Volume 15 Issue 1 - August 6, 2010 PDF
The Symbol of Funeral Eating and Drinking, Implication and Enlightenment Functions―Take Book of Rites and Han Dynasty as Discourse Back Ground
associate professor of Department of Chinese Literature, College of Liberal Arts, National Cheng Kung University
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Death, as well as the life state of the deceased or the living, family ethics, social relation, are all full of great changes and dangers, how to pass through layers of barriers safely, and make the existing state of the deceased gradually change to be ancestors, the mourning emotion of the living can be restrained; family ethics can be reformed smoothly, those are very critical tests. In this course, the deceased, the living, and related family and society are all in the uncertain state of transition phase, ambiguousness and unclarity always mean that social morality system, cultural rules, ethics position and titles are overstepped, destroyed, or confused, these kinds of disordered state all symbolize danger and ominousness for individuals or families. In this very important transition phase and dangerous unusual time, how to help persons involved to pass through layers of barriers through the transition and guidance symbols of food, clothes, residence, and so on, so as to make the living to recovery normal emotion and accept new changed situation; the deceased could also gradually get rid of the dangerous state of recent death and transform to be ancestors, and they can also be comforted and communicated through the channel of fete, at last, both of the deceased and the living will reach the state of peace, which is a critical test. This ceremony course can be understood through the rite of passage of life. Arnold Van Gennep divided rite of passage into three phases: separation, limen, and aggregation. Separation phase is shown through individuals or groups are separated or isolated from original situation. Aggregation phase refers to reaggregation or returning back to groups. For limen (mediation) Latin language has the meaning of threshold originally, which refers to the transition phase when ceremony body exists. At that time, life separates from original existing status, but has not aggregated a new status, therefore Victor Turner said that ceremony body in this phase has the traits of ‘unclarity’ and ‘uncertainty’ , and the symbols of death and darkness. Strictly speaking, a whole funeral process can be deemed as an intermediate (limen) status, full of uncertainty, ominousness, and changes. Funeral starts from the wake of dutiful sons, men and women would not stay together, father and son would not live together, and isolation is made in space. At this time, in the relationship of ethics, it is the key period of transform and reintegration, so it is full of disordered uncleanness. But at the time of taking off morning clothes, dutiful sons would return to original life area, and reintegrate relatives’ relationship; husband and wife would return to normal status of living together, which can be deemed as a new reunification process.

In the rite of passage, the transition and transform of soul and life are generally catalyzed and symbolized through the changes of clothing, space, eating and drinking. Especially the mark of eating and drinking for body and mind transform and life state plays a decisive role. The thesis focuses on the eating and drinking in funeral period, discussing the food traits of offering the deceased and wake persons, and analyzing the relationship between the use of symbols and life transition in detail.

Why eating and drinking is used as the core subject of this thesis?That is because that eating and drinking reflects the core spirit of a culture; it is also an interested subject in anthropology, sociology and ethnology, as well as the focus of culture semeiology, and is closely related to body discourse. Especially viewing from the angle of the rite of passage and the discipline of body and mind, it is always a very important issue that how to make body and mind transform and the discipline of ritual doctrine through eating and drinking. The thesis deeply discusses food attributes and production seasons, regions, food color, cooking method, the order of eating and drinking, and their reflected thinking principle in the Book of Rites, so as to show the strong symbolic meaning of eating and drinking etiquette, and their important function on the discipline of body and mind and education.

For the ancient books involved in the thesis, the study will deeply discuss norms and viewpoints related with eating and drinking etiquette in Three Li ( Zhou’, ‘Book of Rites,’ and ‘Ceremonial’)  and related ritual study, class works, and important documents. As there are lots of eating and drinking etiquette, food and Qi (energetic air), the relationship between body and mind, the relationship between diet and solar term, the consideration on diet and social class, diet and gender relations in Book of Rites, which can make up the deficiency of research on eating and drinking etiquette in the period of Qin and Han dynasties, meanwhile, they can be verified with related subjects in medical history and bodily conception. For history level, the thesis made deep exploration on the actual state of eating and drinking etiquette reflected in traditional historical materials, and ethics and affection level conveyed through eating and drinking. In addition, in Book of Philosophers, related documentaries that discuss eating and drinking etiquette can reflect the thinking for the norm and nature of eating and drinking; there are also lots of materials retained in custom that reflect eating and drinking state at that time, which can also be used as a reference. The visual field and research achievements of modern subject have provided various thinking and insights for eating and drinking etiquette and the relationship with body viewpoint. It is also a concerned subject of the study that how proper understanding and development can be given in traditional research through this visual field.

