Selected from 《曲禮》

The Summary of the Rules of Propriety says: Always and in everything let there be reverence; with the deportment grave as when one is thinking (deeply), and with speech composed and definite. This will make the people tranquil.

Pride should not be allowed to grow; the desires should not be indulged; the will should not be gratified to the full; pleasure should not be carried to excess.

Men of talents and virtue can be familiar with others and yet respect them; can stand in awe of others and yet love them. They love others and yet acknowledge the evil that is in them. They accumulate (wealth) and yet are able to part with it (to help the needy); they rest in what gives them satisfaction and yet can seek satisfaction elsewhere (when it is desirable to do so). When you find wealth within your reach, do not (try to) get it by improper means; when you meet with calamity, do not (try to) escape from it by improper means. Do not seek for victory in small contentions; do not seek for more than your proper share. Do not positively affirm what you have doubts about; and (when you have no doubts), do not let what you say appear (simply) as your own view.

If a man be sitting, let him do so as a personator of the deceased; if he be standing, let him do so (reverently), as in sacrificing.

In (observing) the rules of propriety, what is right (for the time and in the circumstances) should be followed. In discharging a mission (to another state), its customs are to be observed.

They are the rules of propriety, that furnish the means of determining (the observances towards) relatives, as near and remote; of settling points which may cause suspicion or doubt; of distinguishing where there should be agreement, and where difference; and of making clear what is right and what is wrong.

According to those rules, one should not (seek to) please others in an improper way, nor be lavish of his words. According to them, one does not go beyond the definite measure, nor encroach on or despise others, nor is fond of (presuming) familiarities. To cultivate one’s person and fulfil one’s words is called good conduct. When the conduct is (thus) ordered, and the words are accordant with the (right) course, we have the substance of the rules of propriety. I have heard that it is in accordance with those rules that one should be chosen by others (as their model); I have not heard of his choosing them (to take him as such). I have heard in the same way of (scholars) coming to learn; I have not heard of (the master) going to teach.

The course (of duty), virtue, benevolence, and righteousness cannot be fully carried out without the rules of propriety; nor are training and oral lessons for the rectification of manners complete; nor can the clearing up of quarrels and discriminating in disputes be accomplished; nor can (the duties between) ruler and minister, high and low, father and son, elder brother and younger, be determined; nor can students for office and (other) learners, in serving their masters, have an attachment for them; nor can majesty and dignity be shown in assigning the different places at court, in the government of the armies, and in discharging the duties of office so as to secure the operation of the laws; nor can there be the (proper) sincerity and gravity in presenting the offerings to spiritual Beings on occasions of supplication, thanksgiving, and the various sacrifices. Therefore the superior man is respectful and reverent, assiduous in his duties and not going beyond them, retiring and yielding – thus illustrating (the principle of) propriety.

The parrot can speak, and yet is nothing more than a bird; the ape can speak, and yet is nothing more than a beast. Here now is a man who observes no rules of propriety; is not his heart that of a beast? But if (men were as) beasts, and without (the principle of) propriety, father and son might have the same mate. Therefore, when the sages arose, they framed the rules of propriety in order to teach men, and cause them, by their possession of them, to make a distinction between themselves and brutes.

In the highest antiquity they prized (simply conferring) good; in the time next to this, giving and repaying was the thing attended to. And what the rules of propriety value is that reciprocity. If I give a gift and nothing comes in return, that is contrary to propriety; if the thing comes to me, and I give nothing in return, that also is contrary to propriety. If a man observe the rules of propriety, he is in a condition of security; if he do not, he is in one of danger. Hence there is the saying, ‘The rules of propriety should by no means be left unlearned.’

Propriety is seen in humbling one’s self and giving honour to others. Even porters and pedlers are sure to display this giving honour (in some cases); how much more should the rich and noble do so (in all)! When the rich and noble know to love propriety, they do not become proud nor dissolute. When the poor and mean know to love propriety, their minds do not become cowardly.

When one is ten years old, we call him a boy; he goes (out) to school. When he is twenty, we call him a youth; he is capped. When he is thirty, we say, ‘He is at his maturity;’ he has a wife. When he is forty, we say, ‘He is in his vigour;’ he is employed in office. When he is fifty, we say, ‘He is getting grey;’ he can discharge all the duties of an officer. When he is sixty, we say, ‘He is getting old;’ he gives directions and instructions. When he is seventy, we say, ‘He is old;’ he delegates his duties to others. At eighty or ninety, we say of him, ‘He is very old.’ When he is seven, we say that he is an object of pitying love. Such a child and one who is very old, though they may be chargeable with crime, are not subjected to punishment. At a hundred, he is called a centenarian, and has to be fed.

