An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Liji 禮記

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Liji 禮記 "Book of rites" is a collection of descriptions of ritual matters written during the late Warring States 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) and Former Han periods 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). It is one of the Five Confucian Classics (wujing 五經) and one of the three ritual classics (sanli 三禮).

The Three Ritual Classics (Sanli 三禮)
周禮 Zhouli The "Rites of the Zhou"
儀禮 Yili "Etiquette and Rites"
禮記 Liji "Record of Rites"
三禮圖 Sanlitu (Han) 鄭玄 Zheng Xuan
三禮圖集注 Sanlitu jizhu (Five Dynasties) 聶崇義 Nie Chongyi
Related to the Liji
王制 Wangzhi "Royal regulations"
月令 Yueling "Proceedings of government in the different months"
樂記 Yueji "Record of music"
中庸 Zhongyong "The doctrine of the meanc"
大學 Daxue "The great learning"
大戴禮記 Da Dai Liji Subclassic "The Rites of Dai the Elder"
夏小正 Xia xiaozheng "The small calendar of the Xia"

During the Former Han period books on ritual matters with a length of 131 chapters were gathered, one by the Confucian scholar Dai De 戴德 (Dai the Elder 大戴), who compiled a collection of 85 chapters (called Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記 "The Rites by Dai the Elder"), and one by his nephew Dai Sheng 戴聖, with a length of 49 chapters, which was accordingly called the Xiao Dai Liji 小戴禮記 "The Rites by Dai the Younger". At the end of the Later Han 後漢 (25-220 CE) the book of Dai De ceased to be taught at the National University (taixue 太學) and was overshadowed by the compilation of Dai Sheng, which then became the orthodox classic on rituals, together with the Yili 儀禮 and the Zhouli 周禮.

Its status as a classic was enhanced by the fact that the Confucian scholar Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200) wrote a commentary on Dai Sheng's Liji. Some of the chapters are similar in content to the Yili, like the capping or marriage ceremonies, but others are not contained in the Yili classic, like the ritual game of pitch-pot (touhu 投壺). The Liji also contains some general chapters on Confucian ritual thinking, like the conveyance of rituals (Liyun 禮運), ritual music (Yueji 樂記), or studies (Xueji 學記).

The chapter Yueling 月令 is not actually "Confucian", but it describes the proceedings of the government in the different months from the viewpoint of early Chinese cosmological thinking. The traditional structure of Chinese government is described in the chapter Wangzhi 王制 "Royal regulations". The chapter Yueji has been interpreted by some scholars as the often-mentioned but actually never identified sixth Confucian classic (of the "Six Classics" Liuyi 六藝), namely that on ritual music.

Two chapters were extracted during the Song period 宋 (960-1279): Zhongyong 中庸 "Doctrine of the Mean" and Daxue 大學 "Great Learning". These two texts became part of the so-called "Four Books" (sishu 四書), together with the Mengzi 孟子 and Lunyu 論語.

