The present paper aims (a) to reconstruct the formal peculiarities of historical Chinese apology (HCA), and (b) to apply the data gained to reexamine the concept of "discernment". In the first part of the study I look into the interactional application of ritualised formulae of apology (apology-RF), with the aid of historical pragmatics. The examination not only reveals the characteristics of apology-RF, but also shows the fact that they and elevatingldenigrating terms of address (EA/DAs, cf. Kádár 2005a; forthcoming) correlated in HCA. In the second part of the study I try to reinforce the findings of studies that deny the claim that the use of honorifics/ritualised formulae was definitely non-strategic, as is asserted according to the so-called "discernment" aspect of linguistic politeness. HCA provides a corpus that is appropriate for analysing this issue because, as the first part of the study shows, in old China apology was practiced via honorific/ritualised formulae, the contextual application of which was constrained by strict sociolinguistic rules. As the examination of the honorific formulae of HCA shows, in spite of their "fixed" contextual application schemata, in a number of cases the speakers intentionally deviated from these to attain personal discourse goals.