Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 10 to learn more about how Confucius followed the conventions of ritual (禮/lǐ) to behave appropriately in different social situations.
When Confucius was in his home village, he was unassuming and warm as if at a loss for words. When he was in the ancestral temple or at court he spoke with eloquence but due caution.
When he was at court chatting with officials in the lower ranks, he was genial; when he was chatting with officials in the upper ranks, he was direct but respectful. When the ruler was present, he was reverent but composed.
When the ruler instructed him to welcome guests to court, he assumed a serious expression on his face and walked at a rapid pace. He clasped his hands in front of his chest and bowed towards those standing beside him, turning to the left and the right, and made sure that his gown flowed backwards and forwards in perfect rhythm with the movements of his body. He approached the guests in quick, small steps, his sleeves fluttering like the wings of a bird. After seeing off the guests, he always returned to announce: “The guests have gone.”
When entering the gate of the duke’s palace, he bowed his head respectfully as if it were not high enough. He never paused in the middle of the gateway, nor did he step on the threshold. When he passed in front of the duke’s throne, he adopted a serious expression on his face, quickened his step, and showed great reluctance to speak. When he lifted up the hem of his gown in preparation for walking up the steps of the audience hall, he inhaled deeply as if he didn’t dare to breathe. On leaving, after descending the first step, an expression of ease enveloped his face. When he reached the bottom step, he walked swiftly, as if on wings. On returning to his original position, he assumed a respectful and cautious demeanor once again.
When carrying a jade tablet, he bowed as if it was too heavy to lift. When he held it high, he looked as if he was going to give a greeting; when he held it low he looked as if he was going to make an offering. He adopted a solemn expression as if he was going off into battle, and he walked in short measured steps as if he was following a straight line. When participating in a ritual ceremony, he looked dignified. When in a private meeting, he looked happy and relaxed.
A leader doesn’t wear purple or maroon for the embroidered borders on his gown; he doesn’t use red or purple either for casual wear. During the summer, he wears a fine or coarse linen singlet, but never goes out without wearing an undergarment beneath it. He wears a black robe over a lambskin coat; a white robe over a fawn fur coat; and a yellow robe over a fox fur coat. His casual fur robes are long and have a shorter right sleeve. His nightgown is very long. He uses thick furs such as fox and badger as cushions. Except when he is in mourning, he can wear any type of adornment ornament on his girdle. Apart from his ceremonial robes, the layers of his other robes are cut to different lengths. At funerals, he doesn’t wear lambskin coats or black caps. On the day of the Auspicious Moon Ceremony, he attends court dressed in full court attire.
During periods of purification, he wore a plain robe made of coarse linen. During periods of purification, he simplified his diet and did not sit in his usual place when at home.
He didn’t eat too much finely milled rice and finely cut meat. If the food was rotten or rancid, if the fish wasn’t fresh, and if the meat was spoiled, he didn’t eat it. If the food was off-color, he didn’t eat it. If it smelled bad, he didn’t eat it. If it was undercooked, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served at the proper time, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t butchered properly, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served in its proper sauce, he didn’t eat it. Even if there was plenty of meat, he didn’t eat more meat than rice. As for liquor, however, there was no limit as long as he remained sober. He didn’t consume liquor or meat bought from the market. He was never without ginger when he ate, but used it only in moderation.
After assisting his duke at a sacrificial ceremony, he didn’t keep the meat bestowed on him overnight. After carrying out a family sacrificial ceremony, he didn’t keep the meat for more than three days. After the third day, he didn’t eat it.
When eating, he did not talk. When retiring to bed, he did not speak.
Even if the food only consisted of coarse rice or vegetable soup, he made a sacrificial offering with the same level of respect as when he was fasting.
He didn’t sit on a mat unless it was straight.
When the villagers were drinking together, he didn’t leave until the elders had departed.
When the villagers carried out the ceremony to exorcize pestilent spirits and ghosts, he put on his court dress and stood on the eastern steps.
When sending his greetings to someone in another state, he would bow twice before sending the messenger on his way.
When Ji Kangzi sent him some medicine, Confucius bowed as he accepted the gift but said: “Since I don’t know what this substance is, I dare not taste it.”
When the stables caught fire, Confucius returned from court and asked: “Was anyone hurt?” He didn’t ask about the horses.
When his ruler sent him a gift of pre-cooked food, he straightened his mat and was the first person to taste it. When his ruler sent him a present of raw meat, he cooked it and made an offering to his ancestors. When his ruler gave him a livestock, he reared it. When dining with his ruler, he was the first one to taste the food after the ruler had performed the sacrificial offering.
When he fell ill and his ruler came to visit him, he had himself laid with his head facing the east and his body covered by his court dress with a sash laid across it.
Whenever his ruler summoned him, he would set off without waiting for the horses to be harnessed to his carriage.
Whenever he visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there.
When a friend died and there was no one to take care of his funeral, he said: “Let me look after it.”
When receiving a gift from a friend, he wouldn’t bow even if it was something as valuable as a horse and carriage. The only gift he would bow for was one of sacrificial meat.
In bed, he didn’t lie stiffly like a corpse; at home, he was informal and relaxed.
When he saw someone in mourning clothes, he adopted a solemn expression on his face and remained distant even if he knew them well. When he saw someone wearing a ceremonial cap or a blind person, he was courteous even if he was familiar with them. When he came across someone in mourning garments while riding in his carriage, he leaned over the stanchion to greet them; he would do the same when he encountered someone carrying official documents. When he was served rich delicacies at a banquet, he adopted a gracious expression on his face and rose to his feet to show his appreciation. When he heard a sudden clap of thunder or a ferocious wind an awe-struck expression came over his face.
Before mounting his carriage, he stood straight and grasped the hand strap. Once in the carriage, he didn’t turn to look back, talk loudly, or point with his finger.
Startled by a sudden movement, the bird flew off, hovered for a while, and then landed again. Confucius said: “The hen pheasant on the mountain bridge – How timely! How timely!” Zilu clasped his hands and bowed towards the bird, which tweeted three times and flew away.