Form and Content
People and things both exist in form and content, with content representing their essence and form representing their appearance. Confucian scholars often used “form and content” to describe the display and the substance of rites. The external “form” must be based on the internal “content” because form pursued in isolation from content will be ostentatious. At the same time, form is indispensable for presenting internal content. Form must suit and correspond to content.
Confucius said, “When one’s inner disposition is in excess of his outward grace, he will look uncultured; when one’s outward grace is in excess of his inner disposition he will seem to be superficial. Only when his inner disposition and outward grace are in balance can he be a man of virtue.” (The Analects)
In principle, content precedes form, therefore, content is where the essence of rites lies. (Zhu Xi: The Analects Variorum)