Anciently it was the rule for the feudal lords, when they would practise archery, first to celebrate the ceremony of the Banquet, and for the Great officers and ordinary officers, when they would shoot, first to celebrate the ceremony of the Drinking in the country districts. The ceremony of the Banquet served to illustrate the relation between ruler and subject; that of the District-drinking, to illustrate the distinction between seniors and juniors.
The archers, in advancing, retiring, and all their movements, were required to observe the rules. With minds correct, and straight carriage of the body, they were to hold their bows and arrows skilfully and firmly; and when they did so, they might be expected to hit the mark. In this way (from their archery) their characters could be seen.
To regulate (the discharging of the arrows), there was, in the case of the son of Heaven, the playing of the Zou-yu; in the case of the feudal lords, that of the Li-shou; in the case of the dignitaries, the Great officers, that of the Cai-pin; and in the case of officers, that of the Cai-fan. The Zou-yu is expressive of joy that every office is (rightly) filled; the Li-shou is expressive of the joy at audiences of the court; the Cai-pin is expressive of the joy in observing the laws (which have been learned); and the Cai-fan is expressive of the joy in being free from all failures in duty. Therefore the son of Heaven regulated his shooting by keeping in his mind the right feeling of all officers; a feudal prince, by keeping in his mind the times of his appearing before the son of Heaven; a dignitary, being a Great officer, by keeping in his mind the observing of the laws (which he had learned); and an officer, by keeping in his mind that he must not fail in the duties of his office. In this way, when they clearly understood the meaning of those regulating measures, and were thus able to avoid all failure in their services, they were successful in their undertakings, and their character and conduct were established. When their characters were established, no such evils as oppression and disorder occurred; and when their undertakings were successful, the states were tranquil and happy. Hence it is said that 'the archery served to show the completeness of (the archer's) virtue.'
Therefore, anciently, the son of Heaven chose the feudal lords, the dignitaries who were Great officers, and the officers, from their skill in archery. Archery is specially the business of males, and there were added to it the embellishments of ceremonies and music. Hence among the things which may afford the most complete illustration of ceremonies and music, and the frequent performance of which may serve to establish virtue and good conduct, there is nothing equal to archery: and therefore the ancient kings paid much attention to it.
Therefore, anciently, according to the royal institutes, the feudal princes annually presented the officers who had charge of their tribute to the son of Heaven, who made trial of them in the archery-hall. Those of them whose bodily carriage was in conformity with the rules, and whose shooting was in agreement with the music, and who hit the mark most frequently, were allowed to take part at the sacrifices. When his officers had frequently that privilege, their ruler was congratulated; if they frequently failed to obtain it, he was reprimanded. If a prince were frequently so congratulated, he received an increase to his territory; if he were frequently so reprimanded, part of his territory was taken from him. Hence came the saying, 'The archers shoot in the interest of their princes.' Thus, in the states, the rulers and their officers devoted themselves to archery, and the practice in connexion with it of the ceremonies and music. But when, rulers and officers practise ceremonies and music, never has it been known that such practice led to their banishment or ruin.
Hence it is said in the ode (now lost), 'The long-descended lord Presents your cups of grace. His chiefs and noble men Appear, all in their place; Small officers and Great, Not one will keep away. See them before their prince, All in their full array. They feast, and then they shoot, Happy and praised to boot.' The lines show how when rulers and their officers earnestly devoted themselves together to archery, and the practice in connexion with it of ceremonies and music, they were happy and got renown. It was on this account that the son of Heaven instituted the custom, and the feudal lords diligently attended to it. This was the way in which the son of Heaven cherished the princes, and had no need of weapons of war (in dealing with them); it furnished (also) to the princes an instrument with which they trained themselves to rectitude.
