Of Hâu-kî there is some notice on the tenth ode of the first decade of the Sacrificial Odes of Kâu. To him the kings of Kâu traced their lineage. Of Kiang Yüan, his mother, our knowledge is very scanty. It is said that she was a daughter of the House of Thâi, which traced its lineage up to Shăn-nung in prehistoric times. From the first stanza of this piece it appears that she was married, and had been so for some time without having any child. But who her husband was it is impossible to say with certainty. As the Kâu surname was Kî, he must have been one of the descendants of Hwang Tî.
The first birth of (our) people 2 Was from Kiang Yüan. How did she give birth to (our) people She had presented a pure offering and sacrificed 3,
[paragraph continues] That her childlessness might be taken away. She then trod on a toe-print made by God, and was moved 1, In the large place where she rested. She became pregnant; she dwelt retired; She gave birth to, and nourished (a son), Who was Hâu-kî.
When she had fulfilled her months, Her firstborn son (came forth) like a lamb. There was no bursting, nor rending, No injury, no hurt; Showing how wonderful he would be. Did not God give her the comfort? Had he not accepted her pure offering and sacrifice, So that thus easily she brought forth her son?
He was placed in a narrow lane, But the sheep and oxen protected him with loving care 2. He was placed in a wide forest, Where he was met with by the wood-cutters. He was placed on the cold ice, And a bird screened and supported him with its wings. When the bird went away, Hâu-kî began to wail. His cry was long and loud, So that his voice filled the whole way 2.
When he was able to crawl, He looked majestic and intelligent. When he was able to feed himself, He fell to planting beans. The beans grew luxuriantly; His rows of paddy shot up beautifully; His hemp and wheat grew strong and close; His gourds yielded abundantly.
The husbandry of Hâu-kî Proceeded on the plan of helping (the growth). Having cleared away the thick grass, He sowed the ground with the yellow cereals. He managed the living grain, till it was ready to burst; Then he used it as seed, and it sprang up; It grew and came into car; It became strong and good; It hung down, every grain complete; And thus he was appointed lord of Thâi 1.
He gave (his people) the beautiful grains;--The black millet and the double-kernelled, The tall red and the white. They planted extensively the black and the double-kernelled, Which were reaped and stacked on the ground. They planted extensively the tall red and the white, Which were carried on their shoulders and backs, Home for the sacrifices which he founded 2.
And how as to our sacrifices (continued from him)?
[paragraph continues] Some hull (the grain); some take it from the mortar; Some sift it; some tread it. It is rattling in the dishes; It is distilled, and the steam floats about. We consult 1; we observe the rites of purification; We take southernwood and offer it with the fat; We sacrifice a ram to the spirit of the path 2; We offer roast flesh and broiled:--And thus introduce the coming year 3.
We load the stands with the offerings, The stands both of wood and of earthenware. As soon as the fragrance ascends, God, well pleased, smells the sweet savour. Fragrant it is, and in its due season 4. Hâu-kî founded our sacrifices, And no one, we presume, has given occasion for blame or regret in regard to them, Down to the present day.
396:2 Our 'people' is of course the people of Kâu. The whole piece is about the individual from whom the House of Kâu sprang, of which were the kings of the dynasty so called.
396:3 To whom Kiang Yüan sacrificed and prayed we are not told, but I receive the impression that it was to God,--see the next stanza,--and that she did so all alone with the special object which is mentioned.
397:1 The 'toe-print made by God' has occasioned much speculation of the critics. We may simply draw the conclusion that the poet meant to have his readers believe with him that the conception of his hero was supernatural. We saw in the third of the Sacrificial Odes of Shang that there was also a legend assigning a præternatural birth to the father of the House of Shang.
397:2 It does not appear from the ode who exposed the infant to these various perils; nor did Chinese tradition ever fashion any story on the subject. Mâo makes the exposure to have been made by Kiang Yüan's husband, dissatisfied with what had taken place; Kăng, by the mother herself, to show the more the wonderful character of her child. Readers will compare the accounts with the Roman legends about Romulus and Remus, their mother and her father; but the two legends differ according to the different characters, of the Chinese and Roman peoples.
398:1 Hâu-kî's mother, we have seen, was a princess of Thâi, in the present district of Wû-kung, Khien Kâu, Shen-hsî. This may have led to his appointment to that principality, and the transference of the lordship from Kiangs to Kîs. Evidently he was appointed to that dignity for his services in the promotion of agriculture. Still be has not displaced the older Shan-nung, with whom on his father's side he had a connexion, as 'the Father of Husbandry.'
398:2 This is not to be understood of sacrifice in general, as if there had been no such thing before Hâu-kî; but of the sacrifices of the of House of Kâu,--those in the ancestral temple and others,--which began with him as its great ancestor.
399:1 That is, we divine about the day, and choose the officers to take part in the service.
399:2 A sacrifice was offered to the spirit of the road on commencing a journey, and we see here that it was offered also in connexion with the king's going to the ancestral temple or the border altar.
399:3 It does not appear clearly what sacrifices the poet had in view here. I think they must be all those in which the kings of Kâu appeared as the principals or sacrificers. The concluding line is understood to intimate that the kings were not to forget that a prosperous agriculture was the foundation of their prosperity.
399:4 In this stanza we have the peculiar honour paid to Hâu-kî by his descendants at one of the great border sacrifices to God,--the same to which the last ode in the first decade of the Sacrificial Odes of Kâu belongs.