Sacred Books of the East/Volume 27/Preface


I may be permitted to express my satisfaction that, with the two volumes of the Lî Kî now published, I have done, so far as translation is concerned, all and more than all which I undertook to do on the Chinese Classics more than twenty-five years ago. When the first volume was published in 1861, my friend, the late Stanislas Julien, wrote to me, asking if I had duly considered the voluminousness of the Lî Kî, and expressing his doubts whether I should be able to complete my undertaking. Having begun the task, however, I have pursued it to the end, working on with some unavoidable interruptions, and amidst not a few other engagements.

 The present is the first translation that has been published in any European language of the whole of the Lî Kî. In 1853 the late J. M. Callery published at the Imprimerie Royale, Turin, what he called "Lî Kî, ou Mémorial des Rites, traduit pour la premiere fois du Chinois, et accompagné de Notes, de Commentaires, et du Texte Original." But in fact the text which P. Callery adopted was only an expurgated edition, published by Fan Зze-tăng, a scholar of the Yüan dynasty, as commented on and annotated by Kâu Kih, whose well-known work appeared in 1711, the 50th year of the Khang-hsî reign or period[1]. Callery has himself called attention to this in his introduction, and it is to be regretted that he did not indicate it in the title-page of his book. Fan's text omits entirely the 5th, 12th, 13th, 19th, 28th, 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 34th, 35th, 37th, and 39th Books in my translation, while of most of the others, "a good third" has been expurgated. I do not think that Callery's version contains above one half of the Lî Kî, as it is found in the great editions of the Thang and present dynasties. The latter of these was commanded in an imperial rescript in 1748, the 13th year of the Khien-lung period. The committee charged with its execution consisted of 85 dignitaries and scholars, who used the previous labours of 244 authors, besides adding, on many of the most difficult passages, their own remarks and decisions, which are generally very valuable.

 My own version is based on a study of these two imperial collections, and on an extensive compilation, made specially for my use by my Chinese friend and former helper, the graduate Wang Thâo, gathered mostly from more recent writers of the last 250 years. The Khien-lung editors make frequent reference to the work of Khăn Hâo, which appeared in 1322 under the modest title of, "A Collection of Remarks on the Lî Kî[2]." This acquired so great a celebrity under the Ming dynasty, that, as Callery tells us, an edict was issued in 1403 appointing it the standard for the interpretation of the Classic at the public examinations; and this pre-eminence was accorded to it on to the Khien-lung period. The whole of the Lî Kî is given and expounded by Khăn, excepting the 28th and 39th Books, which had long been current as portions of "The Four Books." I may say that I have read over and over, and with much benefit, every sentence in his comments. Forming my own judgment on every passage, now agreeing with him and now differing, and frequently finding reason to attach a higher value to the views of the Khien-lung editors, I must say that "he deserves well" of the Lî Kî. His volumes are characterised by a painstaking study of the original text, and an honest attempt to exhibit the logical connexion of thought in its several parts.  P. Gallery's translation of his expurgated text is for the most part well executed, and his notes, of which I have often made use, are admirable. I have also enjoyed the benefit of the, more recent work, "Cursus Litteraturae Sinicae," by P. Angelo Zottoli, in whom the scholarship of the earlier Jesuit missionaries has revived. In his third volume, published at Shang-hâi in 1880, there are good translations of the 1st, 5th, 10th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd Books; while the 28th and 39th are in his second volume. In the Latin which he employs, according to the traditions of his church and what is still a practice of some scholars, he is able to be more brief in his renderings than Callery and myself, but perhaps not so satisfactory to readers generally. I also referred occasionally to Signor Carlo Puini's "Li-Ki: Instituzioni, Usi e Costumanze della Cina antica; Traduzione, Commento e Note (Fascicolo Primo; Firenze, 1883)."

 The present translation is, as I said above, the first published in any European language of the whole of the Lî Kî; but another had existed in manuscript for several years,— the work of Mr. Alexander Wylie, now unhappily, by loss of eye-sight and otherwise failing health, laid aside from his important Chinese labours. I was fortunate enough to obtain possession of this when I had got to the 35th Book in my own version, and, in currying the sheets through the press, I have constantly made reference to it. It was written at an early period of Mr. Wylie's Chinese studies, and is not such as a Sinologist of his attainments and research would have produced later on. Still I have been glad to have it by me, though I may venture to say that, in construing the paragraphs and translating the characters, I have not been indebted in a single instance to him or P. Callery. The first six Books, and portions of several others, had been written out, more than once, before I finally left China in 1873; but I began again at the beginning, early in 1883, in preparing the present version. I can hardly hope that, in translating so extensive and peculiar a work, descriptive of customs and things at so remote a period of time, and without the assistance of any Chinese graduate with whom I could have talked over complicated and perplexing paragraphs, I may not have fallen into some mistakes; but I trust they will be found to be very few. My simple and only aim has been, first, to understand the text for myself, and then to render it in English, fairly and as well as I could in the time attain to, for my readers.

J. L.

July 10, 1885.




  1. The 禮記體註大全合參, for whuch gives "Combinaison des Commentaires Ta Tsüêên (le Grand Complet) et Chu (l'explication), d'après le sens original du Mémorial des rites." Kâu Kih 周熾 has the alias of Kâu Tan-lin 旦林.
  2. 禮記雜說, author has the aliases for Hâo of Kho Tâ 可大, Yün Kwang 雲莊, and Tung Hui 東匯; the last, I suppose, from his having lived near the lake so called.