Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Customs and Rituals

What is the Confucian and Literati view of ancestor veneration?

Confucius did not invent ancestor veneration, but his teaching placed great emphasis on the practice. Already a millennium old by Confucius’ time, ancestor veneration had much to do with the rather utilitarian belief that malcontent spirits of the deceased could cause great trouble. Better to attend to their needs before they became disgruntled. But Confucius stressed a more positive note of reverence for those who have gone before and of maintaining connections with one’s sacred past. So much of what we are is our history. In Korea, descendants of the Yi dynasty still gather annually to perform memorial rites with full traditional costume and music. This Yi Dynasty Association maintains dynastic memorial tablets in an ancestral shrine in Seoul called Chongmyo. To each of the eighteen major Yi rulers enshrined there the worshippers offer three cups of wine and choice food. Scholars often credit Confucian influence in Japan with the continued prevalence of ancestor veneration there.


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