(Once), when Confucius was conducting an archery meeting in a vegetable garden at Kio-hsiang, the lookers-on surrounded it like a wall. When the proceedings reached the point when a Master of the Horse should be appointed, he directed Zi-Lu to take his bow and arrows, and go out to introduce those who wished to shoot, and to say, 'The general of a defeated army, the Great officer of a ruler-less state, and any one who (has schemed to be) the successor and heir of another, will not be allowed to enter, but the rest may all enter.' On this, one half went away, and the other half entered. After this, (wishing to send the cup round among all the company), he further directed Gong-wang Qiu and Xu Dian to raise the horns of liquor, and make proclamation. Then Gong-wang Qiu raised his horn, and said, 'Are the young and strong (here) observant of their filial and fraternal duties? Are the old and men of eighty (here) such as love propriety, not following licentious customs, and resolved to maintain their characters to death? (If so), they may occupy the position of guests.' On this, one half (of those who had entered) went away, and the other half remained. Xu Dian next raised his horn, and proclaimed, 'Are you fond of learning without being tired? are you fond of the rules of propriety, and unswerving in your adherence to them? Do those of you who are eighty, ninety, or one hundred, expound the way (of virtue) Without confusion or error? If so, you can occupy the position of visitors.' Thereupon hardly any remained.
To shoot means to draw out to the end, and some say to lodge in the exact point. That drawing out to the end means every one unfolding his own idea; hence, with the mind even-balanced and the body correctly poised, (the archer) holds his bow and arrow skilfully and firmly. When he so holds them, he will hit the mark. Hence it is said, 'The father (shoots) at the father-mark; the son, at the son-mark; the ruler, at the ruler-mark; the subject, at the subject-mark.' Thus the archer shoots at the mark of his (ideal) self; and so the Great archery of the son of Heaven is called shooting at (the mark of) the feudal prince. 'Shooting at the mark of the feudal prince' was shooting to prove himself a prince. He who hit the mark was permitted to be, that is, retain his rank as) a prince; he who did not hit the mark was not permitted to retain his rank as a prince.
When the son of Heaven was about to sacrifice, the rule was that he should celebrate the archery at the pool, which name suggested the idea of selecting the officers (by their shooting). After the archery at the pool came that in the archery hall. Those who hit the mark were permitted to take part in the sacrifice; and those who failed were not permitted to do so. (The ruler of those) who did not receive the permission was reprimanded, and had part of his territory taken from him. The ruler of those who were permitted was congratulated, and received an addition to his territory. The advancement appeared in the rank; the disapprobation, in the (loss of) territory.
Hence, when a son is born, a bow of mulberry wood, and six arrows of the wild raspberry plant (are placed on the left of the door) for the purpose of shooting at heaven, earth, and the four cardinal points. Heaven, earth, and the four points denote the spheres wherein the business of a man lies. The young man must first give his mind to what is to be his business, and then he may venture to receive emolument, that is, the provision for his food.
Archery suggests to us the way of benevolence. (The archer) seeks to be correct in himself, and then discharges his arrow. If it miss the mark, he is not angry with the one who has surpassed himself, but turns round and seeks (for the cause of failure) in himself. Confucius said, 'The student of virtue has no contentions. If it be said that he cannot avoid them, shall this be in archery? (But) he bows complaisantly to his competitor, ascends (the hall), descends (again), and exacts the forfeit of drinking. In his contention, he is still the superior man.'
Confucius said, 'How difficult it is to shoot! How difficult it is to listen (to the music)! To shoot exactly in harmony with the note (given) by the music, and to shoot without missing the bull's-eye on the target - it is only the archer of superior virtue who can do this! How shall a man of inferior character be able to hit the mark?
It is said in the Book of Poetry (II, viii, ode 6, 1), '"Now shoot," he says, "and show your skill." The other answers, "Shoot I will, And hit the mark;--and when you miss, Pray you the penal cup to kiss."' 'To pray' is to ask. The archer seeks to hit that he may decline the cup. The liquor in the cup is designed (properly) to nourish the aged, or the sick. When the archer seeks to hit that he may decline the cup, that is declining what should serve to nourish (those that need it).
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