Table 1. Chapters of the Liji
1. (1.-2.) 曲禮 Quli Summary of the rules of propriety I-II
2. (3.-4.) 檀弓 Tan Gong Tan Gong I-II
3. (5.) 王制 Wangzhi Royal regulations
4. (6.) 月令 Yueling Proceedings of government in the different months
5. (7.) 曾子問 Zengzi wen The questions of Zengzi
6. (8.) 文王世子 Wenwang shizi King Wen, the heir
7. (9.) 禮運 Liyun The conveyance of rites
8. (10.) 禮器 Liqi Utensils of rites
9. (11.) 郊特牲 Jiaotesheng The great suburban sacrifice
10. (12.) 內則 Neize The pattern of the family
11. (13.) 玉藻 Yuzao Dresses and caps worn by rulers
12. (14.) 明堂位 Mingtang wei The Positions in the The Hall of Distinction
13. (15.) 喪服小記 Sangfu xiaoji Smaller records of mourning dress
14. (16.) 大傳 Dazhuan The great treatise
15. (17.) 少儀 Shaoyi Smaller rules of conduct
16. (18.) 學記 Xueji Record of studies
17. (19.) 樂記 Yueji Record of music
18. (20.-21.) 雜記 Zaji Miscellaneous records I-II
19. (22.) 喪大記
Sangfu daji
Greater record of mourning rites
Greater records of mourning dress
20. (23.) 祭法 Jifa Laws of sacrifices
21. (24.) 祭義 Jiyi The meaning of sacrifices
22. (25.) 祭統 Jitong Summary Account of sacrifices
23. (26.) 經解 Jingjie Explanations of the Classics
24. (27.) 哀公問 Aigong wen The questions of Duke Ai
25. (28.) 仲尼燕居 Zhongni yanju Confucius at home at ease
26. (29.) 孔子閒居 Kongzi xianju Confucius at home at leisure
27. (30.) 坊記 Fangji Record of dykes
28. (31) 中庸 Zhongyong The doctrine of the mean
29. (32.) 表記 Biaoji The record on example
30. (33.) 緇衣 Ziyi The black robes
31. (34.) 奔喪 Bensang Hurrying to mourning rites
32. (35.) 問喪 Wensang Questions about mourning rites
33. (36.) 服問 Fuwen Subjects for questioning about the mourning dress
34. (37.) 間傳 Jianzhuan Treatise on subsidiary points in mourning usages
35. (38.) 三年問 Sannianwen Questions about the mourning for three years
36. (39.) 深衣 Shenyi The long dress in one piece
37. (40.) 投壺 Touhu The game of pitch-pot
38. (41.) 儒行 Ruxing The conduct of the scholar
39. (42) 大學 Daxue The great learning
40. (43.) 冠義 Guanyi The meaning of the ceremony of capping
41. (44.) 昏(=婚)義 Hunyi The meaning of the marriage ceremony
42. (45.) 鄉飲酒義 Xiang yinjiu yi The meaning of the drinking festivity in the districts
43. (46.) 射義 Sheyi The meaning of the ceremony of archery
44. (47.) 燕義 Yanyi The meaning of the banquet
45. (48.) 聘義 Pingyi The meaning of the interchange of missions between different courts

While some particular chapters are separately dealt with, some examples may give an impression of the heterogeneity of the collection Liji. The first example shows the rituals adhered to during the royal audiences in the "Hall of Distinction" during the early Zhou period:

Quotation 1. The Positions in the Hall of Distinction (Mingtang wei 明堂位)
昔者周公朝諸侯于明堂之位:天子負斧依南鄉而立;三公,中階之前,北面東上。諸侯之位,阼階之東,西面北上。諸伯之國,西階之西,東面北上。諸子之國,門東,北面東上。諸男之國,門西,北面東上。 Formerly, when the Duke of Zhou gave audience to the regional rulers in their several places in the Hall of Distinction, the Son of Heaven stood with his back to the axe-embroidered screen, and his face towards the south. The Three Dukes (sangong 三公) were in front of the steps, in the middle, with their faces to the north, inclining to the east as the most honourable position. The places of the marquises (hou 侯) were at the east of the eastern steps, with their faces to the west, inclining to the north as the most honourable position. The lords of the earldoms (bo 伯) were at the west of the western steps, with their faces to the east, inclining also and for the same reason to the north. The counts (zi 子) were on the east of the gate, with their faces to the north, inclining to the east as the more honourable position. The barons (nan 男) were on the west of the gate, with their faces to the north, inclining also and for the same reason to the east.
此周公明堂之位也。明堂也者,明諸侯之尊卑也。[...] These were the places of the lords in the Hall of Distinction [when they appeared before] the duke of Zhou. The Hall of Distinction was so called, because in it the rank of the princes was clearly shown as high or low. [...]
Legge 1885.

Until the end of the Chinese empire in 1912, the observation of a mourning period of three years for the death of one's father was a common expression of filial piety. State officials even asked for a leave for three years. One chapter in the Liji is particularly dedicated to the mourning period.

