According to the rules, only the king offered the united sacrifice to all ancestors. The chief place was then given to him from whom the founder of the line sprang, and that founder had the place of assessor to him. The sacrifices of the princes of states reached to their highest ancestor. Great officers and other officers, who had performed great services, when these were examined (and approved) by the ruler, were able to carry their sacrifices up to their high ancestor.
The field of Mu-ye was the great achievement of king Wu. When he withdrew after the victory, he reared a burning pile to God; prayed at the altar of the earth; and set forth his offerings in the house of Mu. He then led all the princes of the kingdom, bearing his offerings in their various stands, and hurrying about, and carried the title of king back to Tai who was Dan-fu, Ji-li, and king Wen who was Chang - he would not approach his honourable ancestors with their former humbler titles.
Thus he regulated the services to be rendered to his father and grandfather before him - giving honour to the most honourable. He regulated the places to be given to his sons and grandsons below him - showing his affection to his kindred. He regulated (also) the observances for the collateral branches of his cousins;-associating all their members in the feasting. He defined their places according to their order of descent; and his every distinction was in harmony with what was proper and right. In this way the procedure of human duty was made complete.
When a sage sovereign stood with his face to the south, and all the affairs of the kingdom came before him, there were five things which for the time claimed his first care, and the people were not reckoned among them. The first was the regulating what was due to his kindred (as above) the second, the reward of merit; the third, the promotion of worth; the fourth, the employment of ability; and the fifth, the maintenance of a loving vigilance. When these five things were all fully realised, the people had all their necessities satisfied, all that they wanted supplied. If one of them were defective, the people could not complete their lives in comfort. It was necessary for a sage on the throne of government to begin with the (above) procedure of human duty.
The appointment of the measures of weight, length, and capacity; the fixing the elegancies (of ceremony); the changing the commencement of the year and month; alterations in the colour of dress; differences of flags and their blazonry; changes in vessels and weapons, and distinctions in dress: these were things, changes in which could be enjoined on the people. But no changes could be enjoined upon them in what concerned affection for kin, the honour paid to the honourable, the respect due to the aged, and the different positions and functions of male and female.
Members of the same surname were united together in the various ramifications of their kinship, under the Heads of their different branches. Those of a different surname had their mutual relations regulated principally by the names assigned to them. Those names being clearly set forth, the different positions of males and females were determined. When the husband belonged to the class of fathers [or uncles], the wife was placed in that of mothers [or aunts]; when he belonged to the class of sons [or cousins], the wife was placed in that of (junior) wives. Since the wife of a younger brother was (thus) styled (junior) wife, could the wife of his elder brother be at the same time styled mother [or aunt]? The name or appellation is of the greatest importance in the regulation of the family - was not anxious care required in the declaration of it?
For parties four generations removed (from the same common ancestor) the mourning was reduced to that worn for three months, and this was the limit of wearing the hempen cloth. If the generations were five, the shoulders were bared and the cincture assumed; and in this way the mourning within the circle of the same was gradually reduced. After the sixth generation the bond of kinship was held to be at an end. As the branch-surnames which arose separated the members of them from their relatives of a former time, and the kinship disappeared as time went on, (so far as wearing mourning was concerned), could marriage be contracted between parties (so wide apart)? But there was that original surname tying all the members together without distinction, and the maintenance of the connexion by means of the common feast - while there were these conditions, there could be no intermarriage, even after a hundred generations. Such was the rule of Zhou.
The considerations which regulated the mourning worn were six - first., the nearness of the kinship; second, the honour due to the honourable; third, the names (as expressing the position in the relative circle); fourth, the cases of women still unmarried in the paternal home, and of those who had married and left it; fifth, age; and sixth, affinity, and external relationship.
Of the considerations of affinity and external relationship there were six cases - those arising from inter-relationship; those in which there was no inter-relationship; those where mourning should be worn, and yet was not, those where it should not be worn, and yet was; those where it should be deep, and yet was light; and those where it should be light, and yet was deep.
Where the starting-point was affection, it began from the father. Going up from him by degrees it reached to the (high) ancestor, and was said to diminish. Where the starting-point was the consideration of what is right, it began with the ancestor. Coming down by natural degrees from him, it reached to the father, and was said to increase. In the diminution and the increase, the considerations of affection and right acted thus.
It was the way for the ruler to assemble and feast all the members of his kindred. None of them could, because of their mutual kinship, claim a nearer kinship with him than what was expressed by the places (assigned to them).
Any son but the eldest, (though all sons of the wife proper), did not sacrifice to his grandfather,--to show there was the Honoured Head (who should do so). Nor could he wear mourning for his eldest son for three years, because he was not the continuator of his grandfather.
When any other son but the eldest became an ancestor of a line, he who succeeded him became the Honoured Head (of the branch); and his successor again became the smaller Head.
There was the (great) Honoured Head whose tablet was not removed for a hundred generations. There were the (smaller) Honoured Heads whose tablets were removed after five generations. He whose tablet was not removed for a hundred generations was the successor and representative of the other than the eldest son (who became an ancestor of a line); and he was so honoured (by the members of his line) because he continued the (High) ancestor from whom (both) he and they sprang; this was why his tablet was not removed for a hundred generations. He who honoured the continuator of the High ancestor was he whose tablet was removed after five generations. They honoured the Ancestor, and therefore they reverenced the Head. The reverence showed the significance of that honour.
There might be cases in which there was a smaller Honoured Head, and no Greater Head (of a branch family); cases in which there was a Greater Honoured Head, and no smaller Head; and cases in which there was an Honoured Head, with none to honour him. All these might exist in the instance of the son of the ruler of a state. The course to be adopted for the headship of such a son was this; that the ruler,. himself the proper representative of former rulers, should for all his half-brothers who were officers and Great officers appoint a full brother, also an officer or a Great officer, to be the Honoured Head. Such was the regular course.
When the kinship was no longer counted, there was no further wearing of mourning. The kinship was the bond of connexion (expressed in the degree of mourning).
Where the starting-point was in affection, it began with the father, and ascended by steps to the ancestor. Where it was in a consideration of what was right, it began with the ancestor, and descended in natural order to the deceased father. Thus the course of humanity (in this matter of mourning) was all comprehended in the love for kindred.
From the affection for parents came the honouring of ancestors; from the honouring of the ancestor came the respect and attention shown to the Heads (of the family branches). By that respect and attention to those Heads all the members of the kindred were kept together. Through their being kept together came the dignity of the ancestral temple. From that dignity arose the importance attached to the altars of the land and grain. From that importance there ensued the love of all the (people with their) hundred surnames. From that love came the right administration of punishments and penalties. Through that administration the people had the feeling of repose. Through that restfulness all resources for expenditure became, sufficient. Through the sufficiency of these, what all desired was realised. The realisation led to all courteous usages and good customs; and from these, in fine, came all happiness and enjoyment - affording an illustration of what is said in the ode - 'Glory and honour follow Wen's great name, And ne'er will men be weary of his fame.'
Source: Chinese Text Project http://ctext.org/liji. English translation "Sacred Books of the East, volume 28, part 4: The Li Ki", James Legge, 1885