When your parents die, live in the backyard for three years
After a parent dies, Kongzi (Confucius) said you're supposed to wear sackcloth and live silently in a hut for years. This made as little sense in 500 BC as it does now, and so his disciple Zizhang asked. What does this mean?
Kongzi was completely serious, saying "Yes, go live in a hut. Everybody lived in huts." You were supposed to wear rough hemp, sleep in the yard, and abstain from sex or eating nice food for exactly two years and one month (into the third year). When I read this I was as confused as Zizhang. Why? And why three years?
The whole act seems pointless, but this simple ritual actually contains the most important Confucian insights on human and political development. It contains ideas that science is just figuring out today. Through ritual sacrifice the ancients were trying to teach us something. Parenting makes people, and people make politics and thus the hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world.