Chinese Notes
Chinese Notes

Back to collection

The Book of Rites 《禮記》

《祭法》 The Law of Sacrifices

》 The Law of Sacrifices

黃帝顓頊黃帝顓頊文王武王
According to the law of sacrifices, (Shun), the sovereign of the line of Yu, at the great associate sacrifice, gave the place of honour to Huang Di, and at the border sacrifice made Ku the correlate of Heaven; he sacrificed (also) to Zhuan-xu as his ancestor (on the throne) and to Yao as his honoured predecessor. The sovereigns of Xia, at the corresponding sacrifice, gave the place of honour also to Huang Di, and made Gun the correlate at the border sacrifice; they sacrificed to Zhuan-xu as their ancestor, and to Yu as their honoured predecessor. Under Yin, they gave the place of honour to Ku, and made Ming the correlate at the border sacrifice; they sacrificed to Xie as their ancestor, and to Tang as their honoured predecessor. Under Zhou they gave the place of honour to Ku, and made Ji the correlate at the border sacrifice, they sacrificed to king Wen as their ancestor, and to king Wu as their honoured predecessor.

相近王宮四時山林丘陵風雨見怪天下諸侯
With a blazing pile of wood on the Grand altar they sacrificed to Heaven; by burying (the victim) in the Grand mound, they sacrificed to the Earth. (In both cases) they used a red victim. By burying a sheep and a pig at the (altar of) Great brightness, they sacrificed to the seasons. (With similar) victims they sacrificed to (the spirits of cold and heat, at the pit and the altar, using prayers of deprecation and petition; to the sun, at the (altar called the) royal palace; to the moon, at the (pit called the) light of the night; to the stars at the honoured place of gloom; to (the spirits of) flood and drought at the honoured altar of rain; to the (spirits of the) four quarters at the place of the four pits and altars; mountains, forests, streams, valleys, hills, and mounds, which are able to produce clouds, and occasion winds and rain, were all regarded as (dominated by) spirits. He by whom all under the sky was held sacrificed to all spirits. The princes of states sacrificed to those which were in their own territories; to those which were not in their territories, they did not sacrifice.

大凡天地之間萬物五代不變所以其餘不變
Generally speaking, all born between heaven and earth were said to have their allotted times; the death of all creatures is spoken of as their dissolution; but man when dead is said to be in the ghostly state. There was no change in regard to these points in the five dynasties. What, the seven dynasties made changes in, were the assessors at the Great associate and the border sacrifices, and the parties sacrificed to in the ancestral temple; they made no other changes.

天下建國親疏多少
The sovereigns, coming to the possession of the kingdom, divided the land and established the feudal principalities; they assigned (great) cities (to their nobles), and smaller towns (to their chiefs); they made ancestral temples, and the arrangements for altering the order of the spirit-tablets; they raised altars, and they cleared the ground around them for the performance of their sacrifices. In all these arrangements they made provision for the sacrifices according to the nearer or more remote kinship, and for the assignment of lands of greater or less amount.

是故顯考
Thus the king made for himself seven ancestral temples, with a raised altar and the surrounding area for each. The temples were-his father's; his grandfather's; his great-grandfather's; his great-great-grandfather's; and the temple of his (high) ancestor. At all of these a sacrifice was offered every month. The temples of the more remote ancestors formed the receptacles for the tablets as they were displaced; they were two, and at these only the seasonal sacrifices were offered. For the removed tablet of one more remote, an altar was raised and its corresponding area; and on occasions of prayer at this altar and area, a sacrifice was offered, but if there were no prayer, there was no sacrifice. In the case of one still more remote, (there was no sacrifice); he was left in his ghostly state.

諸侯顯考
A feudal prince made for himself five ancestral temples, with an altar and a cleared area about it for each. The temples were--his father's; his grandfather's; and his great-grandfather's; in all of which a sacrifice was offered every month. In the temples of the great-great-grandfather, and that of the (high) ancestor only, the seasonal sacrifices were offered. For one beyond the high ancestor a special altar was raised, and for one still more remote, an area was prepared. If there were prayer at these, a sacrifice was offered; but if there were no prayer, there was no sacrifice. In the case of one still more remote, (there was no service); he was left in his ghostly state.

大夫顯考
A Great officer made for himself three ancestral temples and two altars. The temples were-his father's; his grandfather's; and his great-grandfather's. In this only the seasonal sacrifices were offered. To the great-great-grandfather and the (high) ancestor there were no temples. If there were occasion for prayer to them, altars were raised, and sacrifices offered on them. An ancestor still more remote was left in his ghostly state.


