All ceremonial usages looked at in their great characteristics are the embodiment of (the ideas suggested by) heaven and earth; take their laws from the (changes of the) four seasons; imitate the (operation of the) contracting and developing movements in nature; and are conformed to the feelings of men. It is on this account that they are called the Rules of Propriety; and when any one finds fault with them, he only shows his ignorance of their origin.
Those usages are different in their applications to felicitous and unfortunate occurrences; in which they should not come into collision with one another - this is derived from (their pattern as given by) the contracting and developing movements in nature.
The mourning dress has its four definite fashions and styles, the changes in which are always according to what is right - this is derived from the (changes of the) four seasons. Now, affection predominates; now, nice distinctions; now, defined regulations; and now, the consideration of circumstances - all these are derived from the human feelings. In affection we have benevolence; in nice distinctions, righteousness; in defined regulations, propriety; and in the consideration of circumstances, knowledge. Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and knowledge - these make up the characteristic attributes of humanity.
Where the affection has been great, the mourning worn is deep. On this account the sackcloth with jagged edges is worn for the father for three years - the regulation is determined by affection.
In the regulation (of the mourning) within the family circle, the, affection throws the (duty of public) righteousness into the shade. In the regulation (of that which is) beyond that circle, the (duty of public) righteousness cuts the (mourning of) affection short. The service due to a father is employed in serving a ruler, and the reverence is the same for both - this is the greatest instance of (the conviction of the duty of) righteousness, in all the esteem shown to nobility and the honour done to the honourable. Hence the sackcloth with jagged edges is worn (also) for the ruler for three years - the regulation is determined by righteousness.
The eating after three days; the washing the head after three months; the sacrifice and change of dress at the end of the first year; the not carrying the emaciation to such an extent as to affect life - these regulations were to avoid doing harm to the living (by the mourning) for the dead. Not protracting the mourning rites beyond three years; not mending even the coarsest sackcloth; making no addition to the mound (raised at first) over the grave; fixing the day for the sacrifice at the end of the second year; playing (at first, on the conclusion of the rites) on a plain, unvarnished lute - all these things were to make the people aware of the termination (of the several rites), and constituted the defined regulations.
The service due to a father is employed in serving a mother, and the love is the same for both. (But) in the sky there are not two suns, nor in a land two kings, nor in a state two rulers, nor in a family two equally honourable - one (principle) regulates (all) these conditions. Hence, while the father is alive, the sackcloth with even edges is worn (for a mother), (and only) for a year - showing that there are not (in the family) two equally honourable.
What is meant by the use of the staff? It is (a symbol of) rank. On the third day it is given to the son; on the fifth day, to Great officers; and on the seventh day, to ordinary officers - (at the mourning rites for a ruler). Some say that it is given to them as the presiding mourners; and others, that it is to support them in their distress. A daughter (not yet fully grown) and a son (while but a lad), do not carry a staff - (being supposed) not to be capable of (extreme) distress. When all the array of officers is complete, and all things are provided, and (the mourner) cannot speak (his directions), and things must (still) proceed, he is assisted to rise. If he be able to speak, and things will proceed (as he directs), he rises by the help of the staff. Where (the mourner) has himself to take part in what is to be done, he will have his face grimed (as if black with sorrow). Women who are bald do not use the coiffure; hunchbacks do not unbare their arms; the lame do not leap; and the old and ill do not give up the use of liquor and flesh. All these are cases regulated by the consideration of circumstances.
After the occurrence of the death, the (wailing for) three days, which left no leisure for anything else; the not taking off (the headband or girdle) for three months; the grief and lamentation for a whole year; and the sorrow on to the three years: (in all these things) there was a gradual diminution of the (manifestation of) affection. The sages, in accordance with that diminution of the natural feeling, made their various definite regulations. It was on this account that the mourning rites were limited to three years. The worthiest were not permitted to go beyond this period, nor those who were inferior to them to fall short of it. This was the proper and invariable time for those rites, what the (sage) kings always carried into practice.
When it is said in the Shu (Part IV, Book VIII, i, 1), that Gao Zung, while occupying the mourning shed, for three years did not speak, this expresses approval of that sovereign. But the kings all observed this rule; why is the approval only expressed in connexion with him? It may be replied, 'This Gao Zong was Wu Ding.' Wu Ding was a worthy sovereign of Yin. He had come to the throne in the due order of succession, and was thus loving and good in his observance of the mourning rites. At this time Yin, which had been decaying, revived again; ceremonial usages, which had been neglected, came again into use. On this account the approval of him was expressed, and therefore it was recorded in the Shu, and he was styled Gao (The Exalted), and designated Gao Zong (The Exalted and Honoured Sovereign). (The rule was that), during the three years' mourning, a ruler should not speak; and that the Shu says, 'Gao Zong, while he occupied the mourning shed, for the three years did not speak,' was an illustration of this. When it is said (in the Xiao Jing, chapter 18th), 'They speak, but without elegance of phrase,' the reference is to ministers and inferior (officers).
According to the usages, when wearing the sackcloth with jagged edges (for a father), (a son) indicated that he heard what was said to him, but did not reply in words; when wearing that with even edges (for a mother), he replied, but did not speak (of anything else); when wearing the mourning of nine months, he might speak (of other things), but did not enter into any discussion; when wearing that of five months, or of three, he might discuss, but did not show pleasure in doing so. At the mourning rites for a parent, (the son) wore the cap of sackcloth, with strings of cords, and sandals of straw; after the third day, he (began to) take gruel; after the third month, he washed his head; at the end of the year, in the thirteenth month, he put on the mourning silk and cap proper after the first year; and when the three years were completed, he offered the auspicious sacrifice.
When one has completed these three regulated periods, the most animated with the sentiment of benevolence (or humanity) can perceive the affection (underlying the usages); he who has (most) knowledge can perceive the nice distinctions pervading them; and he who has (most) strength can perceive the (force of) will (required for their discharge). The propriety that regulates them, and the righteousness that maintains their correctness, may be examined by filial sons, deferential younger brothers, and pure-minded virgins.
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