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
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
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
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.