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The Book of Rites 禮記

《燕義》 The Meaning of the Banquet

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》 The Meaning of the Banquet

Anciently, among the officers of the kings of Zhou, there was one called the shu-dze. He was charged with the care of the sons of the feudal lords, the high dignitaries who were the Great officers, and (other) officers,--the eldest sons who occupied the next place to their fathers. He managed (the issuing) to them of (all) cautions and orders; superintended their instruction in all they had to learn and (the art of self-)government; arranged them in their different classes; and saw that they occupied their correct positions. If there were any grand solemnity (being transacted) in the kingdom, he conducted them-these sons of the state-and placed them under the eldest son, the heir-apparent, who made what use of them he thought fit. If any military operations were being undertaken, he provided for them their carriages and coats of mail, assembled for them the companies of a hundred men and of five men (of which they should have charge), and appointed their inferior officers, thus training them in the art of war - they were not under the jurisdiction of the minister of War. In all (other) governmental business of the state, these sons of it were left free, their fathers' eldest sons, without public occupation, and were made to attend to the cultivation of virtuous ways. In spring, (the shu-dze) assembled them in the college; and in autumn, in the archery (hall), that he might examine into their proficiency, and advanced or degraded them accordingly.

The meaning of the ceremony of the banquet at the feudal courts (may be thus described):-The ruler stood on the south-east of (his own) steps on the east, having his face towards the south, fronting the ministers or dignitaries who were nearest to him. They and all the (other) Great officers came forward a little, taking each his proper station. The ruler's mat is placed at the top of the eastern steps - there is the station of the host. The ruler alone goes up and stands on his mat; with his face to the west he stands there by himself - showing that no one presumes to place himself on a par with him.

Guests and host having been arranged, according to the rules for the ceremony of drinking in the country districts, (the ruler) makes his chief cook act for him in presenting (the cup) - a minister may not presume to take on himself any usage proper to the ruler. None of the (three) kung and no high minister has the place of a guest; but the Great officers are among the guests,-because of the doubts that might arise, and to show the jealousy (which such great men in that position might create). When the guests have entered to the middle of the courtyard, the ruler descends a step and bows to them - thus courteously receiving them.

The ruler sends the cup round among the guests in order; and when he has given a special cup to any, they all descend, and bow twice, laying at the same time their heads to the ground; after which they ascend, and complete their bowing - thus showing the observance due from subjects. The ruler responds to them, for every act of courtesy must be responded to - illustrating the observances due from the ruler and superiors. When ministers and inferiors do their utmost to perform service for the state, the ruler must recompense them with rank and emoluments. Hence all officers and inferiors endeavour with their utmost strength and ability to establish their merit, and thus the state is kept in tranquillity, and the ruler's mind is at rest. (The principle) that every act of courtesy must be responded to, showed that rulers do not receive anything from their inferiors without sufficient ground for doing so. The ruler must illustrate the path of rectitude in his conduct of the people; and when the people follow that path and do good service (for the state), then he may take from them a tenth part (of their revenues). In this way he has enough, and his subjects do not suffer want. Thus harmony and affection prevail between high and low, and they have no mutual dissatisfactions. Such harmony and rest are the result of the ceremonial usages. This is the great idea in the relation between ruler and subject, between high and low - hence it is said that the object of the banquet was to illustrate the idea of justice between ruler and subject.

The mats were arranged so that the dignitaries of smaller rank occupied the place next (in honour) to those of higher; the Great officers, the place next to the lower dignitaries. The officers and sons of concubines (also) took their places below in their regular order. The cup being presented to the ruler, he begins the general pledging, and offers the cup to the high dignitaries. They continue the ceremony, and offer the cup to the Great officers, who offer it in turn to the (other) officers, and these finally offer it to the sons of concubines. The stands and dishes, with the flesh of the animals, and the savoury viands, were all proportioned to the differences of rank in the guests:-and thus the distinction was shown between the noble and the mean.

Source: Chinese Text Project English translation "Sacred Books of the East, volume 28, part 4: The Li Ki", James Legge, 1885

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