17.21

Zai Wo questioned Confucius about the traditional three-year mourning period.

“One year is already too long. If a noble person gives up ritual for three years, the ritual will decay. If a noble person gives up music for three years, then music will fall apart. In the course of a year, as the old crop is eaten up, new crops grow for harvest. Four types of firewood—one for each season—have been used for kindling. A full year of mourning is quite enough.”

Confucius asked, “Would you be comfortable eating white rice and wearing silk after a year?”

“I would,” replied Zai Wo.

Confucius said, “If you’d feel comfortable, go right ahead then. When a noble person mourns, fine foods are not sweet, music brings no joy, and luxurious clothes bring no comfort, even around the house. These things don’t bring pleasure, so the noble person doesn’t indulge in them. But if you’d feel comfortable doing these things, go right ahead.”

After Zai Wo left, Confucius said, “He lacks humaneness. Children don’t leave their parents arms for three years after they’re born, so three years’ mourning is the custom throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Wo even have three years of love from his parents?”