According to the ceremonies in missions, a duke of the highest grade sent seven attendants with (his representative); a marquis or earl, five; and a count or baron, three. The difference in number served to show the difference in rank of their principals.
The messages (between the visitor and the host) were passed through all the attendants, from one to another. A superior man, where he wishes to do honour, will not venture to communicate directly and in person. This was a high tribute of respect.
The message was transmitted (only) after the messenger had thrice declined to receive (the courtesies offered to him at the gate); he entered the gate of the ancestral temple after thrice in the same way trying to avoid doing so; thrice he exchanged bows with his conductor before they arrived at the steps; and thrice he yielded the precedence offered to him before he ascended the hall - so did he carry to the utmost his giving of honour and yielding courtesy.
The ruler sent an officer to meet (the messenger) at the border (of the state), and a Great officer to offer him the customary presents and congratulations (after the toils of the journey) in the suburb (near the capital); he himself met him and bowed to him inside the great gate, and then received him in the ancestral temple; with his face to the north he bowed to him when the presents (which he brought) were presented, and bowed again (when his message was delivered), in acknowledgment of its condescension - in this way did he (on his part) testify his respect.
Respectfulness and yielding courtesy mark the intercourse of superior men with one another. Hence, when the feudal lords received one another with such respectfulness and yielding courtesy, they would not attack or encroach on one another.
A high minister is employed as principal usher (for the messenger), a Great officer as the next, and (ordinary) officers acted as their attendants. (When he had delivered his message), the ruler himself showed him courtesy, (and presented to him the cup of new liquor). He had his private interviews (with the dignitaries and Great officers of the court), and also with the ruler. (After this), supplies of animals, slaughtered and living, were sent (to his hotel). (When he was about to take his departure), the jade-symbols (by which he was accredited) were returned to him, and the return gifts (of silk and other things) presented at the same time. He had been entertained and feasted. All these observances served to illustrate the idea underlying the relations between ruler and minister in receiving visitors and guests.
Therefore it was a statute made by the son of Heaven for the feudal lords, that every year they should interchange a small mission, and every three years a great one - thus stimulating one another to the exercise of courtesy. If the messenger committed any error in the exchange of his mission, the ruler, his host, did not personally entertain and feast him - thereby making him ashamed, and stimulating him. When the princes thus stimulated one another to the observance of the ceremonial usages, they did not make any attacks on one another, and in their states there was no oppression or encroachment. In this way the son of Heaven cherished and nourished them; there was no occasion for any appeal to arms, and they were furnished with an instrument to maintain themselves in rectitude.
(The commissioners) carried with them their jade-symbols, the sceptre and half-sceptre - showing the importance of the ceremony. On the completion of their mission, these were returned to them - showing the small importance to be attached to their value, and the great importance of the ceremony. When the princes thus stimulated one another, to set light by the value of the articles, and recognise the importance of the ceremony, the people learned to be yielding and courteous.
The prince of the state to which the mission was sent treated his guests in this way - Till their departure from their coming, they were supplied from the three stores (provided for such purposes). Living animals were sent to them at their lodging. A provision of five sets of the three animals for slaughter was made inside. Thirty loads of rice, the same number of grain with the straw, and twice as many of fodder and firewood were provided outside. There were five pairs of birds that went in flocks every day. All the attendants had cattle supplied to them for their food. There was one meal (a day in the court), and two (spare) entertainments (in the temple). The banquets and occasional bounties were without any definite number. With such generosity was the importance of the ceremony indicated.
They could not always be so profuse as this in antiquity in the use of their wealth; but their employment of it thus liberally (in connexion with these missions) showed how they were prepared to devote it to the maintenance of the ceremonies. When they expended it as they did on the ceremonies, then in the states ruler and minister did not encroach on one another's rights and possessions, and different states did not attack one another. It was on this account that the kings made their statute about these missions, and the feudal lords did their utmost to fulfil it.
The archery in connexion with these missions was a very great institution. With the early dawn they commenced it, and it was nearly midday before the whole of the ceremonies were concluded - it required men of great vigour and strength to go through with it. And further, when such men were about to engage in it, though the liquor might be clear and they were thirsty, they did not venture to drink of it; though the stalks of flesh were dry (and ready to their hand), and they were hungry, they did not venture to eat of them; at the close of the day, when they were tired, they continued to maintain a grave and correct deportment. So they carried out all the details of the ceremonies; so they maintained correctly the relation between ruler and subject, affection between father and son, and harmony between seniors and juniors. All this it is difficult for the generality of men to do, but it was done by those superior men; and on this account they were called men possessed of great ability in action. The ascribing to them such ability in action implied their possession of the sense of righteousness; and their possession of that sense implied that they were valiant and daring. The most valuable quality in a man who is bold and daring is that he can thereby establish his sense of righteousness; the most valuable quality in him who establishes that sense is that he can thereby show his great ability in action; the most valuable quality in him who has that ability is that he can carry all ceremonies into practice. In this way, the most valuable quality in valiant daring is that its possessor dares to carry into practice the rules of ceremony and righteousness. It follows from this that such men, bold and daring, full of vigour and strength, when the kingdom was at peace, employed their gifts in the exercise of propriety and righteousness; and, when there was trouble in the kingdom, employed them in the battle-field and in gaining victory. When they employed them to conquer in battle, no enemies could resist them; when they employed them in the exercise of propriety and righteousness, then obedience and good order prevailed. No enemies abroad, and obedience and good order at home - this was called the perfect condition for a state. But when men, so endowed, did not use their valour and strength in the service of propriety and righteousness, and to secure victory, but in strifes and contentions, then they were styled men of turbulence or disorder. Punishments were put in requisition throughout the kingdom, and the (first) use of them was to deal with those same men, and take them off. In this way (again), the people became obedient and there was good order, and the state was tranquil and happy.
Zi-gong asked Confucius, saying, 'Allow me to ask the reason why the superior man sets a high value on jade, and but little on soapstone? Is it because jade is rare, and the soapstone plentiful?' Confucius replied, 'It is not because the soapstone is plentiful that he thinks but little of it, and because jade is rare that he sets a high value on it. Anciently superior men found the likeness of all excellent qualities in jade. Soft, smooth, and glossy, it appeared to them like benevolence; fine, compact, and strong - like intelligence; angular, but not sharp and cutting - like righteousness; hanging down (in beads) as if it would fall to the ground - like (the humility of) propriety; when struck, yielding a note, clear and prolonged, yet terminating abruptly - like music; its flaws not concealing its beauty, nor its beauty concealing its flaws - like loyalty; with an internal radiance issuing from it on every side - like good faith; bright as a brilliant rainbow - like heaven; exquisite and mysterious, appearing in the hills and streams - like the earth; standing out conspicuous in the symbols of rank - like virtue; esteemed by all under the sky, - like the path of truth and duty. As is said in the ode (I, xi, ode 3, 1), "Such my lord's car. He rises in my mind, Lovely and bland, like jade of richest kind."
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