Hemp caps and bowing rituals

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子曰:「麻冕,禮也。今也純儉,吾從眾。拜下,禮也。今拜乎上,泰也,雖違眾,吾從下。」
Confucius said: “According to the rites, the ceremonial cap should be made of hemp; these days it is made of silk. This is more economical and I follow the general practice. According to the rites, you should make your bow at the bottom of the steps; nowadays people make their bow on top of the steps. This is arrogant, and even though it goes against the general practice I make my bow at that bottom of the steps.”

Although Confucius was pragmatic enough to accept minor changes to the external forms of ritual ceremonies, he was strongly opposed to ones that he believed that violated their underlying principles.

Thus, while he was willing to countenance the replacement of hemp caps (which were very difficult and time-consuming to make) with much cheaper silk ones, he was unwilling to compromise on the fundamental elements. It may seem like a minor point, but bowing before climbing the steps shows a much greater degree of respect than waiting until you have ascended them.

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