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42: CHAPTER XLI. Sacrifices to the Departed

CHAPTER XLI. Sacrifices to the Departed (Sse-yi). 

The world believes in sacrifices, imagining that he who sacrifices becomes happy, and he who does not, becomes unhappy. 

Therefore, when people are taken ill, they first try to learn by 

divination, what evil influence is the cause. Having found out 

this, they prepare sacrifices, and, after these have been performed, 

their mind feels at ease, and the sickness ceases. With great obstinacy they believe this to be the effect of the sacrifices. They 

never desist from urging the necessity of making offerings, maintaining that the departed are conscious, and that ghosts and spirits 

eat and drink like so many guests invited to dinner. When these 

guests are pleased, they thank the host for his kindness. 

To prepare sacrifices is quite correct, but the belief that spirits 

can be affected thereby is erroneous. In reality the idea of these 

oblations is nothing else than that the host is anxious to manifest 

his kindness. The spirits are not desirous of tasting the offerings, 

as I am about to prove. 

Our sacrifices are for the purpose of showing our gratitude 

for benefits enjoyed. In the same manner we are kind to living 

people, but would the latter therefore wish to be treated to a 

dinner? Now those to whom we present sacrifices are dead; the 

dead are devoid of knowledge and cannot eat or drink. How can 

we demonstrate that they cannot possibly wish to enjoy eating 

and drinking? 

Heaven is a body like the Earth. Heaven has a number of 

stellar mansions, as the Earth has houses. These houses are attached to the body of the Earth, as the stellar mansions are fixed 

to the substance of Heaven. Provided that this body and this 

substance exist, then there is a mouth, which can eat. If Heaven 

and Earth possess mouths to eat, they ought to eat up all the 

food offered them in sacrifice. If they have no mouths, they are 

incorporeal, and being incorporeal, they are air like clouds and fog. 

Should the spirit of Heaven and Earth be like the human spirit, 

could a spirit eat and drink? 

510 Lun-hêng: F. Folklore and Religion. 

A middle-sized man is seven to eight feet high and four to 

five spans in girth. One peck of food and one peck of broth are 

enough to satisfy his appetite and his thirst. At the utmost he 

can consume three to four pecks. The size of Heaven and Earth 

is many ten thousand Li. Cocoon millet, ox rice 2 cakes, and a 

big soup are offered them on round hills, but never more than 

several bushels. How could such food appease the hunger of 

heaven and earth? 

Heaven and Earth would have feelings like man. When a 

man has not got enough to eat, he is vexed with his host, and 

does not requite him with kindness. If we hold that Heaven and 

Earth can be satiated, then the sacrifices presented to them in 

ancient times were derogatory to their dignity. 

Mountains are like human bones or joints, Rivers like human 

blood. When we have eaten, our intestines are filled with food, 

which forms abundance of bones and blood. Now, by the oblations made to Heaven and Earth, Mountains and Rivers are also 

satiated along with Heaven and Earth, yet Mountains and Rivers 

have still their special sacrifices, as if they were other spiritual 

beings. That would be like a man who, after having eaten his 

fill, would still feed his bones and his blood. 

We thank the Spirits of the Land and Grain for their 

kindness in letting grain and other organisms grow. The ten thousand people grow on earth, as hair does on a body. In the 

sacrifices to Heaven and Earth the Spirits of the Land and Grain 

are therefore included. Good men revere them, and make to 

them special offerings. They must hold that they are spirits. 

In this manner man ought to specially feed his skin and flesh 


The origin of the Five Sacrifices 3 is the Earth. The Outer 

and Inner Doors are made of wood and earth, both substances 

growing from earth. The Well, the Hearth, and the Inner Court 

of the house all depend on earth. In the sacrifice to the Earth, 

these Five Sacrifices are therefore comprised. Out of veneration a 

good man prepares special oblations for them, being convinced 

undubitably that they are spirits. But that would be, as if a man, 

after having appeased his appetite, were still specially feeding 

his body. 

1 Ancient Chinese feet, which are much smaller than the modern. 

2 Large kinds of rice and millet. 

3 The Five Sacrifices of the house often mentioned in the Liki. 

Sacrifices to the Departed. 511 

The Gods of Wind, Rain, and Thunder 1 are a special class 

of spirits. Wind is like the human breath, rain like secretions, 

and thunder like borborygmus. These three forces are inherent in 

heaven and earth, therefore they partake of the sacrifices to the 

latter. Pious men make special offerings to them as a mark of 

respect, regarding them as spiritual beings. Then a man ought to 

feed still his breath, his secretions, and his borborygmus. 

The Sun and the Moon are like human eyes, the Stars like 

human hair. These luminaries being attached to heaven, they are 

included in the sacrifices presented to the latter. Out of piety good 

men honour them with special sacrifices regarding them, no doubt, 

as spirits. That would be tantamount to our still feeding our eyes 

and hair after having satisfied our appetite. 

