The Rites of Shooting

The tribes who were led by Yan-Di (炎帝) and Huang-Di (黄帝) gave the Chinese nation a body, and the Zhou Dynasty gave the Chinese nation a soul. The founders of the Zhou Dynasty established a series of systems and rites for the whole society. Many systems and rites had military colors, because the Chinese nation was a warlike people at that time. Young noble men got educated since their childhood. The educational contents included proprieties (礼), music (乐), books (书), arithmetic (数), driving chariots (御), and archery (射). Young noble men must join battle, and they were the army’s elite. The armed escort of a Zhou’s King was formed by the young men of royal clan, and they were called “Yushi” (御士). Confucius was the son of a warrior, and his father wanted him to be an excellent warrior, so Confucius was educated strictly and he was actually good at driving chariots and shooting arrows.

Shooting belonged to not only skills but also rites. According to the book “Rites and Proprieties” (仪礼), the rites of shooting mainly had four kinds, and this book records the details of them.

The first one was called “Grand Shooting” (大射). This kind of rite was performed before a sacrificial ceremony. The Heaven-Son (天子, the Zhou’s King) or feudal monarchs led his ministers and warriors to shoot arrows. If a minister or a warrior shot a target many times, he would be permitted to attend the sacrificial ceremony. If a minister or a warrior missed a target many times, he couldn’t attend the sacrificial ceremony.

The second one was called “Visiting Shooting” (宾射). When feudal monarchs visited the Heaven-Son or other monarchs, they would perform this kind of shooting rite. Common people had “Visiting Shooting”, too. When a man visited his friend, or several friends met, they would perform this kind of shooting rite and showed their respects to others.

The third one was called “Banquet Shooting” (燕射). This kind of rite was performed in a banquet. “Banquet Shooting” not only showed respects, but also was a kind of amusement. If a man missed a target, he would drink as a forfeit. In a banquet, people often else sang poems and showed their thoughts and respects.

The fourth one was called “Local Shooting” (乡射). This was a ceremonious athletic sport. Every spring and autumn, local prefects invited venerable elders to preside over the ceremony. The ceremony took place in local schools. This kind of ceremony was significant, because it needed young men to keep gentle behaviors and show virtue. In the book “Records of Proprieties” (礼记), the chapter “Meaning of Shooting” (射义) said, “All behaviors of a shooting ceremony must accord with proprieties. A man must have a pure mind and a straight figure. He must hold firm his bow and arrow, and then he is capable of shooting. From his behaviors, we can know whether he is gentle and virtuous.” This chapter else said, “The rites of shooting are the way to perfect virtue. The rites of shooting need a man to be upright, and then he shoots at a target. If he misses the target, he won’t be jealous of the success of others, and he will turn over to think about his own behaviors.” Through “Local Shooting”, young men learned the rites and proprieties that a gentleman should know and behave, and excellent ones could be recommended to become warriors or officers.

When a boy was born, his family would perform a shooting ceremony. In this ceremony, the boy's family used six arrows to shoot the sky, the land and four directions of east, south, north and west. This shooting ceremony meant the boy's family wished this boy to have lofty ideals and get brilliant achievements in the world in the future.

The skill of shooting showed the mettle of a man. Zinan (子南) and Zixi (子皙), two noble men of the Zheng (郑) State, gave betrothal gifts to a beautiful woman at the same time. Zixi dressed very well, but Zinan dressed in army uniform and performed the rite of shooting. The young woman said, “Zixi is really a handsome man, but I prefer Zinan. A husband behaves as a man, and a wife behaves as a woman. This is called harmony.”

A bow is often regarded as a respectful symbol. If a monarch wanted to call in a minister or an officer, he would let his messenger give a bow to that man. In battlefields, if a monarch wanted to ask the minister of a hostile country about something, he also would let his messenger give a bow to the minister.

The rites of shooting were established in the Zhou Dynasty, and later the Han Dynasty followed them. The warriors of the Zhou and Han Dynasties had strong battle effectiveness, because they were trained strictly by the rites of shooting. After the Han Dynasty, the rites of shooting gradually became specious, and the battle effectiveness of the Chinese nation gradually became weak. In the Zhou Dynasty, a minister visited an area and sighed, “This area will be occupied by other ethnic groups, because there people have lost rites.” Later this area was occupied by a nomadic tribe. Don’t forget the blood and tears of our ancestors. After the Western Jin (西晋) Dynasty, China was invaded and occupied several times by some nomadic ethnic groups, our proprieties and rites gradually disappeared.

The shooting rites of Japan were derived from the shooting rites of ancient Chinese people, and Japanese call their shooting rites “the rites of bows” (弓道), but they had their own characteristics. Our book “Records of Proprieties” said, “Shooting is the action of a man.” However, young Japanese woman studied archery as men, and they perform a shooting rite in the adult ceremony. Several years ago, I took notice of a special detail from TV news. In the ceremony that Japanese royal family gave a name to a newborn princess, a minister pulled a bow without an arrow. This princess’s name is Toshi Aiko (敬宮愛子), and the meaning of this name is from an ancient Chinese book “Mencius” which was written by Mencius and his students in the Warring-States Period. The name “Toshi Aiko” has the meaning of respect (敬) and cherishing (愛), because the book “Mencius” has such words, “A person who cherishes others will be cherished by others, and a person who respects other will be respected by others.” When we watch the performance of the rites of Japan, all kinds of feelings welled up in our hearts.

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