Quotation 2. Questions about the Mourning for Three Years (Sannian wen 三年問)
三年之喪何也?曰:稱情而立文,因以飾群,別親疏、貴賤之節,而不可損益也。故曰:「無易之道也。」 What purposes do the mourning rites for three years serve? The different rules for the mourning rites were established in harmony with men's feelings. By means of them the differences in the social relations are set forth, and the distinctions shown of kindred as nearer or more distant, and of ranks as more noble or less. They do not admit of being diminished or added to; and are therefore called "The unchanging rules".
創鉅者其日久,痛甚者其愈遲,三年者,稱情而立文,所以為至痛極也。斬衰、苴杖,居倚廬,食粥,寢苫枕塊,所以為至痛飾也。三年之喪,二十五月而畢;衰痛未盡,思慕未忘,然而服以是斷之者,豈不送死有已,復生有節也哉?[...] The greater a wound is, the longer it remains; and the more pain it gives, the more slowly is it healed. The mourning of three years, being appointed with its various forms in harmony with the feelings [produced by the occasion of it], was intended to mark the greatest degree of grief. The sackcloth with jagged edges, the dark colour of the sackcloth and the staff, the shed reared against the wall, the gruel, the sleeping on straw, and the clod of earth for a pillow—these all were intended to set forth the extremity of the grief. The mourning of the three years came really to an end with [the close of] the twenty-fifth month. The sorrow and pain were not yet ended, and the longing loving thoughts were not yet forgotten; but in the termination of the mourning dress in this way, was it not shown that there should be an end to the duties rendered to the dead, and that the time was come for the resumption of their duties to the living? [...]
Legge 1885.

The Liji also provides the description of an ideal of local schools and a system of examinations that later became the precedence for the famous state examinations. The schools and "colleges" described were reserved for sons of the nobility.

Quotation 3. Record of Studies (Xueji 學記)
[...]古之教者,家有塾,黨有庠,術有序,國有學。比年入學,中年考校。一年視離經辨志,三年視敬業樂群,五年視博習親師,七年視論學取友,謂之小成;九年知類通達,強立而不反,謂之大成。夫然後足以化民易俗,近者說服,而遠者懷之,此大學之道也。《記》曰:「蛾子時術之。」其此之謂乎。[...] [...] According to the system of ancient teaching, for the families of [a hamlet] there was the village school; for a neighbourhood there was the xiang 庠 schools; for the larger districts there was the xu 序 school; and in the capitals there was the college (xue 學). Every year some entered the college, and every second year there was a comparative examination. In the first year it was seen whether they could read the texts intelligently, and what was the meaning of each; in the third year, whether they were reverently attentive to their work, and what companionship was most pleasant to them; in the fifth year, how they extended their studies and sought the company of their teachers; in the seventh year, how they could discuss the subjects of their studies and select their friends. They were now said to have made some small attainments. In the ninth year, when they knew the different classes of subjects and had gained a general intelligence, were firmly established and would not fall back, they were said to have made grand attainments. After this the training was sufficient to transform the people, and to change [anything bad in] manners and customs. Those who lived near at hand submitted with delight, and those who were far off thought [of the teaching] with longing desire. Such was the method of the Great learning; as is said in the Record, "The little ant continually exercises the art [of amassing]." [...]
Legge 1885.

Mourning dresses occupy a prevalent place in ritual descriptions, and several chapters in the Liji and Yili are therefore dedicated to this issue.

Quotation 4. Greater Records of Mourning Dress (Sangfu daji 喪服大記)
大斂:布絞,縮者三,橫者五,布紟,二衾,君、大夫、士一也。 At the fuller or great dressing there were three bands of cloth laid straight, and five laid cross-wise. There were [also] strings of cloth, and two sheets—equally for a ruler, a Great officer (dafu 大夫), and a common officer (shi 士).
君陳衣于庭,百稱,北領,西上;大夫陳衣于序東,五十稱,西領,南上;士陳衣于序東,三十稱,西領,南上。 The clothes for a ruler consisted of one hundred suits, displayed in the courtyard, having their collars towards the north, those on the west being the best; those of a Great officer were fifty suits, displayed in the corridor on the east, having the collars towards the west, those on the south being the best; those of a common officer were thirty suits, displayed also in the corridor on the east, with their collars towards the west, the best on the south.
絞、紟如朝服,絞一幅為三,不辟,紟五幅,無紞。[...] The bands and strings were of the same quality as the court robes. One strip of the band-cloth was divided into three, but at the ends was not further divided. The sheets were made of five pieces, without strings or buttons. [...]
Legge 1885.

