CHAPTER XII. ANCESTRAL WORSHIP

We have just seen that, when a military expedition started out, the event was notified, with sacrifice, to the ancestors of the person most concerned: it was also the practice to carry to battle, on a special chariot, the tablet of the last ancestor removed from the ancestral hall, in order that, under his aegis so to speak, the tactics of the battle might be successful. Ancestral halls varied according to rank, the Emperor alone having seven shrines; vassal rulers five; and first-class ministers three; courtiers or second-class ministers had only two; that is to say, no one beyond the living subject's grandfather was in these last cases worshipped at all. From this we may assume that the ordinary folk could not pretend to any shrine, unless perhaps the house- altar, which one may see still any day in the streets of Canton. In 645 B.C. a first-class minister's temple was struck by lightning, and the commentator observes: "Thus we see that all, from the Emperor down to the courtiers, had ancestral shrines", - a statement which proves that already at the beginning of our Christian era such matters had to be explained to the general public. The shrines were disposed in the following fashion: - To the left (on entrance) was the shrine of the living subject's father; to the right his grandfather; above these two, to the left and right again, the great-grandfather and great-great- grandfather; opposite, in the centre, was that of the founder, whose tablet or effigy was never moved; but as each living individual died, his successor of course regarded him in the light of father, and, five being the maximum allowed, one tablet had to be removed at each decease, and it was placed in the more general ancestral hall belonging to the clan or gens rather than to the specific family: it was therefore the, tablet or effigy of the great-great-grandfather that was usually carried about in war. The Emperor alone had two special chapels beyond the five shrines, each chapel containing the odds (left) and evens (right) of those higher up in ascent than the great and great-great-grandfathers respectively. The King of Ts'u who died in 560 B.C. said on his death-bed: "I now take my place in the ancestral temple to receive sacrifices in the spring and autumn of each year." In the year 597, after a great victory over Tsin, the King of Ts'u had been advised to build a trophy over the collected corpses of the enemy; but, being apparently rather a high-minded man, after a little reflection, he said: "No! I will simply erect there a temple to my ancestors, thanking them for the success." After the death in 210 B.C. of the First August Emperor, a discussion arose as to what honours should be paid to his temple shrine: it was explained that "for a thousand years without any change the rule has been seven shrines for the Son of Heaven, five for vassal princes, and three for ministers." In the year 253, after the conquest of the miserable Chou Emperor's limited territory, the same Ts'in conqueror "personally laid the matter before the Emperor Above in the suburb sacrifice"; - which means that he took over charge of the world as Vicar of God. The Temple of Heaven (outside the Peking South Gate), occupied in 1900 by the British troops, is practically the "suburb sacrifice" place of ancient times. It was not until the year 221 B.C. that the King of Ts'in, after that date First August Emperor, formally annexed the whole empire: "thanks to the shrines in the ancestral temple," or "thanks to the spiritual help of my ancestors' shrines the Under-Heaven (i.e. Empire) is now first settled." These expressions have been perpetuated dynasty by dynasty, and were indeed again used but yesterday in the various announcements of victory made to Heaven and his ancestors by the Japanese Tenshi, or Mikado; that is by the "Son of Heaven," or T'ien-tsz of the ancient Chinese, from whom the Japanese Shinto ritual was borrowed in whole or in part.

In the year 572 B.C., on the accession of a Tsin ruler after various irregular interruptions in the lineal succession, he says: "Thanks to the supernatural assistance of my ancestors - and to your assistance, my lords - I can now carry out the Tsin sacrifices." In the year 548 the wretched ruler of Ts'i, victim of a palace intrigue, begged the eunuch who was charged with the task of assassinating him at least "to grant me permission to commit suicide in my ancestral hall." The wooden tablet representing the ancestor is defined as being "that on which the spirit reclines"; and the temple "that place where the ancestral spiritual consciousness doth dwell." Each tablet was placed on its own altar: the tablet was square, with a hole in the centre, "in order to leave free access on all four sides." The Emperor's was twelve inches, those of vassal princes one foot (i.e. ten inches) in length, and no doubt the inscription was daubed on in varnish (before writing on silk became general, and before the hair-brush and ink came into use about 200 B.C.). The rulers of Lu, being lineal descendants of the Duke of Chou, brother of the first Emperor of the Chou dynasty (1122 B.C.) had special privileges in sacrificial matters, such as the right to use the imperial music of all past dynasties; the right to sacrifice to the father of the Duke of Chou and the founder; the right to imperial rites, to suburban sacrifice, and so on; besides the custody of certain ancient symbolic objects presented by the first Chou Emperors, and mentioned on page 22.