The meaning of the drinking in the country districts may be thus described - The president on the occasion bows to the (coming) guest as he receives him outside the college gate. They enter and thrice salute each other till they come to the steps. There each thrice yields the precedence to the other, and then they ascend. In this way they carry to the utmost their mutual demonstrations of honour and humility. (The host) washes his hands, rinses the cup, and raises it - to give the highest idea of purity. They bow on the guest's arrival; they bow as (the cup) is washed; they bow when the cup is received, and when it is presented (in return); they bow when the drinking it is over - in this way carrying to the utmost their mutual respect.
Such giving of honour, such humility, such purity, and such respect belonged to the intercourse of superior men with others. When they gave honour and showed humility, no contentions arose. When they maintained purity and respect, no indifference or rudeness arose. When there was no rudeness or contention, quarrels and disputations were kept at a distance. When men did not quarrel nor dispute, there came no evils of violence or disorder. It was thus that superior men escaped suffering calamity from other men; and therefore the sages instituted the observances in this ceremony to secure such a result.
The chief of the district with the accomplished and virtuous men belonging to it had the vessel of liquor placed between the room (on the east), and the door (leading to the apartments on the west), host and guests sharing it between them. The vessel contained the dark-coloured liquor (of pure water) - showing the value, they attached to its simplicity. The viands came forth from the room on the east - being supplied by the host. All washing, took place (in the courtyard) opposite the eastern wing - showing how the host purified himself and made himself ready to serve the guests.
The (principal) guest and the host represented heaven and earth; the attendants of the guest and host respectively represented the forces inherent in nature in their contracting and expanding operations; the three (heads of the) guests (in their threefold division) represented the three (great) luminaries; the precedence thrice yielded (to the guest) represented the three days when the moon is invisible till it begins to reappear; the seating of the parties present (all round or) on the four sides represented the four seasons.
The snell and icy wind (that blows between) heaven and earth begins in the south-west and is strongest in the north-west. This is the wind that represents the most commanding severity of heaven and earth;--the wind of their righteous justice. The warm and genial wind (that blows between) heaven and earth begins in the north-east and is strongest in the south-east. This is the wind that represents the abundant virtue of heaven and earth - the wind of their benevolence. The host, wishing to do honour to his guest, assigns him his seat on the north-west, and that of his attendant on the south-west, that he may there (most conveniently) assist him. The guest (represents) the treatment of others according to justice, and therefore his seat is on the north-west; the host (represents) the treatment of others according to benevolence and a genial kindness, and therefore his seat is on the southeast, and his attendant is seated on the north-east, that he may there (most conveniently) assist him.
That intercourse according to benevolence and righteousness being established, so as to show the respective duties of host and guest, and the number of stands and dishes being properly fixed;--all this must be the result of sage intelligence. That intelligence established the arrangements, and each one being carried through with respect, it became a ceremonial usage. That usage proceeding to mark and embody the distinction between old and young, it became a virtue. Virtue is that which is the characteristic of the person. Therefore we have the saying, 'In the learning of antiquity, the methods by which they pursued the course adopted were intended to put men in possession of their proper virtue.' On this account the sages employed their powers (on its lessons).
When (the guest) offers in sacrifice some of the things that have been set before him, and some of the liquor, he showed how he respected (the host) for his courtesy; when he proceeded to take some of the lungs in his teeth, he thereby tasted (the host's) courtesy; when he then sipped some of the liquor, that was his last step in acknowledgment thereof. This last act was done at the end of his mat, showing that the mat was spread straight before him, not only for the purpose of eating and drinking, but also for the performance of the (proper) rites. In this was shown how it was the ceremony that was valued, while the wealth was made little account of. Finally, when the host filled their cups from the horn, they drained them at the top of the western steps;--showing how the mat was set not (merely) for the purpose of eating and drinking, and how the idea was that of giving to the ceremony the first place, and to wealth the last. But when the ceremony has the first place, and wealth the last, the people become respectful and yielding, and are not contentious with one another.
At the ceremony of drinking in the country districts, those who were sixty years old sat, and those who were (only fifty) stood, and were in waiting to receive any orders and perform any services - thus illustrating the honour which should be paid to elders. Before those who were sixty, three dishes were placed; before those of seventy, four; before those of eighty, five; before those of ninety, six - thus illustrating how the aged should be cherished and nourished. When the people knew to honour their elders and nourish their aged, then at home they could practise filial piety and fraternal duty. Filial and fraternal at home and abroad, honouring elders and nourishing the aged, then their education was complete, and this led to the peace and tranquillity of the state. What the superior man calls filial piety, does not require that (every) family should be visited and as members daily taught; if (the people) be assembled at the archery meetings in the districts, and taught the usages at the district-drinkings, their conduct is brought to be filial and fraternal.