The exegesis of the Confucian Classics had its roots in the mid-Han period. Yet some statements on the meaning of the books of the canon can be found in some earlier texts, for instance, the chapter Lilun 禮論 (ch. 19) in the book Xunzi 荀子.

Quotation 5. Explanations of the Classics (Jingjie 經解)
孔子曰:「入其國,其教可知也。其為人也:溫柔敦厚,《詩》教也;疏通知遠,《書》教也;廣博易良,《樂》教也;絜靜精微,《易》教也;恭儉莊敬,《禮》教也;屬辭比事,《春秋》教也。 Confucius said, "When you enter any state you can know what subjects [its people] have been taught. If they show themselves men who are mild and gentle, sincere and good, they have been taught from the Book of Songs. If they have a wide comprehension [of things], and know what is remote and old, they have been taught from the Book of Documents. If they be large-hearted and generous, bland and honest, they have been taught from the Book of Music. If they be pure and still, refined and subtile, they have been taught from the Book of Changes. If they be courteous and modest, grave and respectful, they have been taught from the Book of Rites and Ceremonies. If they suitably adapt their language to the things of which they speak, they have been taught from the Spring and Autumn Annals.
故《詩》之失,愚;《書》之失,誣;《樂》之失,奢;《易》之失,賊;《禮》之失,煩;《春秋》之失,亂。[...] Hence the failing that may arise in connexion with the study of the Book of Songs is a stupid simplicity; that in connexion. with the Book of Documents is duplicity; that in connexion with the Book of Music is extravagance; that in connexion with the Book of Changes is the violation (of reason); that in connexion with the practice of Rites and Ceremonies is fussiness; and that in connexion with the Spring and Autumn Annals is insubordination. [...]
Legge 1885.

Social entertainment among the nobility was also embedded in certain ceremonies, like the pitch-pot game, in which participants tried to throw darts or small arrows into a pot. Before the beginning of the game, the host invited his guests, which three times refused to join—an early version of the polite "threefold decline" (san ci 三辭).

Quotation 6. The game of Pitch-Pot (Touhu 投壺)
投壺之禮,主人奉矢,司射奉中,使人執壺。 According to the rules for Pitch-pot, the host carries the arrows in both his hands put together; the superintendent of the archery carries in the same way the stand on which the tallies were placed; and an attendant holds in his hand the pot.
主人請曰:「某有枉矢、哨壺,請以樂賓。」賓曰:「子有旨酒、嘉肴,某既賜矣,又重以樂,敢辭。」主人曰:「枉矢、哨壺,不足辭也,敢固以請。」賓曰:「某既賜矣,又重以樂,敢固辭。」主人曰:「枉矢、哨壺,不足辭也,敢固以請。」賓曰:「某固辭不得命,敢不敬從。」 The host entreats [one of the guests], saying, "I have here these crooked arrows, and this pot with its wry mouth; but we beg you to amuse yourself with them." The guest says, "I have partaken, Sir, of your excellent drink and admirable viands; allow me to decline this further proposal for my pleasure." The host rejoins, "It is not worth the while for you to decline these poor arrows and pot; let me earnestly beg you to try them." The guest repeats his refusal, saying, "I have partaken [of your entertainment], and you would still further have me enjoy myself;—I venture firmly to decline." The host again says, "It is not worth the while for you to decline these poor arrows and pot; let me earnestly beg you to try them", and then the guest says, "I have firmly declined what you request, but you will not allow me to refuse;—I venture respectfully to obey you."
賓再拜受,主人般還,曰:「辟。」主人阼階上拜送,賓盤還,曰:「辟。」[...] The guest then bows twice, and signifies that he will receive [the arrows]. The host wheels round, saying, "Let me get out of the way"; and then at the top of the steps on the east, he bows to the guest and gives him the arrows. The guest wheels round, and says, "Let me get out of the way." [...]
Legge 1885.

