Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Early Chinese Etiquette and the Teachings of Confucius

“Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.” Confucius

Confucius has always been, and remains today, China's most famous philosopher. Born June 19th, 551 B.C. at Shang-ping, in the country of Lu.  His name was Kong, but his disciples called him Kong-fu-tse, (i.e. Kong the Teacher, or Master). Jesuit missionaries Latinized that into Confucius.  His father died when he was only three, so he was very carefully brought up by his mother, Yan-she.  He displayed an extraordinary love of learning, and a veneration for the ancient laws of his country, even from an early age. Later, as a government official and through his travels, Confucius witnessed a growing disorder and chaos in the Ancient Chinese system.  This was during the Zhou Dynasty

Perhaps due to injustices and all of the turmoil, Confucius he set it upon himself to develop a new "moral code" for mankind.  This code was based on education, respect, kindness, honesty and strong family bonds.  The teachings of Confucius would later became the basis for religious and moral life throughout the whole of China. 

The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial is a Chinese classic text about Zhou Dynasty social behavior and ceremonial ritual as it was practiced and understood during the Spring and Autumn Period. The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial, along with the Rites of Zhou and the Book of Rites, formed the "Three Rites" which guided traditional Confucian understandings of propriety and behavior.

How important is li (propriety; rites; manner) in Chinese societies/culture?


"Confucius can truly be said to have molded Chinese civilization in general" (Wing-Tsit Chan, 1963:14). (The following translation is from Chan, 1963.)
 

Analects (Lun Yu) is practically accepted by all scholars are the most reliable source of Confucius' doctrines. The following translation is from D.C. Lau (1979).

On filial piety from Analects:

1:2 Yu Tzu said, "Few of those who are filial sons and respectful brothers will show disrespect to superiors, and there has never been a man who is not disrespectful to superiors and yet creates disorder. A superior man is devoted to the fundamentals (the root). When the root is firmly established, the moral law (Tao) will grow. Filial piety and brotherly respect are the root of humanity (jen)."

1:6 Young men should be filial when at home and respectful to their elders when away from home. They should be earnest and faithful. They should love all extensively and be intimate with men of humanity. When they have any energy to spare after the performance of moral duties, they should use it to study literature and the arts (wen).

1:11 Confucius said, "When a man's father is alive, look at the bent of his will. When his father is dead, look at his conduct. If for the three years [of mourning] he does not change from the way of his father, he may be called filial."

2:5 Meng I Tzu asked about filial piety. Confucius said: "Never disobey." [Later,] when Fan Ch'ih was driving him, Confucius told him, "Meng-sun asked me about filial piety, and I answered him, 'Never disobey.'" Fan Ch'ih said, "What does that mean?" Confucius said, "When parents are alive, serve them according to the rules of propriety. When they die, bury them according to the rules of propriety and sacrifice to them according to the rules of propriety."

2:7 Tzu-yu asked about filial piety. Confucius said, "Filial piety nowadays means to be able to support one's parents. But we support even dogs and horses. If there is no feeling of reverence, wherein lies the difference?"

4:18 Confucius said, "In serving his parents, a son may gently remonstrate with them. When he sees that they are not inclined to listen to him, he should resume an attitude of reverence and not abandon his effort to serve them. He may feel worried, but does not complain."

4:19 Confucius said, "When his parents are alive, a son should not go far abroad; or if he does, he should let them know where he goes."

4:21 Confucius said, "A son should always keep in mind the age of his parents. It is an occasion for joy [that they are enjoying long life] and also an occasion for anxiety [that another year is gone]."
 

On Ceremonies and Music:

1:12 Yu Tzu said, "Among the functions of propriety (li) the most valuable is that it establishes harmony. The excellence of the ways of ancient kings consists of this. It is the guiding principle of all things great and small. If things go amiss, and you, understanding harmony, try to achieve it without regulating it by the rules of propriety, they will still go amiss."

2:5 Meng I Tzu asked about filial piety. Confucius said: "Never disobey." [Later,] when Fan Ch'ih was driving him, Confucius told him, "Meng-sun asked me about filial piety, and I answered him, 'Never disobey.'" Fan Ch'ih said, "What does that mean?" Confucius said, "When parents are alive, serve them according to the rules of propriety. When they die, bury them according to the rules of propriety and sacrifice to them according to the rules of propriety."

3:3 Confucius said, "If a man is not humane (jen), what has he to do with ceremonies (li)? If he is not humane, what has he to do with music?"

3:4 Lin Fang asked about the foundation of ceremonies. Confucius said, "An important question indeed! In rituals or ceremonies, be thrifty rather than extravagant, and in funerals, be deeply sorrowful rather than shallow in sentiment."

3:17 Tzu-kung wanted to do away with the sacrificing of a lamb at the ceremony in which the beginning of each month is reported to ancestors. Confucius said, "Tz'u! You love the lamb but I love the ceremony."

3:19 Duke Ting asked how the ruler should employ his ministers and how the ministers should serve their ruler. Confucius said, "A ruler should employ his ministers according to the principle of propriety, and ministers should serve their ruler with loyalty."

6:25 Confucius said, "The superior man extensively studies literature (wen) and restrains himself with the rules of propriety. Thus he will not violate the Way.

8:8 Confucius said, "Let a man be stimulated by poetry, established by the rules of propriety, and perfected by music."

8:9 Confucius said, "The common people may be made to follow it (the Way) but may not be made to understand it."
[Cheng Hsuan said "the common people" refers to ignorant people and Chu Hsi said that ordinary people do things without understanding why.]

From "Rites of Passage in Chinese Society"



Confucius was said to have exceptionally good manners even as a child, and to have been very interested in rules of etiquette throughout his life.
Li is the "appropriate manner of overt behavior needed to express one's inner thoughts or intentions." Archie J. Bahm on
Confucius and "Li"~

Li is better referred to as politeness and social etiquette rather than religious ritual. Confucius tried to revive past etiquette. People must therefore act consistent, being polite at all times with no deviation or lowering of standards for the sake of fitting in or out of laxity. Confucianism does have some rituals, though people can be both Confucian and of another religion like Buddhism or Taoism, they usually follow the other religion's rituals.


It includes socially proper ways of acting, and also acting toward others in ways such that they will not mistake your intentions. One's outer expression should reflect one's inner nature, or at least one's intention in this situation. This involves a measure of chung, described below. There is considerable subjectivity involved in determining li, but yi, jen, and hsin all require li.

For Confucius, li included proper etiquette or good manners, as agreed on by thee family and community. One who fails to make use of them is more likely to be misunderstood. However, deceivers can also make use of such rules of etiquette, and someone who is taken in by a false use of good etiquette is likely to become mistrustful.

Learning the customary forms of external behavior should not be done blindly, but with an explanation and understanding of their inner significance--why they are important. Formalism occurs when one's external forms do not correctly reveal one's internal attitudes, and this shoud be avoided. But the ideals and principles suggested by Confucius ultimately gave rise to much that is formalistic, and as a result many have forgotten that antiformalism was an important principle in his teachings.

(We may note that Confucius was said to have exceptionally good manners even as a child, and to have been very interested in rules of etiquette throughout his life.)
From Sonoma State University