), and his great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. The shrines of lesser dignitaries are simply an abbreviation of this scheme. When a king died, the [18/19] tablets of his four immediate predecessors were moved up one place, his own inserted in the lowest shrine and that of his great-great-grandfather placed in an apartment which served as a depository for the tablets of remoter ancestors. [S. B. E., Vol. XXVII, p. 224 f., note.] The tablets of wives were set beside those of their husbands in their shrines, so that both shared in the honors of the service. [Id., Vol. III. p. 320, note.] As one of the "Odes" says, "I offer this sacrifice to my meritorious father, and to my accomplished mother." ["Shih King," Pt. IV, Bk. I, Dec. II, Ode VII.] That there were female as well as male personators seems evident from a passage in the "Li Ki" referring to a wife as impersonating the deceased grandmother of her husband. ["Li Ki," Bk. XV, 20.]

The tablets were not always left undisturbed in their royal shrines, for the custom prevailed at times during the Chou dynasty of removing them when a martial expedition was in progress in order that they might accompany the army of the king. [Id., Bk. V, §1, 24.] On these occasions the tablets were guarded with great care by the royal family in order to show their "deep sense of filial piety and love." [Id., Bk. VI, §II, 6, 13.]

The sacrifices to ancestors were normally offered by the eldest son of the proper or leading wife. Only in his absence might the son of a secondary wife officiate. Even then, according to a statement attributed to Confucius, [19/20] he must sacrifice at the grave and not in the house.1 The number of ancestors to whom the eldest son offered sacrifice seems to have depended upon the rank of the officiant, a regulation indicated by the arrangement of the shrines for different ranks. "Only the king offered the united sacrifice to all ancestors. . . . The sacrifices of the princes of states readied to their highest ancestor. Great officers . . . were able to carry their sacrifices up to their high ancestors."2 We may infer from the "Li Ki" as well as from the practice of future ages that lesser folk confined themselves to the tendance of father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. [The king is also said to have sacrificed to descendants of former kings who had died prematurely. Vide "Li Ki," Bk. XX, 8.]

The regular times for ancestor worship were at fixed dates at the four seasons of the year.4 But the rites wore performed at many other times, such as at the end of the first year of mourning and of the second year of mourning."' The king was expected to sacrifice every month to his four immediate ancestors and his high ancestor. In addition to seasonal and monthly sacrifices, offerings were presented whenever "announcements" were made to the ancestors. These took place on occasions of importance when the filial descendant felt it his duty to keep his forefathers in touch with events of importance [20/21] in the family or the state. The birth of a son and heir, for instance, is always announced. ["Li Ki," Bk. V, §I, 3.] A bride "after three months . . . presents herself in the ancestral temple, and is styled 'the new wife that has come.' A day is chosen for her to sacrifice at the shrine of her father-in-law; expressing the idea of her being [now] the established wife." [Id. Bk. V. §I, 20.] Certain other ceremonies, while not mentioned as occasions of sacrifice, took place in the ancestral temple and may therefore be classified as "announcements." The "capping" ceremony, by which a youth attained his majority, was considered important. "Considering it so important, they performed it in the ancestral temple. Not daring themselves to take the responsibility of it, they therefore humbled themselves, and gave honor in doing so to their forefathers." [Id. Bk. XL, 6.] Similarly, the preliminaries of marriage proposals, receiving of gifts, fixing of the day, etc., were all "received by the principal party [on the lady's side], as he rested on his mat . . .in the ancestral temple." [Id. Bk. XLI, 1.] When the feudal princess visited each other or went to the royal court they made announcement, with sacrifice, of their departure and their return. [Id. Bk. V, § I, 4.] When the king set forth upon a journey or a military expedition he made similar announcements, and repeated them upon his return. [Bk. III, §II, 21: Bk. V, §1, 25.]

[22] The few references to ancestor worship which may be found in the "Hsiao King" (or "The Classic of Filial Piety") and in "The Four Books" serve merely to repeat or to confirm the facts already set forth. We read of the ancestral temple, and the tablet, [] the personator, and the seasonal sacrifices. The extent of ancestor worship is indicated by the statement in "The Doctrine of the Mean" that King Wu, who sacrificed to ancestors, "extended this rule to the princes of the empire, the great officers, the scholars, and the common people."

The conclusions regarding the motive and meaning of classical ancestor worship which have already been suggested by a study of the "Shu King" and the "Shih King" are fortified by an examination of the "Li Ki" and "The Four Books." All of the documents in the latter and many of those in the former represent a stratum of literature later than the "History" and the "Odes." Their later date and their didactic purpose explain their more self-conscious attitude towards the meaning of the ancestral rites. In studying them we do not depend wholly on inference, for we are aided by the fact that the writers sometimes state explicitly the significance of the ceremonies they describe.