The famous Tang-period 唐 (618-907) scholar Kong Yingda 孔穎達 wrote an 80-juan long commentary, Liji zhengyi 禮記正義. During the Song period it was merged with Zheng Xuan's commentary on the text Liji zhushu 禮記注疏, with a length of 63 juan. At the same time Wei Shi 衛湜 (early 13th cent.) wrote a collection of commentaries called Liji jishuo 禮記集說, in 150 juan. A book with the same title was compiled during the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) by Chen Gao 陳澔 (1260-1341), but it was only 10-juan long. This commentary was again extended during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Hu Guang 胡廣 (1369-1418) to the book Liji daquan 禮記大全. The most important Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) commentary is Hang Shijun's 杭世駿 (1696-1773) Xu Weishi Liji jishuo 續衛氏禮記集說, in 100 juan.

Numerous commentators dealt with particular chapters of the Liji, e.g. the Ming commentator Huang Daozhou 黃道周 (1585-1646), who wrote Yueling mingyi 月令明義, and Ziji jizhuan 緇衣集傳), or the Qing scholar Shao Taiqu 邵泰衢, author of Tangong yiwen 檀弓疑問.

Liu Qiyu 劉起釪 (1992), "Liji 禮記", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 547.

Legge, James, Ch'u Chai, Winberg Chai (1885), Li Chi: Book of Rites. An Encyclopedia of Ancient Ceremonial Usages, Religious Creeds, and Social Institutions (XXX). Lî Kî //New Hyde Park, N.Y., University Books [1967]. Also edited as Legge, James (1885). The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism, Parts III-IV, The Li Ki (Oxford: Oxford Clarendon). (The Sacred Books of the East. 27-28)

Further reading:
Buckley Ebrey, Patricia (2001). Confucianism and the Family Rituals in Imperial China (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Galvany, Albert (2012). "Death and Ritual Wailing in Early China: Around the Funeral of Lao Dan", Asia Major, 3rd series, 25/2: 15-42.
Gentz, Joachim (2010). "'Living in the Same House': Ritual Principles in Early Chinese Reflections on Mourning Garments", in Lucia Dolce, Gil Raz, Katja Triplett, eds. Grammars and Morphologies of Ritual Practices in Asia: Section I: Grammar and Morphology of Ritual, Section II, Ritual Discourse, Ritual Performance in China and Japan (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz), 371-396.
Ing, Michael David Kaulana (2012a). The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism (New York: Oxford University Press).
Ing, Michael David Kaulana (2012b). "The Ancients Did not Fix their Graves: Failure in Early Confucian Ritual", Philosophy East and West, 62/2: 223-245.
Legge, James (2003). "The Record of Rites (Liji)", in Robin R. Wang, ed. Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty (Indianapolis: Hackett), 48-60.
Liu, Yucai, Luke Habberstad (2014). "The Life of a Text: A Brief History of the Liji (Rites Records) and its Transmission", Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, 1/1-2: 289-308.
Lu, Weijing (2013). "Abstaining from Sex: Mourning Ritual and the Confucian Elite", Journal of the History of Sexuality, 22/2: 230-252.
Nylan, Michael (2001). The Five "Confucian" Classics (New Haven: Yale University Press).
Puett, Michael (2010). "Ritualization as Domestication: Ritual Theory from Classical China", in Lucia Dolce, Gil Raz, Katja Triplett, eds. Grammars and Morphologies of Ritual Practices in Asia: Section I: Grammar and Morphology of Ritual, Section II, Ritual Discourse, Ritual Performance in China and Japan (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz), 359-370.
Zhou, Yiqun (2013). "The Status of Mothers in the Early Chinese Mourning System", T'oung Pao, 99/1-3: 1-52.