The ancestral temple is the place of one's forefathers. During 

their life-time they are diligently and reverently maintained and 

nourished by their children, and after their deaths the latter dare 

not become unfaithful, and therefore prepare sacrifices. Out of 

consideration for their ancestors they attend their dead to show that 

they have not forgotten their forefathers. As regards the sacrifices 

to the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers like Huang Ti and Ti 

K'ti, they were offered in appreciation of their mighty efforts and 

great accomplishments, for people did not forget their virtues. This, 

however, is no proof that there really are spirits, who can enjoy 

offerings. Being unable to enjoy, they cannot be spirits, and not 

being spirits, they cannot cause happiness nor unhappiness either. 

Happiness and unhappiness originate from joy and anger, and 

joy and anger proceed from the belly and the intestines. He who 

possesses a belly and intestines, can eat and drink, and he who 

cannot eat and drink, has no belly and no intestines. Without a 

belly and Intestines, joy and anger are impossible, and in default 

of joy and anger, one cannot produce happiness and unhappiness. 

Somebody might object that odours cannot be eaten. I reply 

that smelling, eating, and drinking are very much the same. With 

the mouth one eats, and with the mouth one likewise smells. Unless there be a belly and intestines, there is no mouth, and without a mouth one cannot eat nor smell either. 

How can we demonstrate that smelling is out of the question? 

When some one offers a sacrifice, and others pass by, they 

do not immediately become aware of it. Unless we use the mouth, 

1 Feng Po, the Prince of the Wind, Tü Shih, the Master of Rain, and Lei Kung, 

the Thunderer. Their sacrifices are determined in the Chou ritual. 

512 Luu-Hêng: F. Folklore and Religion. 

we must use the nose for smelling. When with the mouth or the 

nose we smell something, our eyes can see it, and what our eyes 

perceive, our hands can strike. Now, in case the hands cannot 

strike, we know that the mouth and the nose cannot smell. 

Another objection might be raised. When Duke Pao of Sung 1 

was sick, the priest said, " Yeh Ku will direct the service of the 

discontented spirit." The ghost leaning on a pole addressed Yeh Ku 

saying, "Why are my vessels not filled with plenty of rice? Why 

are the grazing animals for the sacrifice not big and fat? Why 

are the sceptres and badges not of the proper measure? Is it your 

fault or Pao's? " 

" Pao is still an infant in swathing cloth," replied Yeh Ku with 

a placid face, " who understands nothing about this. For how 

could he know or give any directions? " 

The angry spirit lifted his pole and struck Yeh Ku dead on 

the steps of the altar. — Can this not be considered a proof of his 

having been able to use his hand? 

It is not certain that Yeh Ku's death was caused by the blow 

of a discontented ghost. Just at that moment he was doomed to 

die; an apparition took the shape of a malignant ghost, and being 

shaped like a ghost, it had to speak like a ghost, and it also dealt 

a blow like a ghost. How do we know? 

A ghost is a spirit, and spirits are prescient. Then after 

having remarked that the sacrificial vessels were not full of rice, 

the sceptres and badges not of the proper size, the victims lean 

and small, the ghost, being prescient, ought to have reproached 

Yeh Ku and struck him with the pole. There was no need to first 

ask him. The fact that he first asked, shows that he was not 

prescient, and, if he was not prescient, it is plain that he was not 

a spirit. Being neither prescient nor a spirit, he could not appear 

with a body, nor talk, nor strike a man with a pole. 

Yell Ku was an honest official who took the guilt upon him- 

self, and offered himself for punishment, so that the ghost struck 

him. Had he been dishonest and inculpated Pao, the ghost would 

have hit Pao with his pole. 

Furthermore, provided that the spirit resented the laxity in 

the performance of his sacrifice, and therefore made his appearance, 

and killed the superintendent of the sacrifice, then would he, in 

case all the rites were duly fulfilled, be pleased and appear, and 

1 Duke Pao alias Wên of Sung, 609-588 b.c. His death is chronicled in the 

Ch'un-ch'iu, Duke Chêng 2nd year. 

Sacrifices to the Departed. 513 

as a favour present the sacrificer with some food? Men have joy 

and anger, and spirits should have these sensations likewise. A 

man who does not rouse another's anger, preserves his life, whereas 

he who displeases him, loses it. The malignant ghost in his wrath 

made his appearance, and inflicted a punishment, but the sacrifices 

of the Sung State have certainly often been according to the rites, 

wherefore did the ghost not appear then to reward? 

Joy and anger not being like the human, rewards and punishments are not like those dealt out by man either, and owing to 

this difference we cannot believe that Yeh Ku was slain by the 


Moreover, in the first place, for smelling one takes in air, 

and for speaking one breathes it out. He who can smell, can talk 

likewise, as he who inhales, can exhale too. Should ghosts and 

spirits be able to smell, they ought to speak about the sacrifices. 

