The sacrificial ceremony is one of the major rituals in the life of the Chinese. In ancient times, sacrificial ceremonies were held to show reverence for heaven, earth, the sun, the moon, mountains, rivers, or ancestors. By holding a sacrificial ceremony for such things or ancestors, people showed their respect and awe for them, which they hoped would protect and give blessings to themselves. The rites observed during the sacrificial ceremony reflected the social status of ceremony participants. Sacrificial ceremonies are still conducted today, but both the way they are conducted and their significance have greatly changed.
When sacrifice is offered to someone, act as though someone is just in front of you. When sacrifice is offered to a god, act as though the god is present. Confucius said, “If I am not there at the sacrifice in person, it is as though there were no sacrifice held.” (The Analects)
Offering sacrifice is not something compelled by external factors; rather, it is driven by one’s inner emotion. It is reverence that makes a person to offer sacrifice. Thus, only a man of virtue fully understands the significance of a sacrificial ceremony. (The Book of Rites)