It is generally assumed as a matter of course that the ancestors are present at the sacrifices and enjoy the offerings. "When in the ancestral temple he [the Son of Heaven] exhibits the utmost reverence, the spirits of the departed manifest themselves." "When sacrificed to, their disembodied spirits enjoyed their offerings." "The object of all the ceremonies is to bring down the spirits from above." All was "done to please the souls of the departed." Yet what may be a shade of skepticism occasionally darkens the comment, as in the famous account of Confucius which says, "He sacrificed [to the dead] as if they were present." The "as if," of course, may or may not indicate a doubt of the reality.

But the presence of the ancestors and their enjoyment of the feasts are facts from which various conclusions might have been drawn as to the meaning of the rites. The teaching set forth in the Confucian Books and especially in the "Li Ki" is uniformly in favor of interpreting the ceremonies as memorials or as rites of tendance rather than as strictly religious worship. Their object is not to obtain temporal blessings for the living, but to servo and to commemorate the departed. A direct statement of this doctrine may be found in the "Li Ki." After asserting the need for sincerity and virtue in the sacrificer, the writer adds that "the sacrifices of such men have their own blessing;--not indeed what the world calls blessing [i. e., not success or long life]. . . . Thus intelligently does he offer his sacrifices, without seeking for anything to be gained by them:--such is the heart and mind of a filial son." Though we may infer that such disinterested sacrifice was not universal and perhaps not even customary, we can at least conclude that it represented the standard set by the best classical tradition.

That tradition lays emphasis upon both tendance and commemoration as evidence of filial piety. Recording with admiration the deeds of King Wu and the Duke of Chou, the writer of "The Doctrine of the Mean" says, "Thus they served the dead as they would have served them alive; they served the departed as they would have served them had they been continued among them." [] And the "Li Ki" states that "King Wan in sacrificing, served the dead as if he were serving the living." [] This conception of the ancestral rites as simply constituting a continuance of the respect and service due to parents during their lifetime must have been in the mind of Confucius when he defined filial piety as meaning "that parents, when alive, should be served according to propriety; that, when dead, they should be buried according to propriety; and that they should be sacrificed to according to propriety." Or, as the "Li Ki"

puts it: "Therefore in three ways is a filial son's service of his parents shown:--while they are alive, by nourishing them; when they are dead, by all the rites of mourning; and when the mourning is over by sacrificing to them; . . . in his sacrifices we see his reverence and observance of the [proper] seasons." The practice of "announcements," for instance, is clearly a continuance of the relations of respect and obedience customary between living parents and children. "A son, when he is going abroad, must inform [his parents where he is going]; when he returns, he must present himself before them." Indeed, the persistence of the sentiments of reverence and affection and the desire for continued intercourse with the dead are quite sufficient, according to the classics, to account for the rites of ancestor worship. "The sacrificer simply showed his reverence to the utmost of his power." "From the affection for parents came the honoring of ancestors." A filial son "seeks to have communion with the dead in their spiritual state." The offerings "constitute a union [of the living] with the disembodied and unseen."

In other passages it is the memorial element of the rites upon which special stress is laid. In one chapter of the "Li Ki," largely devoted to "The Meaning of Sacrifices," it is said that filial piety requires of a son that he should retain the memory of his parents and of their aims, likings, and wishes. Sacrificing, we are told, "means directing one's self to. The son directs his thoughts [to his parents], and then he can offer his sacrifice." ["Li Ki," Bk. XXI, §1, 6.]

The social and political value of ancestor worship is explained in these words--"The object of all the ceremonies is ... [also] to rectify the relations between ruler and ministers; to maintain the generous feeling between father and son, and the harmony between elder and younger brother; to adjust the relations between high and low; and to give their proper places to husband and wife." [Id., Bk. VII, §1, 10.] In other words, as we should put it to-day (and as many modern students of China have observed), ancestor worship makes for the stability of the state and the moral welfare of society. [How imperfect are the classics as reflections of popular religious belief and how much in the religious life of the masses finds no place in their austerely edited pages is a fact of which we cannot too often remind ourselves. Note, for instance, the writings of Wang Ch'ung, the brilliant anti-Confucian heretic of the first century. He denies the continued existence of the dead in the form of disembodied spirits and argues that they cannot injure anybody. From his spirited attack upon what he regarded as the superstitions of his age it is quite clear that for many the main motive for the ancestral sacrifices was to secure blessings and to avert disaster. Cf. H. A. Giles: "Confucianism and Its Rivals," N. Y., 1015, pp. 160 ff. Jas. Jackson in "Report of Missionary Conference at Shanghai," 1907, p. 221.]

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