For detailed subject discussed in this thesis, the thesis focuses on funeral period eating and drinking, exploring the traits of food offered to the deceased and wake persons, and analyzing the relationship between the use of symbol and life transition in detail. In the layers of transition of funeral ceremony, the location of food offered to the deceased, food content, quantity, the whole and part of sacrifice, the parts used for sacrifice, and positions will change with the process of ceremony, which have strong symbolic implication. Starting from the symbolism of food offering, from misfortune to fortune, and from unusual to usual, the thesis is divided into three parts: the deceased are treated as the living before burial; the intermediary nature of soul comforting fete phase; and ancestor worship fete that has changed to be fortune after Zu Ku Fete (fete of morning and evening cry ). The difference of symbol, on one hand, marks the change and transition of the existing state of the deceased, on the other hand, also helps the living to make the adjustment of body and mind state.

For the detail of offering food to the deceased, when relatives just passed away, food offered is always the same as that before their death. However, with the process of ceremony, food offered in corresponding intermediary state would appear the nature that is different from the living’s food. Because at that time the deceased are neither human beings nor ancestor gods, they are not able get along with the living, and they also could not regularly communicate with the living through fetes like ancestor gods, so feared state of mind is very strong, as well as possessed taboo and the feeling of danger. At that time, sacrifice offered would always adopt bloody mode, sacrifice would adopt the way of cutting apart in large pieces to symbolize the chaos, ambiguousness, and strong taboo. After burial, the deceased gradually transform to be ancestor gods; the intermediate state with full of uncontrollable power gradually changes to be stable ancestors worship, so sacrifice would be cut apart in small pieces, which gradually departs from the strong taboo and danger at the time of recent death. In the course of transforming from recent dead persons to ancestors, soul comforting fete and Zu Ku Fete (fete of morning and evening cry) shall also be experienced. The oblation of soul comforting fete is more complicated than that before burial, but simpler than that at the time of Ji Fete (fete of morning and evening cry). Soul comforting fete shows the transition nature of ambiguousness and unclarity; while Zu Ku Fete (fete of morning and evening cry) goes further toward the transition of Ji Fete (fete of morning and evening cry).

For the eating and drinking of wake persons, under the great calamity of suffering the death of relatives, great calamity makes eating and drinking totally apart from normal state. When parents just died, desires and the issues of eating and drinking shall be suspended temporarily until parents are waiting for burial. Then dutiful sons began to drink thin gruel to support life. With the transition of funeral, eating and drinking starts to change from fast to a handful of simple eating and drinking, then transit to eating fruits and vegetables; eating meat and drinking are not allowed until the end of funeral period. The transfer of body and mind is catalyzed through the changes of eating and drinking. The clothes and residence in funeral period would also change with the process of funeral. After funeral is completely ended, so do Dan Fete (fete of taking off mourning dress), now eating and drinking return to normal state. People can drink, eat meat, and play music; residence also returns to normal status, by now husband and wife can stay together.

Wake is the important opportunity of showing filial duty and manifesting enlightenment, therefore rulers care a lot about the piety of wake persons. Under the background of full development of Eastern Han Dynasty families, the requirement for wake becomes very strict. As eating and drinking have close relationship with the satisfaction of desire, eating less food always symbolizes little desire and means persons would not be enticed by lust, so it is deemed as the symbol of virtue. Funeral conveys atonement, filial duty, and other special implications through the symbol of eating and drinking and the abstinence of desire. So eating and drinking also plays the important role of virtue assessment in funeral period.
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