Rituals and Customs

As Confucianism does not have all the elements of a religion and is primarily an ethical movement, it lacks sacraments and liturgy. However, the rituals that occur at important times in a person's life became part of the movement. Confucianism recognizes and regulates four life passages — birth, reaching maturity, marriage, and death. At the root is the ritual of respect: A person must exhibit respect to gain respect.


The Tai-shen (spirit of the fetus) protects the expectant woman and deals harshly with anyone who harasses the mother to be. The mother is given a special diet and is allowed to rest for a month after delivery. The mother's family is responsible for coming up with all that is required by the baby on the first-, fourth-, and twelfth-month anniversaries of the birth.


There are six stages that couples go through in the marriage process:

  • Proposal. The couple exchange the year, month, day, and hour of each of their births. If any unpropitious event happens within the bride-to-be's family during the following three days, the woman is believed to have rejected the proposal.

  • Engagement. After the wedding day has been chosen, the bride announces the wedding with invitations and a gift of cookies made in the shape of the moon.

  • Dowry. This is carried to the groom's home in a solemn procession. Gifts equal in value to the dowry are sent to the bride by the groom.

  • Procession. The groom visits the bride's home and brings her back to his place, with much fanfare.

  • Marriage and reception. The couple recite their vows that bond them together for a lifetime, toast each other with wine, then take center stage at a banquet.

  • Morning after. The bride serves breakfast to the groom's parents, who then reciprocate.

  • Death

    At death, the relatives cry aloud to inform the neighbors. The family starts mourning and puts on clothes made of coarse material. The corpse is washed and placed in a coffin. Mourners bring incense and money to offset the cost of the funeral. Food and significant objects of the deceased are placed into the coffin. A Buddhist or Taoist priest, or even a Christian minister, performs the burial ritual. Friends and family follow the coffin to the cemetery, bringing a willow branch, which symbolizes the soul of the person who has died. The branch is later carried back to the family altar where it is used to “install” the spirit of the deceased. Liturgies are performed on the seventh, ninth, and forty-ninth days after the burial, and on the first and third anniversaries of the death.

    On Confucius's death, his students compiled his thoughts in Spring and Autumn Annals. Mencius spread the values of Confucianism throughout the known world. With the increasing popularity in Confucius, his disciples and followers left sacrifices in temples dedicated to him. The People's Republic of China banned the ritual sacrifices in 1906.

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