Analects 17.21

Original Text:




Other Translations:

Zai Wo asked about the three-year mourning period, saying, “Surely one year is long enough. If the gentleman refrains from practicing ritual for three years, the rites will surely fall into ruin; if he refrains from music for three years, this will surely be disastrous for music. After the lapse of a year the old grain has been used up, while the new grain has ripened, and the four different types of tinder have all been drilled in order to rekindle the fire. One year is surely long enough.”

The Master asked, “Would you feel comfortable then eating your sweet rice and wearing your brocade gowns?”

“I would.”

The Master replied, “Well, if you would feel comfortable doing so, then by all means you should do it. When the gentleman is in mourning, he gets no pleasure from eating sweet foods, finds no joy in listening to music, and feels no comfort in his place of dwelling. This is why he gives up these things. But if you would feel comfortable doing them, then by all means you should!”

After Zai Wo left, the Master remarked, “This shows how lacking in Goodness this Zai Wo is! A child is completely dependent upon the care of his parents for the first three years of his life—this is why the three-year mourning period is the common practice throughout the world. Did Zai Wo not receive three years of care from his parents?”

Confucius, & Slingerland, E. (2003). Analects: With selections from traditional commentaries. Hackett Publishing.

Zai Wo asked about the three-year mourning period, saying that one year should be long enough. If the gentleman goes three years without performing rituals, the rituals are certain to decline; if he goes three years without performing music, music is certain to be lost. The old grain has been used up; the new grain has ripened; drills have kindled new fires to replace the old ones—surely one year is long enough!

The Master said, Eating rice, wearing brocade—would you feel right doing that?

Yes, I would, said Zai Wo.

If you would feel right, then do so. But when a gentleman is in mourning, if he ate fine food, it would have no savor; if he listened to music, it would bring no joy; if he lived in ease, it would not feel right. Therefore, he does not do so. But now you would feel right, so you may do so.

After Zai Wo had left, the Master said, Yu (Zai Wo) has no humaneness! Only after a child is three years old does he leave the bosom of his father and mother. The three-year mourning period is a custom common to everyone in the world. Surely Yu, too, enjoyed his three years of loving from father and mother!

Confucius, & Watson, B. (2007). The Analects of Confucius. Columbia University Press.

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