Confucius said, 'When I look on at the festivity in the country districts, I know how easily the Royal way may obtain free course.
'The host in person invites the principal guest and his attendant, and all the other guests follow them of themselves. When they arrive outside the gate, he bows (and welcomes) the chief guest and his attendant, and all the others enter of themselves. In this way the distinction between the noble and the mean is exhibited.
'With the interchange of three bows (the host and guest) arrive at the steps; and after precedence has been thrice yielded to him, the guest ascends. In bowing to him (on the hall), (the host) presents to him the cup, and receives the cup from him in return. The usages between them, now declining, now yielding, the one to the other, are numerous; but the attention paid to the assistant is less. As to the crowd of guests, they ascend, and receive the cup. Kneeling down they offer some of it in sacrifice; they rise and drink it; and without pledging the host in the return-cup, they descend. In this way the proper distinction is made between the different parties by the multitude or paucity of the observances paid to them.
'The musicians enter, ascend the hall, and sing the three pieces which complete their performance, after which the host offers to them the cup. The organists enter, and (below the hall) play three tunes, which complete their part of the performance, after which the host offers to them (also) the cup. Then they sing and play alternately other three pieces and tunes; and also thrice again they sing and play in concert. When this is finished, the musicians announce that the music is over, and go out. At the same time a person (as instructed by the host) takes up the horn, and one is appointed to superintend the drinking, and see that it proceeds correctly. From this we know how they could be harmonious and joyful, without being disorderly.
'The (principal) guest pledges the host, the host pledges the attendants, the attendants pledge all the guests. Young and old pledge one another according to their age, and the cup circulates on to the keepers of the vases and the cup-washers. From this we know how they could practise brotherly deference to their elders without omitting any one.
'Descending (after this), they take off their shoes; ascending again, and taking their seats, they take their cups without any limit as to number. But the regulations of the drinking do not allow them to neglect the duties either of the morning or evening. When the guests go out, the host bows to each as he escorts him away. The regulations and forms are observed to the end; and from this we know how they could enjoy the feast without turbulence or confusion.
'The distinction between the noble and mean thus exhibited; the discrimination in the multitude or paucity of the observances to different parties; the harmony and joy without disorder; the brotherly deference to elders without omitting any; the happy feasting without turbulence or confusion;--the observance of these five things is sufficient to secure the rectification of the person, and the tranquillity of the state. When that one state is tranquil, all under heaven will be the same. Therefore I say that when I look on at the festivity in the country districts, I know how easily the Royal Way may obtain free course.'
According to the meaning attached to the festivity of drinking in the country districts, the principal guest was made to represent heaven; the host, to represent earth; their attendants respectively to represent the sun and moon; and the three head guests (according to the threefold division of them) to represent the three (great) luminaries. This was the form which the festivity received on its institution in antiquity: the presiding idea was found in heaven and earth; the regulation of that was found in the sun and moon; and the three luminaries were introduced as a third feature. (The whole represented) the fundamental principles in the conduct of government and instruction.
The dogs were boiled on the eastern side (of the courtyard) - in reverential acknowledgment of the fact that the vivifying and expanding power in nature issues from the east. The washings took place at the eastern steps, and the water was kept on the east of the washing-place;--in reverential acknowledgment of the fact that heaven and earth have placed the sea on the left. The vessel contained the dark-coloured liquid - teaching the people not to forget the original practice (at ceremonies).
The rule was that the (principal) guest should face the south. The quarter of the east suggests the idea of the spring, the name of which (also) denotes the appearance of insects beginning to move - (there is then at work that mysterious) intelligence which gives birth to all things. The quarter of the south suggests the idea of the summer, the name of which (also) denotes what is great - what nourishes things, encourages their growth, and makes them great is benevolence. The quarter of the west suggests the idea of the autumn, the name of which also denotes gathering or collecting - the fruits of the earth are gathered at this season, suggesting the idea of justice in discriminating and guarding. The quarter of the north suggests the idea of winter, the name of which denotes also what is kept within - and the being within leads us to think of being stored up. On this account, when the son of Heaven stands up, he keeps (the quarter of the life-giving) intelligence on his left hand, faces (the quarter of) benevolence, has that of justice on his right hand, and that of depositing behind him.
It was the rule that his attendants should face the east; thus (making) the principal guest to be the chief (party) at the festivity. It was the rule that the host should be in the eastern quarter. The eastern quarter suggests the idea of spring, the name of which (also) denotes the appearance of insects beginning to move, and (it is spring) which produces all things. The host makes the festivity; that is, he produces all things.
The moon, after three days, completes the period of its dark disk. Three months complete a season. Therefore in this ceremony precedence is thrice yielded to the guest, and in establishing a state three high ministers must be appointed. That the guests are in three divisions, each with its head or leader, indicated the fundamental principles in the administration of government and instruction, and was the third great feature of the ceremony.
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