An officer of the highest grade had two ancestral temples and one altar; the temples of his father and grandfather, at which only the seasonal sacrifices were presented. There was no temple for his great-grandfather. If there were occasion to pray to him, an altar was raised, and a sacrifice offered to him. Ancestors more remote were left in their ghostly state.


An officer in charge merely of one department had one ancestral temple; that, namely, of his father. There was no temple for his grandfather, but he was sacrificed to (in the father's temple.) Ancestors beyond the grandfather were left in their ghostly state.


The mass of ordinary officers and the common people had no ancestral temple. Their dead were left in their ghostly state, (to have offerings presented to them in the back apartment, as occasion required).

大社諸侯百姓諸侯自立大夫以下成群
The king, for all the people, erected an altar to (the spirit of) the ground, called the Grand altar, and one for himself, called the Royal altar. A feudal prince, for all his people, erected one called the altar of the state, and one for himself called the altar of the prince. Great officers and all below them in association erected such an altar, called the Appointed altar.

司命
The king, for all the people, appointed (seven altars for) the seven sacrifices - one to the superintendent of the lot; one in the central court, for the admission of light and the rain from the roofs; one at the gates of the city wall; one in the roads leading from the city; one for the discontented ghosts of kings who had died without posterity; one for the guardian of the door; and one for the guardian of the furnace. He also had seven corresponding altars for himself.

諸侯國立司命諸侯
A feudal prince, for his state, appointed (five altars for) the five sacrifices - one for the superintendent of the lot; one in the central court, for the admission of light and rain; one at the gates of the city wall; one in the roads leading from the city; one for the discontented ghosts of princes who had died without posterity. He also had five corresponding altars for himself.

大夫
A Great officer appointed (three altars for) the three sacrifice - one for the discontented ghosts of his predecessors who had died without posterity; one at the gates of his city; and one on the roads leading from it.


An officer of the first grade appointed (two altars for) the two sacrifices - one at the gates; and one on the roads (outside the gates).


Other officers and the common people had one (altar and one) sacrifice. Some raised one altar for the guardian of the door; and others, one for the guardian of the furnace.

曾孫玄孫
The king, carrying down (his favour), sacrificed to five classes of those who had died prematurely - namely, to the rightful eldest sons (of former kings); to rightful grandsons; to rightful great-grandsons; to rightful great-great-grandsons; and to the rightful sons of these last.

諸侯大夫
A feudal prince, carrying down (his favour), sacrificed to three classes; a Great officer similarly to two; another officer of the first grade and the common people sacrificed only to the son who had died prematurely.

聖王祭祀法施是故天下子曰百穀以為九州子曰九州以為帝嚳星辰刑法洪水黃帝正名百物顓頊司徒文王武王武功功烈日月星辰瞻仰山林丘陵取材
According to the institutes of the sage kings about sacrifices, sacrifice should be offered to him who had given (good) laws to the people to him who had laboured to the death in the discharge of his duties; to him who had strengthened the state by his laborious toil; to him who had boldly and successfully met great calamities; and to him who had warded off great evils. Such were the following - Nong, the son of the lord of Li-shan, who possessed the kingdom, and showed how to cultivate all the cereals; and Ji (the progenitor) of Zhou, who continued his work after the decay of Xia, and was sacrificed to under the name of Ji; Hou-tu, a son of the line of Gong-gong, that swayed the nine provinces, who was able to reduce them all to order, and was sacrificed to as the spirit of the ground; the Di Ku, who could define all the zodiacal stars, and exhibit their times to the people; Yao, who rewarded (the worthy), made the penal laws impartial, and the end of whose course was distinguished by his righteousness; Shun, who, toiling amid all his affairs, died in the country (far from his capital); Yu, (the son of) Gun, who was kept a prisoner till death for trying to dam up the waters of the flood, while Yu completed the work, and atoned for his father's failure; Huang Di, who gave everything its right name, thereby showing the people how to avail themselves of its qualities; Zhuan-xu, who completed this work of Huang Di; Xie, who was minister of Instruction, and perfected the (condition and manners of the) people; Ming, who, through his attention to the duties of his office, died in the waters; Thang, who ruled the people with a benignant sway and cut off their oppressor; and king Wen, who by his peaceful rule, and king Wu, who by his martial achievements, delivered the people from their afflictions. All these rendered distinguished services to the people. As to the sun and moon, the stars and constellations, the people look up to them, while mountains, forests, streams, valleys, hills, and mountains supply them with the materials for use which they require. Only men and things of this character were admitted into the sacrificial canon.

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

Glossary and Other Vocabulary