A great officer, when he is seventy, should resign (his charge of) affairs. If he be not allowed to resign, there must be given him a stool and staff. When travelling on service, he must have the attendance of his wife; and when going to any other state, he will ride in an easy carriage. (In another state) he will, style himself ‘the old man;’ in his own state, he will call himself by his name. When from another they ask (about his state), he must tell them of its (old) institutions.

In going to take counsel with an elder, one must carry a stool and a staff with him (for the elder’s use). When the elder asks a question, to reply without acknowledging one’s incompetency and (trying to) decline answering, is contrary to propriety.

For all sons it is the rule: In winter, to warm (the bed for their parents), and to cool it in summer; in the evening, to adjust everything (for their repose), and to inquire (about their health) in the morning; and, when with their companions, not to quarrel.

Whenever a son, having received the three (first) gifts (of the ruler), declines (to use) the carriage and horses, the people of the hamlets and smaller districts, and of the larger districts and neighbourhoods, will proclaim him filial; his brothers and relatives, both by consanguinity and affinity, will proclaim him loving; his friends who are fellow-officers will proclaim him virtuous; and his friends who are his associates will proclaim him true. When he sees an intimate friend of his father, not to presume to go forward to him without being told to do so; nor to retire without being told; nor to address him without being questioned – this is the conduct of a filial son.

A son, when he is going abroad, must inform (his parents where he is going); when he returns, he must present himself before them. Where he travels must be in some fixed (region); what he engages in must be some (reputable) occupation. In ordinary conversation (with his parents), he does not use the term ‘old’ (with reference to them). He should serve one twice as old as himself as he serves his father, one ten years older than himself as an elder brother; with one five years older he should walk shoulder to shoulder, but (a little) behind him. When five are sitting together, the eldest must have a different mat (by himself).

A son should not occupy the south-west corner of the apartment, nor sit in the middle of the mat (which he occupies alone), nor walk in the middle of the road, nor stand in the middle of the doorway. He should not take the part of regulating the (quantity of) rice and other viands at an entertainment. He should not act as personator of the dead at sacrifice. He should be (as if he were) hearing (his parents) when there is no voice from them, and as seeing them when they are not actually there. He should not ascend a height, nor approach the verge of a depth; he should not indulge in reckless reviling or derisive laughing.

A filial son will not do things in the dark, nor attempt hazardous undertakings, fearing lest he disgrace his parents. While his parents are alive, he will not promise a friend to die (with or for him), nor will he have wealth that he calls his own.

A son, while his parents are alive, will not wear a cap or (other) article of dress, with a white border. An orphan son, taking his father’s place, will not wear a cap or (other article of) dress with a variegated border.

A boy should never he allowed to see an instance of deceit. A lad should not wear a jacket of fur nor the skirt. He must stand straight and square, and not incline his head in hearing. When an elder is holding him with the hand, he should hold the elder’s hand with both his hands. When the elder has shifted his sword to his back and is speaking to him with the side of his face bent, down, he should cover his mouth with his hand in answering.

When he is following his teacher, he should not quit the road to speak with another person. When he meets his teacher on the road, he should hasten forward to him, and stand with his hands joined across his breast. If the teacher speak to him, he will answer; if he do not, he will retire with hasty steps.

When, following an elder, they ascend a level height, he must keep his face towards the quarter to which the elder is looking.

When one has ascended the wall of a city, he should not point, nor callout.

When he intends to go to a lodging-house, let it not be with the feeling that he must get whatever he asks for. When about to go up to the hall (of a house), he must raise his voice. When outside the door there are two (pairs of) shoes, if voices be heard, he enters; if voices be not heard, he will not enter. When about to enter the door, he must keep his eyes cast down. As he enters, he should (keep his hands raised as high as if he were) bearing the bar of the door. In looking down or up, he should not turn (his head). If the door were open, he should leave it open; if it were shut, he should shut it again. If there be others (about) to enter after him, while he (turns to) shut the door, let him not do so hastily. Let him not tread on the shoes (left outside the door), nor stride across the mat (in going to take his seat); but let him hold up his dress, and move hastily to his corner (of the mat). (When seated), he must be careful in answering or assenting.

To be continued >>

Translation by James Legge


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