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The religious interest of the oldest parts of the I-li is small, and confined almost entirely to the spiritism which is the basis of ancestral worship. That this was not the only religious concern of the people is evident from the Book of Odes and the other works in the Confucian canon. But it is a fair inference from the contents of the present work that the dealings with the ancestral spirits were the main interest in the religion of the average man. All else lay beyond the circumference of his daily life, and was relegated to the more than human Emperor. 

The test of the attitude to religious things is the approach of death, and the observances of even that time did not express relations other than those constantly maintained with the ancestral spirits (XXXI., I). The sick man, as his illness became critical, fasted 齋 , and so did his attendants. The expression may be expanded as, “entered upon a course of discipline." This involved the restriction of food to the simplest, the disuse of distracting pleasures, and the regulation of the thoughts and impulses in preparation for the supreme event. The event contemplated in the work was the entrance of the spirit set free by death into the region in which the ancestral spirits moved, and the preparation for it indicates a worthy sense of its solemnity. 


Another observance of this time was the prayer made at the places where the household sacrifices were wont to be offered (XXXI., i, k). Here again the reference is not to any supreme power, but to the five spirits who presided over the well, furnace, gateway,road-head, and altar to the wandering spirits. 

The supreme religious interest centred in 天 , Heaven, used in the sense of God. Heaven was the source of all blessing (XXXVIII., 4, e ; II., 15, c, etc.). The idea was clearly not of a place or a power, but of a person. This is seen in the statement that a woman can no more serve two Heavens than she can give supreme honour to two persons in her family at the same time (XXI 1 1., 2, x). A legend of the Chou period, preserved in the " Records of the Warring States," shows that, in the belief of the time, the idea of personality attached to the use of the term Heaven. King K'ang 康 of Sung, who rose to power in the time of the Emperor Hsien of Chou (368-321 b.c), and concluded an alliance with that State of Ch'in which was soon to seize the supreme power, in order to show his defiance of the Heaven from which the Chou monarchs derived, tied up a skin of bullock's blood, and shot it through with an arrow. He said, as the blood besprinkled him, that he had "wounded Heaven." The crudeness of his zoomorphism is strong support for the view that Heaven was the popular mode of designating God, just as later 朝廷, "the Court," meant to the people the Emperor. 

If Heaven was equivalent to God, it follows that 天子, Son of Heaven, was Son of God. This usage finds a parallel in the practice of the Pharaohs (followed by Alexander the Great when he secured for himself the throne of Egypt), who called themselves 


" Sons of Ra," the "good God." Ra is an equivalent of the Chinese term Heaven, representing God as supreme protector and benefactor. 

A further inference is that the Emperor, as Son of God, would have more than human attributes. This is supported by the passage XXL, 6, b in the I-li, which seems to attribute a spiritual as well as a human nature to him (vide note 12). As parallel to this we find Isocrates speaking of the Great King ( 皇帝) Xerxes as δαιμων {Paneg., 151. Cf. Æsch., Pers. 633 ; Longinus, de Suhlim. 3, 2 ; Anth. Pal. 9, 562, 6. See also Mr. A. B. Cook in Folklor, 1904, xv. 300 et seqq.). 

In the passage XXI., 12, which is later than the rest of the section in which it is included, the Emperor is represented as offering worship to sun, moon, four great rivers, streams, notable peaks, heaven, and earth. Heaven is there used in a material sense, and the worship as a whole represents interests which did not affect directly the life of the class upon whom the earlier parts of the work are based. 


Closely allied with the above is the subject of sacrifice. Throughout the work this is an expression of interest in and devotion to the ancestral spirits and nothing more. These sentiments were conveyed by the offering of foods, whose essences were consumed by the spirits in the quiet of the darkened chamber. The character 祭 suggests nothing of expiatory sacrifice. It indicates the raising of the gift in both hands in ceremonial fashion. The things offered were the foods in daily use, with the domestic animals (牲, pig, sheep, and ox, in the chief place. 


Although it is true that there is no trace of expiation evident, there are several indications that the view of 祭 presented in the work is based upon the offering of life, an earlier theory of sacrifice common to all nations. The animals whose carcases take the most prominent place are those which have been brought alive to the scene of the ceremony, and not those already slain in the chase, or which have died after leaving the stream. At the supreme moments the game and fish were not presented. 

The Master of Ceremonies himself superintended the slaughter of the animals, the sheep having its throat cut, while the pig was knocked on the head. His presence suggests the patriarchal priesthood, and is consistent with an earlier practice of the imputation of sin ; while the inspection of the beasts before they were slaughtered was not entirely a hygienic measure even at the time when the work was written. The use of the character 全, " perfect " (IV., 8, i, c) has its parallel in other languages, and cannot be divested of a religious significance. 

The function of the 祝, liturgist, or minister, on such occasions, had nothing of a sacerdotal quality about it (IV., note ii). He was prophet and ministrant, as well as director of ceremonial, but his authority was a derived one. 

In connection with this brief review of the religious interest of the work one may be allowed to draw attention to the way in which the scepticism of Chu Hsi, the master of Chinese commentators (G.B. 446), has coloured his interpretation of the works of the Confucian canon. His attitude of mind is the result of his religious career, and the early religion of China has suffered much at his hands. References to religious 


subjects in his commentaries should always be read in the light of his attitude to religion as a whole, and passages from the classics deaUng with religious matters treated as they stand in the text, and not necessarily as explained by him. His rationalism had no place in the minds of the men who compiled the early works. The popular view of Confucius and the Confucian system as agnostic and materialistic is the product of this, the orthodox school of interpretation. The attitude and teaching of the Great Sage may be explained on lines more in harmony with the spirit 
of the age in which he lived.