Since they are incapable of speech, we know that they cannot 

smell either. 

Secondly, all those who smell, have their mouths and their 

noses open. Should their noses be stopped up by a cold, or their 

mouths gagged, olfaction becomes impossible. When a man dies, 

his mouth and his nose putrefy, how could they still be used for 


Thirdly, the Liki has it that, when men have died, they are 

dreaded. They then belong to another class of beings than man, 

hence the dread. As corpses they cannot move, they decay, and 

are annihilated. Since they do not possess the same bodies as 

living people, we know that they can have no intercourse with 

the living. As their bodies are dissimilar, and as we know that 

there can be no intercourse, their eating and drinking cannot be 

like that of man. The Mongols and the Annamese 1 are different 

nations, and in the matter of eating their tastes widely differ. Now, 

the difference between the departed and the living is not merely 

like that between the Mongols and the Annamese. Hence we infer 

that the dead cannot smell. 

Fourthly, when a man is asleep, we may put some food near 

him, he does not know, but, as soon as he awakes, he becomes 

aware of it, and then may eventually eat it. When a man is dead, 

however, and sleeps the long sleep, from which there is no awakening, how could he know anything or eat then? This shows that 

he is unable to smell. 

1 The Hu in the north, and the Yüeh in the south of China. 

514 Lun-hêng: F, Folklore and Religion. 

Somebody might raise the question, what it means that the 

spirits partake of a sacrifice, as people say. It means that people 

conscientiously clean the sacrificial vessels, that the rice is fragrant, 

and the victims fat, so that persons coming near and perceiving all 

this would feel inclined to eat and drink. With these their feelings 

they credit the ghosts and spirits, which, if they were conscious, 

would decidedly enjoy the offerings. Therefore people speak of 

the spirits, as though they were partaking of the sacrifice. 

Another objection is the following:— The Yiking says that an 

ox killed by the eastern neighbour, is not like the humble offering 

of the western neighbour.1 This assertion that the eastern neighbour does not come up to the western, signifies that the animal 

of the eastern neighbour is big, but his luck small, whereas the 

fortune of the western neighbour is great, though his sacrifice be 

poor. Now, if the spirits are denied the faculty of enjoying the 

offering, how can we determine the amount of happiness? 

This also depends on the question, whether a sacrifice is carefully prepared, so that everything is clean, or not. Chou had an 

ox immolated, but he did not fulfill all the rites. Wên Wang, on 

the other hand, made only a small offering, but did his utmost to 

show his devotion. People condemn a lack of ceremonies, and are 

full of praise for a pious fulfilment of all the rites. He who is 

praised by the people, finds support in all his enterprises, while 

the one who is disliked, meets with opposition, whatever he says 

or does. Such a resistance is no smaller misfortune than the rejection of a sacrifice by the spirits, and the general support is a 

happiness like that experienced, when the spirits smell the oblation. 

Ghosts cannot be pleased or angry at a sacrifice for the 

following reason. Provided that spirits do not require man for 

their maintenance, then, in case they did need them, they would 

no more be spiritual. If we believe in spirits smelling the sacrifices, 

and in sacrifices causing happiness or misfortune, how do we imagine 

the dwelling places of the ghosts? Have they their own provisions 

stored up, or must they take the human food to appease their 

hunger? Should they possess their own stores, these would assuredly be other than the human, and they would not have to 

eat human food. If they have no provisions of their own, then 

man would have to make offerings to them every morning and 

every evening. According as he had sacrificed to them or not, 

they would be either satiated or hungry, and according as they 

1 Yiking, 63d diagram (Chi-chi), Legge's translation p. 206. 

Sacrifices to the Departed. 5l5 

had eaten their fill or were hungry, they would be pleased or 


Furthermore, sick people behold ghosts, and, while asleep, 

people meet with the departed in their dreams. They are shaped 

like men, therefore the sacrifices presented to them are like human 

food. Having food and drink, the spirits must be provided with 

raiment too, therefore one makes silken clothes for them after the 

fashion of the living. Their sacrifices are like dinners for the living. 

People desire to feed them, and hope that the ghosts will oat their 

ofFeriugs. As regards the clothes, however, they are not larger than 

from five or six inches to one foot. Now, supposing that tall and 

big spirits, which have been observed, are to don garments of a 

foot in length, would they be very pleased, and bestow happiness 

on the donors? 

Should the ghosts, which have been seen, be really dead men, 

then the clothes made for them ought to be like those of the living, 

if, however, those garments are really put on by the ghosts, they 

must be shaped like dolls. Thus the question about ghosts and 

spirits remains an open one. How is it possible then to secure 

their protection and happiness by means of abundant offerings, and 

how can people firmly believe in this? 

516 Lun-hêng: F. Folklore and Religion.